British govt 'exaggerated' Iraq WMD claims: ex-diplomat

12th July 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain and the United States did not believe Iraq's weapons of mass destruction posed a "substantial threat" before they launched military action, a former British diplomat said Monday.

Carne Ross told the inquiry into the 2003 invasion that the British government "intentionally and substantially" exaggerated its assessment of the weapons capability of Saddam Hussein's regime.

There was no "significant intelligence" to back up the British government's belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), Ross added.

Ross, who was First Secretary responsible for the Middle East at Britain's mission to the UN from 1997 to 2002, alleged that complex intelligence was "massaged" into "more robust and terrifying" statements about Iraq's supposed weapons programme.

He said in a statement to the inquiry: "It remains my view that the internal Government assessment of Iraq's capabilities was intentionally and substantially exaggerated in public Government documents during 2002 and 2003.

"Throughout my posting in New York, it was the UK and US assessment that while there were many unanswered questions about Iraq's WMD stocks and capabilities, we did not believe that these amounted to a substantial threat."

He said that "at no point" was there "firm evidence" that Iraq was in possession of significant stocks of weapons.

"Most of the unanswered questions derived from discrepancies in Iraq's accounting for its past stocks and the destruction of these stocks," he added.

When no WMD were found in Iraq, Britain faced questions about the intelligence used to make the case for war, including a key September 2002 dossier which claimed Saddam could launch WMD within 45 minutes.

It has since emerged this claim referred to battlefield weapons.

When former British prime minister Tony Blair gave evidence to the inquiry earlier this year, he admitted the claim should have been "corrected" but insisted that going to war had been the right decision.

© 2010 AFP

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