Was Saddam a danger to the world? No, says Blix

So why did Bush and Blair take us to war? Robert Fox on Hans Blix’s powerful testimony to Chilcot

Column LAST UPDATED AT 08:07 ON Wed 28 Jul 2010

The former head of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq has landed some heavy body blows against Tony Blair’s reasons for taking Britain to war in Iraq on the basis that Saddam Hussein was ready to deploy weapons of mass destruction.

"I take the firm view this was an illegal war," Dr Blix, a renowned international lawyer and former Swedish foreign minister, told the Chilcot Inquiry in London yesterday.

From the end of 2002 to March 2003 his team of weapons inspectors found no traces in Iraq of chemical and biological weapons that could be a serious threat to the outside world; most had been destroyed after the Desert Storm war of 1991.
 
They did find some traces of old warheads that could carry both chemical and biological warheads. However, despite carrying out six inspections a day, and visiting a total of 700 sites, they found almost nothing that could be deemed "a major breech" of UN resolutions - though both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair claimed the contrary.

Of these 700 sites, 30 had been pointed out to the Blix team as major weapons establishments by the CIA and MI6 – yet no serious weaponry was found there.

Dr Blix confirmed that Saddam Hussein had abandoned his nuclear programmes after the war in 1991 – and by the winter of 2002 – months before American and British forces crossed into Iraq. Both Washington and London knew this.

One of his most damning criticisms of both the Bush and Blair governments was that once Blix’s UN inspectors were let back into Iraq in November 2002, much of the intelligence on which the allies had been building the case against Saddam was shown to be weak or wrong. Yet, said Blix, no action was taken to remedy this.

In nearly three hours of testimony, Hans Blix gave a fascinating word picture of the war factions in the British and American governments. It was a testosterone-driven team seemingly bent on action – or "high on military" as he colourfully put it. "Were they (the Iraqis) a danger?" he asked rhetorically. "No they were not – they were prostrate. So what we got from this was anarchy, and it was an anarchy worse than tyranny."
 
Blix stated several times yesterday that he thought that Tony Blair had been "sincere." He had hoped always to get full backing from the UN, but in the end had been "taken prisoner on the American train" to military action. He said that the case put forward by the Blair government was based on "a very constrained legal explanation... You see how Lord Goldsmith [Blair’s Attorney-General] wriggled about and how he, himself, very much doubted it was adequate."

Dr Blix was long the bête noir of the Bush neo-cons, and Vice President Cheney tried to get him sacked several times. The claim by Blair that Blix’s inspectors "had failed!" was shown to be patently untrue by Dr Blix.

He said such inspection teams would be vital in future – but warned that governments like Britain and America should not send their intelligence agents, spies, to join them, as the heavy intelligence presence had undermined the UN inspectors in Iraq in the 1990s.

This is the latest powerful piece of testimony to the Chilcot inquiry that has called into question both the behaviour and explanation of the Blair government for taking to Britain to war in Iraq in 2003.

It ranks alongside that of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, the Foreign Office lawyer who resigned in protest, the claims by the veteran diplomat Carne Ross that vital FO information and documents have been deliberately withheld, and last week’s devastating critique by Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller.

The former MI5 head said that the intelligence was weak to negligible and that the action in Iraq had made the threat of attacks by radicalised Muslims in Britain "overwhelming".

At times during yesterday’s hearings, three of the Chilcot panel sounded like Tony Blair’s apologists as they tried to mount counter-arguments to Dr Blix. But the game is up. The committee must now know that they have to explain why Tony Blair went to war on a whim and a somewhat flaky vision of the world – as evident in the almost hysterical testimony Blair himself gave to the inquiry in January.

More to the point, the Chilcot committee has to explain why those in charge of our destiny here in Britain - in parliament, in the ministries, in the law courts and the military - allowed him to do it almost without question. ·