Thursday, 10 April 2003

Iraq war planned long in advance; banned arms not the priority: Blix

The invasion of Iraq was planned a long time in advance, and the United States and Britain are not primarily concerned with finding any banned weapons of mass destruction, the chief UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said.

"There is evidence that this war was planned well in advance. Sometimes this raises doubts about their attitude to the (weapons) inspections," Blix told Spanish daily El Pais.

"I now believe that finding weapons of mass destruction has been relegated, I would say, to fourth place, which is why the United States and Britain are now waging war on Iraq. Today the main aim is to change the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein," he said, according to the Spanish text of the interview.

Blix said US President George W. Bush (news - web sites) had told him in October 2002 that he backed the UN's work to verify US and British claims that Baghdad was developing biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.

But he said he knew at the time "there were people within the Bush administration who were sceptical and who were working on engineering regime change". By the start of March the hawks in both Washington and London were getting impatient, he added.

Blix said that he thought the US might initially have believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction -- although its "fabrication" of evidence raised doubts about even that -- but that Washington was now less convinced by its own claims.

"I think the Americans started the war thinking there were some. I think they now believe less in that possibility. But I don't know -- you ask yourself a lot of questions when you see the things they did to try and demonstrate that the Iraqis had nuclear weapons, like the fake contract with Niger," he explained.

That was a reference to US allegations -- later denied -- that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from the west African state of Niger.

"I'm very curious to see if they do find any (weapons)," he said.

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