A former top British diplomat said yesterday the government in London deliberately inflated claims that prewar Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, the Press Association reported (see GSN, July 2).
Carne Ross oversaw Middle East issues for the British mission to the United Nations in New York from 1997 to 2002. He told a British panel investigating the United Kingdom's involvement in the Iraq war that during that period "it was the U.K. and U.S. assessment that while there were many unanswered questions about Iraq’s WMD stocks and capabilities, we did not believe these amounted to a substantial threat."
The former Blair government "intentionally and substantially" in 2002 and 2003 inflated its analysis of Iraqi WMD capabilities in public documents, Ross said. Intelligence was "massaged" to produce "more robust and terrifying" declarations on Iraq's alleged WMD capability, he said.
Ross said London never had any concrete evidence that former dictator Saddam Hussein possessed notable WMD stockpiles.
"Most of the unanswered questions derived from discrepancies in Iraq's accounting for its past stocks and the destruction of these stocks," the ex-diplomat said.
In British policy papers written prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, there was no mention that Iraq posed an elevated threat to the United Kingdom, Ross said. Following the attacks, however, Downing Street changed its position on the danger posed by Hussein, most famously in its now widely discredited September 2002 dossier, he said.
"This process led to highly misleading statements about the U.K. assessment of the Iraqi threat that were, in their totality, lies," Ross said (Sam Marsden, Press Association/Scotsman, July 13).
The dossier was distributed to British lawmakers as part of then-Prime Minister Tony Blair's efforts to build support for joining the U.S.-led 2003 invasion. It contained the since-disproved assertions that Iraq could have a nuclear weapons capability in 12 months and already had the ability to launch chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes, the Associated Press reported.
Ross' testimony yesterday did not differ significantly from statements he gave to a 2004 government panel investigating preinvasion intelligence. He left Blair's administration in 2004 (Associated Press/Google News, July 12).