Blix attacks 'shaky' intelligence on weapons
Younge in New York, Richard Norton-Taylor and Patrick Wintour
UN chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, yesterday condemned the prewar efforts of
British and American intelligence to show that Iraq had weapons of mass
destruction, and insisted that, without UN verification, their postwar
inspections lacked credibility.
"We may not be the only ones in the
world who have credibility, but I do think we have credibility for being
objective and independent," he said.
Mr Blix, who is due to retire from
his post in June, briefed the UN security council on his readiness to send
inspection teams back to Iraq.
Earlier, in a BBC radio interview, he
said the coalition had appeared to use "shaky" evidence, including forged
documents, as a pretext for making war on Iraq.
Afterwards he said it
was "conspicuous" that coalition forces had so far failed to find "anything
relevant" in their search for proscribed weapons.
The White House, which
accused Mr Blix of hindering its drive for international support for the war, is
reluctant to see him return to Iraq and has already sent its own teams to search
for illegal weapons. It is is recruiting former UN inspectors from the US,
Britain and Australia to verify any discoveries.
"For the time being,
and for the foreseeable future, we see it as a coalition activity," the US
ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, said after the security council meeting.
The US desire to sideline the UN, and the information on which the US
and Britain based their case for military action, also attracted sharp criticism
from the former foreign secretary Robin Cook.
Yesterday Mr Cook said he
doubted that there was a single figure in the intelligence services who believed
that a weapon of mass destruction in working order would be found in Iraq, and
he called for Mr Blix to be allowed back to Iraq "on the next plane".
Avoiding a direct attack on Tony Blair, he accused the White House of
"reinventing the term weapon of mass destruction to cover any artillery shell
with a chemical content, or any biological toxin, even if it had not been fitted
to a weapon".
Mr Blix said that given the concern for safety in Iraq it
was too early to send inspectors back, but the decision could not be postponed
Speaking in Vienna, the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan,
backed Mr Blix, insisting that his security council mandate remained valid,
despite his team's withdrawal from Iraq before the war began.
as the situation settled, the expectation was that they could go back and
continue their work, and verify that Iraq has been rid of weapons of mass
destruction," he added.
Earlier in the day Mr Blix used a BBC radio
interview to criticise the Bush administration for its use of questionable
intelligence, including forged documents, in its effort to show that Iraq
possessed banned weapons. He said it was "very, very disturbing" that US
intelligence had failed to identify as fake documents suggesting that Iraq had
tried to buy uranium from Niger.
British officials now admit that
documents purporting to show that Iraq was trying to obtain uranium to develop
nuclear weapons were forgeries.
The claim that that Saddam Hussein was
trying to procure uranium from Niger, in west Africa, was presented as hard
intelligence-based evidence in the dossier on Iraq's possession of weapons of
mass destruction which the government published in September.
was taken seriously by the UN weapons inspectors until, with the help of
independent experts, they found that the documents were forged.
March Mohamed El Baradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency and
chief nuclear inspector for Iraq, contradicted the Downing Street and MI6 claim.
He said the documents used to substantiate them were "not authentic".
Though intelligence officials say there was additional evidence pointing
to Iraq's attempt to procure uranium, Whitehall now agrees that the intelligence
documents it sent to the IAEA - the UN's nuclear watchdog - and the US were
Mr Blix also criticised the Americans for attempting to
undermine his authority.
"They felt that stories about these things
would be useful to have and they let it out," he said.
"It was not the
case. It was a bit unfair and hurt us."