US is misquoting my Iraq report, says Blix

By Judith Miller and Julia Preston in New York (February 1 2003)

Days after delivering a broadly negative report on Iraq's cooperation with international inspectors, Hans Blix challenged several of the Bush Administration's assertions about Iraqi cheating and the notion that time was running out for disarming Iraq through peaceful means.

In an interview on Wednesday, Dr Blix, the United Nations chief weapons inspector, seemed determined to dispel any impression that his report was intended to support the United States' campaign to build world support for a war to disarm Saddam Hussein.

"Whatever we say will be used by some," Dr Blix said, adding that he had strived to be "as factual and conscientious" as possible. "I did not tailor my report to the political wishes or hopes in Baghdad or Washington or any other place."

Dr Blix took issue with what he said were US Secretary of State Colin Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.

Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to other countries to prevent them from being interviewed.

Nor had he any reason to believe, as President George Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists, or that his inspection agency had been penetrated by Iraqi agents and that sensitive information might have been leaked to Baghdad.

Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda. "There are other states where there appear to be stronger links," such as Afghanistan, Dr Blix said. "It's bad enough that Iraq may have weapons of mass destruction."

Russia has also denied any knowledge of links between Iraq and al-Qaeda extremists. The Russian Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov, said on Thursday that "so far, neither Russia nor any other country has information about Iraq's ties with al-Qaeda".

"If we receive such information we will analyse it," he said. "Statements made so far are not backed by concrete documents and concrete facts."

Meanwhile the founder of a militant Islamist group in northern Iraq has denied US reports that his organisation was the secret link between Baghdad and al-Qaeda.

Mullah Krekar, a refugee in Norway, said Saddam was his foe, and the Kurdish Islamist said he had no contact with al-Qaeda.

He said that he could prove that his Ansar al-Islam (Supporters of Islam) organisation, which controls a sliver of land in northern Iraq, had "no contact with al-Qaeda, with Osama [bin Laden], with Saddam Hussein, with Iran or Iraq".

Ansar's role is at the heart of the US's latest attempt to demonstrate a connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

The New York Times, agencies

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