Blix: U.S. Certainty Was Suspect

Hans Blix, U.N. chief inspector speaks to the media at Saddam International Airport in Baghdad, Monday, Nov. 18, 2002. Blix, who is leading a 27-member delegation that arrived Monday to resume the search for weapons of mass destruction
Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix criticized the United States for insisting so vehemently that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and not producing the evidence.

The failure of U.S.-led teams to find illegal weapons after more than two months of searching and visits to over 230 suspected sites has become a major issue. Saddam Hussein's possession of banned weapons was the main justification the United States and Britain used for invading Iraq.

"It is sort of puzzling I think that you can have 100 percent certainty about the weapons of mass destruction's existence, and zero certainty about where they are," he said. "We were more prudent in our assessment and I think that was shown to be pretty wise."

Blix, who is retiring when his contract ends on June 30, spent an hour fielding questions Monday at the Council on Foreign Relations and defending his conclusion that there is still no evidence that Saddam was hiding weapons of mass destruction.

He questioned the Bush administration's rush to declare that two mobile vans discovered by U.S. search teams after the war were "the smoking gun" — used to produce biological weapons.

"Only later came the various doubts from both the U.S. experts and from the British experts," Blix said. "I would have thought that … after the shakiness of some of the evidence that one would be very prudent."

British newspapers have reported that experts there now believe the vehicles were used to produce hydrogen for artillery balloons, as some Iraqis have claimed. The British government insists the review is not yet complete.

A CIA report says hydrogen production is a "plausible" explanation for the mobile factories.

Blix said the United States was not alone in believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. "I think all the Western intelligence agencies that I met were fairly convinced that there were weapons of mass destruction," he said, though Russia never "came out affirmatively."

Blix said U.S. teams may yet find banned weapons, but the more time goes by, the more the question arises of whether Saddam's regime destroyed its weapons programs in 1991 — as it claimed.

The question would then arise of why Iraq played cat and mouse with U.N. inspectors for so many years.

He raised three possibilities: Saddam wanted to create a mystique in the region that he had weapons; he had tremendous pride and saw himself as "the emperor of Mesapotamia;" and he was engaging in brinkmanship, listening to the anti-war demonstrators and not believing the United States would "dare to do it."

With U.N. inspection teams barred from returning to Iraq by the United States, Blix was more critical of the "shaky" intelligence he received from Washington and other capitals about sites where weapons might be hidden.

He reiterated that U.N. inspectors "were not impressed" by some of the evidence presented to the Security Council by Secretary of State Colin Powell — and he was particularly dismissive of intelligence from Iraqi defectors, saying they "have not been a reliable source."

U.N. inspectors were only allowed to search for 3½ months before the United States and Britain launched their invasion, which Blix said was too short.

In more than two months since the fall of Baghdad, weapons-hunting teams have yet to find any evidence of the large stockpiles President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iraq possessed. Iraq did not use weapons of mass destruction in the war.

Since then, a few U.S. intelligence officers have told reporters that spy data on Iraq was misused. Some recently uncovered intelligence reports have suggested that there was more doubt about what Iraq possessed than the White House acknowledged, while other studies back up the administration's estimates.

Administration officials deny politicizing the intelligence, and claim that weapons of mass destruction were never the sole reason for going to Iraq. Also important, officials say, were democratizing the county, stabilizing the region and cutting alleged ties between Baghdad and al Qaeda.

The evidence of links between Saddam and al Qaeda has also come under scrutiny.

Until recently, Mr. Bush and his aides had maintained prohibited weapons would be found. In his radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush made no such promise and said instead that documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned "in the regime's final days."

At least three Congressional panels are probing whether prewar intelligence was misinterpreted. In London, two committees in Parliament are doing the same.