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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 July, 2003, 12:21 GMT 13:21 UK
Blair made WMD mistake says Blix
Hans Blix
Blix doubts authenticity of the 45-minute claim
The former head of the UN weapons inspectors has said Tony Blair made a "fundamental mistake" in claiming that Saddam Hussein could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

Hans Blix told the Independent on Sunday that the claim that Iraq could deploy weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes seemed "pretty far off the mark" to him.

And he told the BBC that it was a "serious matter" when the basis of the case for war "sort of crumbles, or becomes shaky at least".

But Commons leader Peter Hain said all the intelligence he had seen proved "absolutely conclusively" that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and was developing more.

He told BBC Radio 5 Live the weapons were still in Iraq - "unless they have been moved somewhere".

Mr Blix's comments come as more questions are raised about US and UK claims that Iraq had been trying to buy uranium from Africa.

Mr Blix said that in his opinion Tony Blair over-interpreted the intelligence Britain had.

The intelligence I saw frightened the life out of me and made me even more convinced that we should deal with Saddam Hussein than I had been before
Peter Hain
Commons leader
The claim appeared in a dossier presented to Parliament last September as the government set out its case for tackling Saddam's regime.

Last Monday, a cross-party committee of MPs found that the claim "did not warrant the prominence given to it" although it cleared Mr Blair's media chief Alastair Campbell of inserting it in the dossier.

Uranium claims

Mr Blix was asked on the BBC's Panorama programme, to be screened on Sunday night, if believed the US and UK governments were determined to go to war and therefore read the intelligence accordingly.

He said: "I think there was an element of that ... the main justification after all, which we were told, and the American people were told, and United Nations were told, was weapons of mass destruction."

He said Mr Blair and his staff had not been "sufficiently critical" of intelligence on Iraq.

But Mr Hain said the intelligence he saw "frightened the life out of me and made me even more convinced that we should deal with Saddam Hussein than I had been before".

Uranium claim

He went on: "There is a lot of frenzy about some of the detail at the moment and I don't feel comfortable with the fact that no more than was discovered early on of additional evidence of weapons of mass destruction has been uncovered yet, but I believe it will because I believe it is there."

Meanwhile, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Donald Anderson, has said the government should make available more information about the source which said Iraq was trying to obtain uranium from Niger.

The uranium claim, which was also first made public in the September dossier, was used by both governments to build a case for going to war over Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction.

The claim was then cited in President Bush's State of the Union speech to Congress in January.

The White House now says that was a mistake - the CIA had information that the Niger claim was based on fraudulent documents.

The head of the CIA, George Tenet, has taken the blame for its inclusion in the speech and Mr Bush has said he now considers the matter closed.

Lack of communication

However, on Saturday the UK defended the Niger claim, saying it had intelligence from a separate source that the CIA did not know about.
Teams of UN weapons inspectors were sent to Iraq before the war

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said the UK had additional information to support the claim that Iraq had sought uranium from Niger, but this intelligence had not been passed on to the US administration because it came from another foreign intelligence service.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt says the UK didn't name a specific country in the uranium claim, saying Saddam had sought to get uranium from Africa.

Niger has been in the spotlight because of letters purporting to be about a sale from Niger which were handed over to the weapons inspectors - but they later turned out to be fake.

Secure

Elizabeth Blunt reported: "If the government is talking about Niger, by far and away the most obvious source would be the French government or someone within the French establishment.

"Niger has two uranium mines, both operated by a company called Cogema and Cogema is the commercial wing of the French atomic energy commission.

"It is around 85%-owned, directly or indirectly, by the French government, which maintains the mines in Niger as a secure source of uranium and which, along with Japan, buys the entire output.

"So any information that Iraq was seeking uranium was highly likely to have come from or to have involved the French.

"And that raises the thought-provoking possibility that crucial information used to justify the war in Iraq may actually have come from the country which most loudly opposed it."

Tory party chairman Theresa May said row over intelligence about Iraq had again raised the issue of trust in the government.

Mr Hain admitted the government had hit "a bad patch", but he said he believed people would accept that it was still doing a good job.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Mark Mardell
"The questions keep coming but the evidence and answers don't"



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