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Blix Accuses U.S. Of 'Smear'

The man who headed weapons inspections in Iraq has told a newspaper that he was the target of a "lower level" smear campaign by Washington because he refused to back up their claims about Iraq's alleged illegal weapons arsenal.

There are growing questions about the prewar claim by the Bush administration and its allies that Iraq had a large and dangerous stockpile of illegal arms.

That alleged illegal stockpile was a major justification for the war in Iraq — a rationale brought into question by the failure by U.S. troops to find any hint of the supposed weapons.

Congressional Republicans on Wednesday brushed aside Democratic pleas for a formal investigation into the handling of intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs, saying that routine oversight should suffice.

Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts said some of the Democratic criticism of the handling of the intelligence has "been simply politics and for political gain."

"I will not allow the committee to be politicized or to be used as an unwitting tool for any political strategist," the Kansas Republican said.

Leading Senate Democrats have called for a more thorough investigation in light of doubts raised about some of the intelligence and the failure so far to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. They want to know whether intelligence on weapons programs was inaccurate or was manipulated to make the case for war.

After a Republican news conference, the Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, said "what they appear to be doing is entirely inadequate and slow paced and potentially kind of sleepwalking through history." He said he's not sure "whether they really want to get to the facts of what actually happened."

In three-and-a-half months in Iraq, teams from Blix's United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission reported grudging cooperation by the Iraqis and a few suspicious finds.

A handful of empty warheads capable of carrying chemical weapons were detected, one class of Iraqi missiles was determined to fly too far and a possibly illegal aerial drone was located.

But the inspectors found no evidence of the large caches of illegal weapons that the Bush administration insisted Saddam Hussein possessed.

The U.S. criticized Blix for not taking a harder line of the Iraqis and suggested Saddam's intelligence apparatus had infiltrated the U.N. teams. Blix, interviewed since the war, faulted U.S. intelligence for inaccuracy.

"I have my detractors in Washington," Hans Blix told London's Guardian newspaper. "There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media. Not that I cared very much."

In the Guardian interview, he said Iraqis has also tried to smear him, among other things spreading the rumor that he was gay and a lackey of the White House.

Blix also said even the partial cooperation by the Iraqis would not have been possible without the presence of 200,000 U.S. troops in the area.

But he said the administration "leaned on us" to produce tougher condemnations of Iraq. Asked if was the target of a smear campaign, Blix told the Guardian: "Yes, I probably was at a lower level."

In capitals where governments sent troops to fight, the prewar claims on Iraq's weapons are under scrutiny.

Two parliamentary committees are investigating British Prime Minister Tony Blair's assertions. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has dismissed calls by opposition parties for similar investigations there. Opposition parties in Denmark have made similar demands.

Roberts said his committee will evaluate prewar intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and its alleged connection to terrorist groups. It will examine whether the findings were reasonable and accurate. The CIA has begun submitting details of the intelligence that supported administration claims on Iraq's weapons programs.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, traveling with Mr. Bush for a presidential speech in Chicago, said the administration "welcomes the review."

"We always work together with Congress (on) dealing with the threat of Iraqi possession of WMD," he said. "And we'll continue to work with Congress on the facts that led previous administrations, Democrats and Republicans alike, to know he (Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein) had WMD."

Roberts said closed-door hearings will begin next week and "when the committee deems it appropriate, we will make whatever public statements that are necessary." The Senate Armed Services Committee has already begun closed-door hearings on the intelligence issue.

Rockefeller and Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, have called for a more formal, joint review by the two committees. They say hearings should be held publicly and privately, administration and intelligence officials should be interviewed and a public report issued.

Those seeking an investigation say the issue goes beyond the failure to find weapons. Some of the administration's evidence of Iraqi weapons programs has proven false. Documents indicating Iraq imported uranium from Niger were forgeries.

"What is clear is that the assertions by our top policy-makers, from the president down, to the effect that Iraq was a powerful threat armed with extremely dangerous weapons, was not accurate," Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser in the Carter administration, said. "American global credibility has been badly hurt."