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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 13:56 GMT 14:56 UK
Blix adds to US and UK worries

By Barnaby Mason
BBC diplomatic correspondent

Hans Blix
Hans Blix spent several years searching for Iraq's weapons
The former head of UN weapons inspectors in Iraq, Hans Blix, has accused the American and British Governments of using spin and hype in making the case for war.

And in Washington, after months of stressing a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, President George W Bush has said explicitly that there is no evidence that the former Iraqi leader was involved in the suicide hijackings of 11 September 2001.

As one would expect, Dr Blix focused in a BBC interview on the alleged past threat from Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Washington and London had over-interpreted the evidence, he said - a careful way of saying they exaggerated it.

Witch-hunt

In a trenchant phrase, Dr Blix compared the two governments' behaviour to people in Europe in the Middle Ages who were convinced that witches existed and so found them when they looked for them.

He was asked in particular about the British dossier on Iraqi weapons published last September - for the past few months it has been at the heart of a bitter dispute between the government and the BBC.

Tony Blair remains adamant that Saddam Hussein was a threat

Dr Blix added his own doubts about the British Government's famous statement that Saddam Hussein could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes.

As he noted, it has emerged at the inquiry in London into the death of a government weapons expert that this referred only to battlefield weapons, not longer-range missiles - which makes it hard to classify them as weapons of mass destruction.

The head of Britain's Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, told the inquiry this week that the 45-minute statement had been misinterpreted. And he conceded that, with hindsight, it had been given undue prominence in the dossier.

The fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq so far is particularly damaging to Tony Blair, since he founded the public case for war overwhelmingly on that threat.

Encouraging support

President Bush was much more explicit about the simple need to remove what he called an evil regime.

But he also put more emphasis on an alleged link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden's organisation, al-Qaeda.

By constantly juxtaposing the two, the administration encouraged the belief of about 70% of Americans that Iraq was actually implicated in the 11 September attacks.

Donald Rumsfeld
Rumsfeld admits there was not new intelligence before the war

Now, responding to some overstated remarks on Sunday by his Vice-President, Dick Cheney, Mr Bush has had to spell out that in fact there is no evidence for that.

It is not clear how damaging this may be, since very large numbers of people in the US and Britain already believe they were misled by their governments.

But the impression of a culture of spin and hype, as Hans Blix put it, means there is less public support for both Mr Bush and Mr Blair when things go wrong in Iraq.

It is also harder to convince other countries to come in and help them with troops and large sums of money.

The justification for the war is looking increasingly shaky.

Ultimately, though, the course of events on the ground in Iraq is likely to be the deciding factor in the political future of both leaders.


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