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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 September, 2003, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Analysis: Has Blix hurt Blair?

By Nick Assinder
BBC News Online political correspondent

Blix: Doubts over case for war
Voters were sold the case for war on Iraq in the same way they might have been sold a fridge.

So says Hans Blix, the man who was charged with finding Saddam's weapons of mass destruction and who now believes they may all have been destroyed a decade ago, just as the dictator claimed.

According to the UN's former chief weapons inspector, there was a large degree of spin involved in the way the evidence against Iraq was presented to the public.

His words will echo around Downing Street and the White House.

"Advertisers will advertise a refrigerator in terms that we don't quite believe in.

"But we expect governments to be more serious and to have more credibility," he said.

Misguided citizens

And that, of course, goes to the nub of the issue. Just how much credibility the US and UK governments have left.

George Bush and Tony Blair will want to dismiss his comments, insisting there was real, credible intelligence of Saddam's weapons programmes.

Blix thinks no weapons will be found

The fact that his remarks came at the same time President Bush finally had to tell his somehow misguided citizens that Iraq was not actually involved in the 11 September attacks gives the charge of spin even greater emphasis.

And, in Britain, they come against the backdrop of the Commons intelligence committee report and the Hutton inquiry which have already increased suspicions of spin here.

We have now learned that intelligence chiefs warned Tony Blair that war on Saddam would increase rather than decrease the chances of weapons of mass destruction falling into terrorists hands.

Left out

The prime minister took a different judgement and did not mention that intelligence when delivering his persuasive case against Iraq.

The intelligence committee also declared that the way claims about Saddam's ability to deploy WMD within 45 minutes were presented in the government's dossier were misleading.

Readers of the dossier - experts and non-experts alike - could very likely have been misled, it found.

Whether it will all turns out for the best for the prime minister remains to be see
BBC's Nick Assinder

Similarly, it criticised the way the prime minister's statement that Saddam could not nuke Britain was left out of the dossier.

Even Britain's top spook, MI6's Sir Richard Dearlove - while claiming the dossier was a proper reflection of the intelligence - said in the next breath that the 45 minute claim was "misinterpreted" and thus given "undue prominence."

What all this amounts to is a growing case for the prosecution for those who believe Britain was spun into the war by a prime minister set on an irreversible course.

They will see it all as further proof that former minister Robin Cook was right when he claimed the prime minister made the intelligence fit his policy rather than allowing the policy to be dictated by the intelligence.

Won't wash

Tony Blair, however, is more or less unflinching.

He has attempted to subtly - and occasionally not so subtly - move the goalposts by changing the reasons for war to regime change.

And he has gradually changed his language on WMD away from claiming the Iraq Survey Group will find actual physical kit, to the suggestion they will find evidence of WMD programmes.

But he remains adamant that Saddam Hussein was a threat and, left unchallenged, would have become an even greater threat.

What he would now dearly love is one of two things.

Either the discovery of a real weapon of mass destruction, or one that could at least have been used during the war.

Or, alternatively, an outbreak of peace and democracy in Iraq to reassure people that, whatever the original justification for war was, it all turned out for the best.

Whether it will all turns out for the best for the prime minister remains to be seen.

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