Iraq's WMDs could be dismantled: British officials

08:17, November 26, 2009      

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British Foreign Ministry officials told the Iraq inquiry public hearings on Wednesday that they believed former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons may have been dismantled, Britain's Sky News reported.

It is the second day of public hearings. The inquiry looked into Iraq's weapons capability and its influence on the decision to go to war.

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

Despite the warnings, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told the Commons that Iraq did have chemical and biological weapons when he made the case for war on the eve of the invasion in March 2003.

William listed a series of briefings to ministers which included major caveats about the strength of the intelligence, saying that just days before the invasion the British government had even received intelligence that Saddam Hussein 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."

The inquiry also learnt that Britain investigated and rejected suggestions of links between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaida.

Former Foreign Ministry Director of Counter-Proliferation Tim Dowse said following the 9/11 attacks, the ministry looked at the matter "very carefully," and concluded there was "nothing that looked like a relationship between the Iraqis and al-Qaida."

"After 9/11, we concluded that Iraq had stepped further back and they did not want to be associated with al-Qaida," he said. "They were not natural allies."

A public hearing on Britain's role in the Iraq war opened Tuesday with the chairman of the inquiry commission promising a "fair and frank" investigation.

John Chilcot, the five-member commission's chair, said the inquiry would not be a "whitewash" and he would not shy away from being critical in the wide-ranging probe.

The first five weeks of public testimony was to come from senior officials and military officers. Issues such as equipment, personnel, the "key decisions taken and their rationale," and the legal basis for military action would be covered during the first phase of the public hearings.

Private sessions and analysis would follow before a second round of public sessions in mid-2010. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will be questioned among the prominent witnesses.

The inquiry, which was announced by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in June, will cover the entire eight-year period from the buildup to the war to the withdrawal of British troops.

Chilcot said some witnesses may be asked to appear again for more detailed sessions, but not until after the general election, which must be held in June at the latest. The report will not be published until at least the end of 2010.

Source: Xinhua
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