Mon, Jul 14, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Blix accuses Blair of `fundamental mistake'


Retired UN weapons inspector Hans Blix has accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair of wrongly interpreting intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and making a "fundamental mistake" in saying they could be deployed within 45 minutes.

Speaking to Britain's Sunday Independent newspaper, Blix was sharply critical of US and British use of intelligence on former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's WMDs.

The 45-minute claim -- which is at the center of a long-running controversy in Britain over the justification for the war -- seemed "pretty far off the mark," Blix said.

The former head of the UN team in Iraq has criticized intelligence from the US and Britain before, but these were some of his strongest words to date. He retired last month.

The 45-minute claim appeared in a dossier published and presented to the British parliament in September. It was a central part of Blair's justification for joining the US-led coalition.

Last Monday, a cross-party parliamentary committee said the claim "did not warrant the prominence given to it."

Blair is under rising criticism for the way information was put together to justify the war.

In a second dossier, an old academic thesis was downloaded from the Internet, spiced up and published as a substantial part of ostensibly new intelligence without attribution. The government has admitted this was a serious error.

Regarding the furor in the US over a claim Saddam had sought to buy uranium from Niger, British officials continue to insist they have intelligence other than documents since shown by the International Atomic Energy Agency to be forgeries.

US President George W. Bush quoted British sources when he used the claim in his January State of the Union address, but it has since been withdrawn and the CIA has accepted responsibility for its inclusion.

British commentators said yesterday a split was opening between the respective intelligence services of Britain and the US over the intelligence, which was also in the September dossier.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saturday Britain had not passed on to the US how it had come by its information.

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