Blix Defends Inspectors' Credibility
UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix on Tuesday said his inspectors' failure to turn up weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may have been nothing but a reflection of the truth, and he called American criticism of the prewar search off target.
"I would say that I think the criticism that was directed to us was misdirected," Blix told The Associated Press in an interview, He retires June 30 after three years of leading the U.N. search for banned weapons.
While defending the U.N. inspections program, Blix welcomed the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"He was an ancient type ruler who got control of a country with an oil income and could use 21st century weapons. That was a very dangerous combination, and I think we all feel a great relief that he is put out of action," Blix said.
But Blix defended the independence and credibility of U.N. inspectors who left Iraq shortly before the United States and Britain attacked the country, in part at least, because of allegations Saddam had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The United Nations refused to back the military ouster of Saddam and the administrations of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have come under heavy criticism because those weapons have not been found in the three months since the war began.
However, Blix declined to gloat, saying that the matter was too serious. And he wished the U.S. teams now searching for banned weapons in Iraq "good luck."
"I think we should all be looking to truth," he said. "We want to find out what was the real truth" - whether Saddam was concealing illegal weapons or had destroyed them before he was attacked.
Nevertheless, he was critical of intelligence his teams received from the United States and other countries before the war began, saying the information was "not very good ... and that shook me a bit."
In the weeks before the war, some U.S. officials strongly criticized Blix's reports to the Security Council for failing to support the Bush administration's contention that Saddam had an active illegal weapons programs. Blix reported that his inspectors had not found such weapons, but still had many outstanding questions about the country's previous weapons programs.
Blix credited the U.S. military build up which started last summer for pressuring Iraq to allow U.N. inspectors to return in November after four years.
While many people in the U.S. government believed from the beginning that inspections wouldn't work, Blix said he thinks Bush was sincere in initially wanting to give inspections a chance and not go to war.
Even in late February, if Saddam had come forward as the British hoped and confessed "everything" about his weapons program that could have averted war, he said.
Saddam didn't, and U.S. patience gave out - but Blix said his inspectors should have been given more time.
"At the end, Iraqis were pretty frantic in trying to find explanations, not very successfully," he said.
"I certainly think a number of months more would have been interesting to have, provided that we still had the military pressure," Blix said.
"The longer that one does not find any weapons in spite of people coming forward and being rewarded for giving information, etc., the more I think it is important that we begin to ask ourselves if there were no weapons, why was it that Iraq conducted itself as it did for so many years?," Blix said.
"They cheated, they retreated, they changed figures, they denied access, etc. Why was that if they didn't have anything really to conceal? I have speculations, one could be pride," he said.
"Saddam Hussein regarded himself as an emperor of Mesopotamia, some said, and he regarded inspectors as impostors," Blix said.
Nonetheless, he said, U.N. inspectors could not jump to conclusions - and the Bush administration shouldn't have either.
"I think they should remember that in the future, too, that the international inspection that is not on a leash is the inspection that has the greatest credibility," Blix said. "It might even be right."