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Hans Blix: Blair made a fundamental mistake over '45 minutes to deploy' claim

The former UN official tells the 'IoS' he made clear to the Prime Minister
that he was sceptical about the allegations on banned weapons. Mark Irving and
Raymond Whitaker report

13 July 2003Tony Blair made "a fundamental mistake" in claiming that Saddam
Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes, says Hans
Blix, former head of the United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq.Asked
whether he thought the Prime Minister was wrong about the "45-minute" claim, made in
the Government's WMD dossier last September and repeated by the Prime
Minister when he presented the document in the House of Commons, Dr Blix told The
Independent on Sunday: "I think that was a fundamental mistake. I don't know
exactly how they calculated this figure of 45 minutes in the dossier of September
last year. That seems pretty far off the mark to me."Dr Blix retired last
month as head of Unmovic, the UN weapons inspectorate. His inspectors returned to
Iraq last November after a four-year gap, but quit again in March with their
task incomplete as American and British forces prepared to invade. The Swedish
ex-diplomat is now chairman of an international fund building a new shield at
Chernobyl in the Ukraine, scene of the world's worst nuclear
disaster.Interviewed at Chernobyl, Dr Blix said Mr Blair was "strongly convinced" about the
existence of WMD. "I talked to him several times, and I never had any other
impression. In fact, I was the one who was sceptical and critical, and said that I
didn't think that the evidence was so strong, and said so to the Security
Council."Did he think the Prime Minister had relied on flawed intelligence, or
misinterpreted what intelligence there was? "They overinterpreted the
intelligence they had," the former Unmovic chief replied.On the "45 minutes" claim, Dr
Blix said it was theoretically possible to switch in an instant from producing
vaccines to producing biological weapons. "But a weapon is ... also about a
means of delivery, and it seems to me highly unlikely that there were any means
of delivering biological or chemical weapons within 45 minutes."The American
and British occupation authorities in Iraq have refused to allow the UN
inspectors to resume their work. Instead they have set up the Iraq Survey Group to
search for evidence of WMD. Dr Blix did not doubt the competence or sincerity of
the British and American experts, but said there would be "greater credibility
in having international inspectors rather than national ones ... It's more
about the perception from the other side". He did not elaborate, but was clearly
referring to Iraqis, the Arab world and a large section of opinion in the
West.Even if the inspectors were allowed back, was not there a date by which the
physical or documentary evidence of unconventional weapons could no longer be
viable? "No, if they have VX or mustard gas or anything like sarin, if it
exists somewhere it should be possible to find it," he said. "But the Iraqis
themselves, remember, claimed that it had been destroyed in the summer of 1991.
Apart from that which they have indicated is existing in some of their sites, it
should have been destroyed."The absence of documentation of such destruction
is the key question. "That's what we were so dissatisfied about, that they
could not show any documentation. But towards the end of our stay there they
produced a large number of names of people who they claim had participated in the
transportation and destruction of the different kinds of weapons. If we had
stayed, we would have interviewed these people. That might have provided rather a
different dossier of information. But Iraq was still under a dictatorship,
and interviews under such a dictatorship have some weaknesses."As for rumours
that Iraq spirited away some of its weapons of mass destruction to countries
such as Syria or Iran, Dr Blix refused to comment, saying: "That's just a lot of
speculation."Hidden, destroyed or never there - what happened to the weapons?
So where are the weapons of mass destruction? Their conspicuous absence three
months after the invasion of Iraq continues to prey on the Prime Minister's
credibility. We know Saddam Hussein did have them - for many years he operated a
procurement operation nuclear that enabled him to make , biological and
chemical weapons, and he used gas on his own subjects, the Kurds, killing 5,000 in
the mid-1980s. There are a number of theories about what happened to the
WMD.The first is that Saddam destroyed or dispersed them shortly before the
invasion. Certainly the British and American military expected the Iraqis to use
chemical and biological weapons. The suggestion that the Iraqis could deploy WMD in
45 minutes has now passed into political legend.When WMD were not used
against coalition forces, the Government intimated it was just a matter of time
until the hiding places were uncovered. As recently as a month ago Whitehall
sources were still suggesting that British intelligence would soon be in a position
to provide evidence of WMD. That bullishness seems to have evaporated, as
Americans comb Iraq for a hint of WMD.In fairness there is a possibility that the
much-debated 45 minutes claim could have applied only to chemical weapons.
Ron Manley, a former UN weapons inspector, said this week that there remains one
grey area, which could have justified the claim. He says it is possible Iraq
stored the binary materials that can produce sarin and cyclosarin when mixed.
"The precursor chemicals for these agents could be mixed together to produce
the toxic chemical agent." Iraq would still, though, have required a means of
delivering the chemicals.The theory that WMD were destroyed just before the
invasion is, however, unlikely. The Iraqis did not seem capable of the organised
destruction, which would have been no small task. Places where such
destruction would have taken place show no sign of recent use.Theory number two was put
forward for the first time in the pages of the Independent on Sunday last
week. Professor Richard Shultz, one of the US's top intelligence experts, told us
that a picture was beginning to emerge from accounts from scientists in Iraq
that the strategy was changed some time before 2000. "I think we will find that
the Iraqis dismantled their WMD programmes so that they could get sanctions
lifted. Once sanctions were lifted they intended to reinstate their WMD
research capability."It was almost certain that Saddam ordered the weapons dismantled
or destroyed in the late 1990s, he said. Meanwhile they dispersed the
research and programme capability and the scientists. The plan was that it could all
be reinstated once the UN inspectors had given the all-clear and sanctions
lifted. But then bin Laden got in the way. "After 9/11 the Bush administration
turned their attention firmly to Iraq," said Professor Shultz.Theory number
three is based on evidence given to UN inspectors by Hussein Kamel, the son-in-law
of Saddam, who defected to Jordan in August 1995. The former director of
Iraq's Military Industrialisation Corporation claimed to have carried out Saddam's
orders to destroy all WMD after defeat in the 1991 Gulf War.His story was not
necessarily believed, as he did not provide hard evidence. Mr Kamel
eventually returned to Iraq where Saddam had him executed.Nobody seriously believes
Saddam had a nuclear capability for at least a decade before the invasion. There
is slightly more evidence of biological weapons activity in recent years and
even more evidence for chemical weapons research. But whether the Iraqis made
any such weapons after 1991 still has to be proved. For what it is worth, if I
were a betting man, I would place my money on theory number two.Paul Lashmar

Roger Stroope
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff USA

During the war crimes trials at Nuremberg, psychologist Gustave Gilbert
visited Nazi Reichsmarshall Hermann Goering in his prison cell. "We got around to
the subject of war again and I said that, contrary to his attitude, I did not
think that the common people are very thankful for leaders who bring them war
and destruction," Gilbert wrote in his journal, Nuremberg Diary.

"Why, of course, the people don't want war," Goering shrugged. "Why would
some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can
get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? ... That is
understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy
and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a
democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship
... That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and
denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to
danger. It works the same way in any country."

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