Britain's former top Iraq expert at the United Nations said in previously secret testimony that most government officials did not believe Iraq posed a threat in the months leading to the U.S.-led invasion, according to a new report.
Carne Ross, a former first secretary to the British mission at the U.N. responsible for Iraq policy, told a House of Commons committee that he and other analysts believed that Iraq had only a "very limited" ability to mount an attack of any kind, including one using weapons of mass destruction, or WMD.
Ross declined to comment on his testimony Friday, saying it spoke for itself.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday published the testimony, which Ross gave to Lord Butler's 2004 official inquiry into intelligence on Iraq.
Butler didn't fault the government but criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on "seriously flawed" or "unreliable" sources.
Publishing of testimony may lead to more
Ross said he was advised by lawyers that he risked prosecution under Britain's Official Secrets Act if he made his testimony public.
However, the committee published his testimony after the Foreign Office said its contents did not breach the act, said Andrew MacKinley, the committee member who asked Ross to submit the documents at a hearing last month.
"Indeed, it might be a green light for others to furnish other evidence. I would welcome that," MacKinley said.
Ross served in the British mission at the U.N. headquarters from 1998 until 2002. Later, he was posted in Kosovo and Afghanistan, but kept in contact with British Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry experts on Iraq and inquired about the shift toward war.
"At no time did HMG (Her Majesty's Government) assess that Iraq's WMD posed a threat to the U.K. or its interests. It was the commonly held view among officials that the threat had been contained," Ross said in the written testimony.
‘No evidence’ of Iraq-terror connection
"Iraq's ability to launch a WMD or any form of attack was very limited," he said. "There were approx 12 or so unaccounted-for Scud missiles; Iraq's air force was depleted to the point of total ineffectiveness; its army was but a pale shadow of its earlier might; there was no evidence of any connection between Iraq and any terrorist organization that might have planned an attack using Iraqi WMD (I do not recall any occasion when the question of a terrorist connection was even raised in U.K./U.S. discussions or U.K. internal debates)."
During the months leading up to the war, he said, the evidence of the threat posed by Saddam's regime did not change. "What changed was the government's determination to present available evidence in a different light," he testified.
The testimony is likely to add fuel to a full parliamentary debate on the Iraq war next month. In October, the government narrowly defeated an opposition motion demanding an inquiry into the war and, with the situation in Iraq worsening, pressure has been building for a full-scale debate.
Ross joined those calling for a full investigation in a letter written to the committee dated last week.
"It is clear that what is required, either from the committee or parliament in general, is a more systematic and thorough inquiry into decisions on Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 invasion," Ross wrote. "Scrutinizing individual officials or documents in piecemeal fashion cannot provide an authoritative or complete picture."
Ross told the committee that he resigned from the government in September 2004 because of his misgivings over the war. He now works for a nonprofit diplomatic consulting group.