Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Iraq's WMDs Did Not Concern Officials In 2001

Iraq was "not top of the list" of countries worrying British officials concerned with halting the spread of weapons of mass destruction in 2001.

On the second day of the Iraq inquiry public hearings, Foreign Office officials said they believed Saddam Hussein's nuclear programme had been dismantled and had no evidence he was trying to supply WMDs to terrorists.

Sir William Ehrman, who was director of international security at the Foreign Office, said ministers had been warned repeatedly that intelligence on Iraq's chemical and biological programmes was "patchy".

Despite the warnings, Tony Blair told the Commons Saddam Hussein did have chemical and biological weapons when he made the case for war on the eve of the invasion in March 2003.

Sir William listed a series of briefings to ministers which included major caveats about the strength of the intelligence.

Just days before the invasion the Government had even received intelligence that Saddam may be unable to use his chemical weapons.

"We did, I think on March 10, get a report that chemical weapons might have remained disassembled and Saddam hadn't yet ordered their assembly," he said.

"There was also a suggestion that Iraq might lack warheads capable of effective dispersal of agents."

However Sir William said that it had not made any difference to the case for war over Saddam's refusal to give up his WMD and co-operate with United Nations inspectors.

Tim Dowse, who was head of counter-proliferation at the Foreign Office, said that when he took up the post in 2001 Iraq was not seen as the main concern.

"It wasn't top of the list," he said. "I would say we put Libya and Iran ahead of Iraq."

He said that despite concerns in the United States, there was no evidence that Saddam was prepared to supply chemical or biological weapons to terrorists.

"There had been nothing that looked like a relationship between the Iraqis and al Qaida," he said.

"In fact, after 9/11 we concluded that Iraq actually stepped further back. They did not want to be associated with al Qaeda. They weren't natural allies."

Mr Dowse said that he had originally attached little importance to intelligence claiming the Iraq had weapons it could deploy within 45 minutes, which subsequently featured heavily the Government's notorious Iraq dossier.

"Speaking personally, when I saw the 45 minutes report, I did not give it particular significance because it didn't seem out of line with what we generally assessed to be Iraq's intentions and capabilities with regard to chemical weapons," he said.

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