Former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix warned Washington and London in the weeks before the 2003 invasion of Iraq that he was growing less confident in evidence Iraq had banned weapons, he said on Tuesday.
He told a British inquiry Iraq was not a threat in 2003, and that years of anarchy triggered by the invasion may be worse than the tyranny of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"The interesting thing, was Iraq a danger in 2003? They were not a danger. They were practically prostrate .... What they got instead was a long period of anarchy. And one conclusion I would try to draw is that anarchy can be worse than tyranny," he said.
Iraqis had suffered for years before the invasion under strict U.N. sanctions for Saddam's 1990 attack on Kuwait. At the time of the 2003 invasion, Saddam's ousting was touted as one of the justifications for war.
The United States and Britain argued that Saddam had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and needed to be disarmed. After the invasion no banned weapons were found. Years of sectarian bloodshed ensued.
Longtime critic of invasion
Blix's comments added weight to negative appraisals given by other senior figures at the inquiry which has raised tough questions about the decision by then U.S. President George W. Bush and then British Prime Minister Tony Blair to invade.
Blix, who has long been an outspoken opponent of the decision to invade, told the inquiry that Washington was "high" on military power, and the U.S. military timetable was "out of sync" with the diplomatic timetable, which would have given his team more time to carry out inspections.
Blix headed a U.N. team searching for banned arms, known as weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq. He said his group's failure to find any WMDs should have caused Washington and London to question their intelligence.
"I talked to Prime Minister Blair on 20th February 2003 and then I said I still thought that there were prohibited items in Iraq but at the same time our belief in the intelligence had been weakened," Blix told the inquiry.
"I said the same thing to Condoleezza Rice .... I certainly gave some warning that things had changed," Blix said, referring to the U.S. Secretary of State at the time of the invasion.
The United States and Britain had both published intelligence reports in the lead-up to the war which they said showed Iraq had WMDs or the capability to make them.
Blix had criticized Iraq before the invasion for not being transparent about its weapons programs, but his reports fell short of giving Bush and Blair compelling evidence to U.N. support for war.
The United States and Britain tried to persuade the U.N. Security Council to endorse their decision to invade Iraq, but when the council failed to pass a new resolution, they invaded anyway, arguing earlier resolutions justified the assault.
"When she (Rice) said that the military action was simply upholding the authority of the (U.N.) Security Council, it strikes me as totally absurd," Blix said.
Blair's successor Gordon Brown set up an inquiry last year, chaired by former civil servant John Chilcot, to learn lessons from the war. Blair and Brown's Labour Party, in power since 1997, was defeated in an election in May this year.
The former head of Britain's domestic intelligence agency told the inquiry last week there had been only a low risk of an Iraq-backed attack on Britain before the war, but that the country was "swamped" by terror threats after the invasion because the conflict had radicalized some Muslims.
Blair has been criticized at home for committing Britain to the invasion, which was unpopular with the British public, including among leading figures within his left-leaning Labour Party. British troops have since withdrawn.
The inquiry is expected to conclude at the end of this year. Previous probes have cleared the government of any wrongdoing.