Iraq may have been truthful when it told the UN Security Council in December that it did not have chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, a former chief UN weapons inspector said.
The declaration, submitted December 7 by the government of then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, was quickly dismissed as false and incomplete by the United States and Britain, which accused Baghdad of failing to disarm as required by Security Council Resolution 1441.
These charges were later used by Washington and London to justify the invasion of the country in late March.
But more than four months after US President George W. Bush declared victory in Iraq, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said facts presented by Iraq in the 12,000-page document may have been accurate.
"With this long period, I'm inclined to think that the Iraqi statement that they destroyed all the biological and chemical weapons, which they had in the summer of 1991 may well be the truth," Blix told CNN television.
The retired Swedish diplomat, who headed the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission for Iraq, said his inspectors had worked in Iraq for three-and-a-half months in late 2002 and early 2003 and "did not find any smoking gun."
Blix said US and British experts had now been scouring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction for several months and had the opportunity to interrogate members of the Iraqi establishment in their custody.
"I cannot fail to notice that some of the things that they expected us to see that they have turned out not to be real weapons of mass destruction," said the former chief inspector.
A US investigative team headed top Central Intelligence Agency weapons analyst David Kay that began its own search for banned Iraqi weapons shortly after the fall of Hussein is to present its preliminary findings later this month.
But US officials indicate it may fail to produce any "smoking gun" as well. US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who met with Kay during his visit to Iraq last week, sought to dampen expectations, telling reporters afterwards, "I'm assuming he would tell me if he had gotten something."
President George W. Bush did not mention the search for the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in his televised address to the nation late Sunday.
Blix said top US officials, including Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice were anxious to get evidence implicating Baghdad in violations of Resolution 1441 in the run-up to the war.
"They would have hoped and they would been happy to see if we had said, 'Here Iraq has violated, here they have, here is the smoking gun. We have found it,'" said the ex-arms inspector. "And when we didn't do that, well, then they were disappointed. And then they overinterpreted their own intelligence."
He said he did not want to suggest that top US officials were wilfully and consciously lying, but he said he believed Washington was too willing to jump to conclusions.
"I said in the Security Council that if something is unaccounted for, it doesn't necessarily mean that they exist," Blix said. "And I think there was that tendency to jump to that conclusion."www.unitedforpeace.org/article.php?id=1966E-mail this article