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Hans Blix: ‘Iraq War was a terrible mistake and violation of U.N. charter’
Ten years ago the war in Iraq began.
On March 19, 2003, Iraq was invaded by an “alliance of willing states” headed by the U.S. and UK. My U.N. inspection team and I had seen it coming — and I felt an emptiness when, three days before the invasion, an American official called me to “ask” that we withdraw from the country.
While we were sad to be ushered out in the midst of a job entrusted to us by the U.N. Security Council — one that we were doing well — there was a certain relief in knowing we had all made it out safely. We had worried that our inspectors might be taken hostage, but as it turned out the Iraqis had been very helpful during our time there.
So it was that a few hundred unarmed U.N. inspectors left Iraq, to be replaced by hundreds of thousands of soldiers who began an occupation that would have a horrendous cost in lives, suffering and resources.
I headed the U.N. inspections in Iraq at the time of the war 10 years ago. Today, I look again at the reasons why this terrible mistake — and violation of the U.N. charter — took place and explore if any lessons be drawn. Here are my thoughts.
After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s administration felt a need to let the weight and wrath of the world’s only superpower fall on more evil actors than just Afghanistan’s Taliban regime.
No target could have seemed more worthy of being crushed than Iraq’s brutal dictator, Saddam Hussein. Sadly, however, the elimination of this tyrant was perhaps the only positive result of the war.
The war aimed to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, but there weren’t any.
The war aimed to eliminate al Qaeda in Iraq, but the terrorist group didn’t exist in the country until after the invasion.
The war aimed to make Iraq a model democracy based on law, but it replaced tyranny with anarchy and led America to practices that violated the laws of war.
The war aimed to transform Iraq to a friendly base for U.S. troops capable to act, if needed, against Iran — but instead it gave Iran a new ally in Baghdad.
The Bush administration certainly wanted to go to war, and it advanced eradication of weapons of mass destruction as the main reason. As Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has since explained, it was the only rationale that was acceptable to all parts of the U.S. administration.
The WMDs argument also carried weight with the public and with the U.S. Congress. Indeed, in the autumn of 2002 the threat seemed credible. While I never believed Saddam could have concealed a continued nuclear program, I too thought there could still be some biological and chemical weapons left from Iraq’s war with Iran. If not, why had Iraq stopped U.N. inspections at many places around the country throughout the 1990s?
However, suspicions are one thing and reality is quite another. U.N. inspectors were asked to search for, report and destroy real weapons. As we found no weapons and no evidence supporting the suspicions, we reported this. But U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfield dismissed our reports with one of his wittier retorts: “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
Rumsfeld’s logic was correct, I believe, but it was no excuse for the American and British governments to mislead themselves and the world, as they did, by giving credit to fake evidence or assuming that if weapons items were “unaccounted for” that they must exist. They did not exist.
We inspected many hundred of sites, including dozens that had been suggested to us by various governments’ national intelligence organizations. In a few cases we found conventional weapons — but no weapons of mass destruction. The governments that launched the war claimed to be 100% convinced that there were such weapons, but they had 0% knowledge of where these weapons were.
Read more at: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/18/opinion/iraq-war-hans-b...
Hans Blix was the head of U.N. weapons inspections in Iraq (UNMOVIC) in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion.
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