- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

LONDON (AP) — The United Nations inspector who led a doomed hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq told Britain’s inquiry into the 2003 invasion Tuesday that the United States and the United Kingdom relied on flawed intelligence and showed dubious judgment in the buildup to war.

Hans Blix, the 82-year-old former chief U.N. weapons inspector, said Washington was “high on military” action in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and refused to heed concerns over the paltry threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime.

At a London hearing, Mr. Blix said those who were “100 percent certain there were weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq turned out to have “less than zero percent knowledge” of where the purported hidden caches would be found.

Though Mr. Blix previously has made similar criticisms of the case for war, his testimony built on evidence already offered to the British panel of a U.S. administration inevitably marching to conflict.

“When we reported that we did not find any weapons of mass destruction, they should have realized, I think, both in London and in Washington, that their sources were poor,” Mr. Blix said. “Their sources were looking for weapons, not necessarily weapons of mass destruction. They should have been more critical of that.”

Mr. Blix told the panel, set up by the British government to examine the case for the war and errors in planning for post-conflict reconstruction, that he warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair in a February 2003 meeting — as well as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during separate talks — that Saddam Hussein might have no weapons of mass destruction.

He said he told Miss Rice and Mr. Blair his “belief, faith in intelligence had been weakened.”

An earlier British investigation criticized U.K. spy agency officials for relying on seriously flawed or unreliable sources in drafting prewar dossiers on Iraq’s threat.

Last week, Eliza Manningham-Buller, ex-director of Britain’s domestic spy agency, MI5, told the inquiry that the prewar intelligence picture was “fragmentary,” raising similar concerns to Mr. Blix.

“The picture was not complete. The picture on intelligence never is,” she told the panel.

Mr. Blix said he believed Mr. Blair, who testified before the inquiry panel in January, was genuine in his belief that Iraq was concealing weapons, but ultimately was mistaken.

“I certainly felt that he was absolutely sincere in his belief,” Mr. Blix said. “What I questioned was the good judgment, particularly with Bush, but also in Blair’s judgment.”

Mr. Blair told the five-member panel in January it was right to invade even if there was just a “possibility that he could develop weapons of mass destruction.”

Mr. Blix — a former Swedish minister who acknowledged that he, too, long suspected Iraq was concealing weapons, most likely stocks of anthrax — repeated his claim that inspectors had too little time to assess the extent of Saddam’s threat.

He has said previously that immediately before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, his inspectors checked about three dozen sites said by British and U.S. intelligence to contain such weapons, but discovered no evidence.

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