Blix Casts Doubt On WMD Claims

Hans Blix, as Chief UN Wepaons Inspector delivering report to UN Security Council on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, New York, video still 2003/2/14
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix warned Thursday against jumping to the conclusion that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction just because there is a long list of outstanding questions about its weapons program.

The failure of U.S.-led teams to find illegal weapons after visiting more than 230 suspected sites over the past 11 weeks has become a major issue in Washington, London and other capitals, since Saddam's possession of banned weapons was the main justification for invading Iraq.

Also Thursday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to cooperate with an inquiry into how prewar intelligence was handled. President Bush told U.S. troops on Thursday that the reality of Saddam's weapons programs will emerge.

"We're on the look. We'll reveal the truth," Mr. Bush said, without specifically promising weapons would be found. "But one thing is certain: no terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime because the Iraqi regime is no more."

On both sides of the Atlantic, there have been suggestions that pro-war officials hyped intelligence reports on the Iraqi threat.

The Washington Post reported that Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff made several personal trips to the CIA to discuss intelligence on Iraq. Some analysts told the newspaper the visits made them feel pressured to deliver reports with a particular bent.

In Britain, the controversy has focused on a claim that Iraq could arm deploy chemical weapons in 45 minutes. The BBC quoted intelligence sources who said the claim was unconfirmed, and opposed it being presented in a public dossier in September.

The Financial Times reports the 45-minute claim came from a senior Iraqi source considered reliable.

In a short public statement to the Security Council, Blix again stressed that the commission he heads did not find evidence of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of banned material from pre-1991 or later.

However, Blix acknowledged that Iraq did not present items that were unaccounted for or evidence — records, documents, or other material — to convince the inspectors that the banned items do not exist.

"As I have noted before, this does not necessarily mean that such items could not exist," he said. "They might — there remain long lists of items unaccounted for — but it is not justified to jump to the conclusion that something exists just because it is unaccounted for."

Blix noted that for many years neither the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, nor its predecessor "made significant finds of weapons," despite the large amounts of banned items that Iraq didn't account for.

"The lack of finds could be because the items were unilaterally destroyed by the Iraqi authorities or else because they were effectively concealed by them," he said.

Blix reiterated that his teams were ready to resume work in Iraq. The U.S. is blocking their return.

In his remarks, Mr. Bush noted the recent discovery in northern Iraq of what U.S. intelligence agencies say are probably each part of a mobile biological weapons production facility.

However, no complete production system has been found. Neither trailer had any biological agent inside, nor showed any signs that they had been used to produce biological weapons.

Blix said in his 40-page report that Iraq denied it had such units and provided U.N. inspectors "with pictures of legitimate vehicles." He noted, however, that none of the vehicles in the pictures looked like the trucks found by the U.S.-led teams.