- Title: VARIOUS/FILE: Iraq chemical weapons were in doubt UK inquiry told
- Date: 27th November 2009
- Summary: BAGHDAD, IRAQ (FILE - MARCH 27, 2003) (REUTERS) SKYLINE WITH SIRENS SOUNDING IN STREETS OF BAGHDAD AUDIO OF ANTI-AIRCAFT FIRE AS PLUMES OF BLACK SMOKE RISE FROM THE SKYLINE OF BAGHDAD
- Embargoed: 12th December 2009 12:00
- Topics: War / Fighting,International Relations
- Reuters ID: LVAAJIP9W1333ID48CGSDC0UQTBE
- Story Text: British intelligence in the days ahead of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq signalled that Saddam Hussein's forces did not have the capability to deploy chemical weapons, senior officials said on Wednesday (November 25).
The Iraq Inquiry heard an official dossier to justify war that said Saddam could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes was understood by British security circles to refer to battlefield chemical weapons and not ballistic missiles.
There had been scant new intelligence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme since U.N. inspectors left the country in 1998, although it was assumed Saddam would step up efforts to obtain such weapons, the officials said.
Tim Dowse, Head of Counter Proliferation at the Foreign Office in 2001, and William Ehrman, who was Director International Security, said they believed Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions had been contained by sanctions.
The second day of the inquiry heard officials had been more concerned about Iraq's bid to acquire more chemical and biological weapons (CBW), although evidence suggested its arsenal had been destroyed in the 1990s.
"We did in the very final days before military action receive some (intelligence) on CBW use that it was disassembled, that he might not have the munitions to deliver it," Ehrman told the inquiry.
He said other evidence, including that from U.N. weapons inspectors who had been in Iraq before the 2003 war, had previously backed up fears Iraqi forces had chemical and biological weapons.
The officials were also asked specifically about the government statement that Saddam could deploy WMDs within 45 minutes. It was widely believed to mean Iraq could strike against neighbouring countries, but no such weapons were found.
Ehrman said that the information was more than sketchy:
"April 2000 - the pictures was limited on chemical weapons. May 2001 - the knowledge of WMD and ballistic missile programmes was patchy. March 2002 - the intelligence on Iraq WMD and ballistic missile is sporadic and patchy."
Dowse said when he saw the report he assumed this referred to battlefield weapons, and not missiles that could be fired at other states.
The officials also said while Saddam supported Palestinian militant groups, there was little evidence of contact between al Qaeda and Saddam's government over the spread of WMDs.
And answering the question of the chairman of the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, whether anything has been found in the years since 2004, Dowse said: "Not of significance, no."
The five-member inquiry committee is due to hear from senior politicians, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, next year and Chilcot says he hopes the committee will be able to deliver its conclusions by the end of 2010.
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