The United Nations chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, yesterday accused hawks
in Washington, who are bent on going to war with Iraq, of conducting a smear campaign
The extent of the tension between Mr Blix and elements of the US administration
burst into the open on the day that he led UN weapons inspectors back to Baghdad
for the first time in four years to renew their search for chemical, biological
and nuclear-related weapons.
Key figures in the Bush administration have criticized Mr Blix in recent weeks,
claiming he is too weak to stand up to the Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, and
that he may fail to find the weapons that the CIA claims have been hidden by the
In an interview with the Guardian in Cyprus, the last staging post before his
flight to Baghdad, Mr Blix rounded on his critics. Asked whether he thought US
hawks were behind the smear campaign, Mr Blix said: "You can say there's some
truth in that judgment."
Mr Blix and the head of the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), Mohammed
el-Baradei, who will join the inspections, later arrived in Baghdad aboard a cargo
plane with the black letters of the UN painted on its side. Amid chaotic scenes
at the airport, Iraqi and Arab journalists pressed the inspectors on whether they
expected friction with the US. The inspectors insisted they did not expect it.
Mr Blix's report, which will be presented to the UN security council early
next year, could be the deciding factor in whether or not there is war in Iraq.
The US whispering campaign against Mr Blix, a former Swedish diplomat, may be
designed to undercut any report that is favorable to Iraq.
The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, and the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld,
have both said they do not believe the inspectors will succeed in disarming president
Saddam, and their aides have anonymously briefed against Mr Blix who failed to
detect Iraq's nuclear program in the 1980s when he was head of the IAEA.
Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an associate of Mr Rumsfeld, said in
London last week: "If it were up to me, on the strength of his previous record,
I wouldn't have chosen Hans Blix."
In his first response, Mr Blix said yesterday: "I haven't seen the criticism
myself but I have heard about it. I don't see the point of criticizing inspections
that have not taken place... it's not very meaningful."
He described the accusations that he was not up to job as "not very meaningful,
and certainly unhelpful."
One of his team also dismissed the criticism, rejecting the allegation that
Mr Blix had failed to find evidence of the nuclear program"That's absolutely wrong.
Back then inspectors were only allowed to visit sites that were declared," the
inspector said. He added that the powers now available to the inspectors, such
as the ability to visit sites without prior notice, did not apply before the 1991
Washington's alarm over Mr Blix intensified after a recent speech in which
he said he favored cooperation with the Iraqis rather than confrontation. His
colleagues said Mr Blix was acutely aware of the animosity aroused by the last
team of inspectors who were accused by Iraq of abrasive behavior and of spying
for the US.
The inspectors, who sought and destroyed Iraqi biological, chemical and nuclear-related
weapons after the Gulf war, abandoned Baghdad in December 1998, claiming Iraqis
were obstructing their work.
Mr Blix, 72, who came back from retirement to take over the job, has done much
to change the culture of how inspectors work.
The 26-strong UN team was formally welcomed at the airport by General Hosam
Amin, head of the Iraqi monitoring directorate, a group of scientists, engineers
and military personnel.
Mr Blix and Mr el-Baradei held talks with Gen Amin and his officials last night.
Mr Blix and Mr el-Baradei are due to leave Iraq tomorrow after talks with Iraqi
The advance team that arrived with them will prepare the office, accommodation
and communications for the arrival of the inspectors next week. Mr Blix said preliminary
inspections could resume next Wednesday, with full-scale checks starting after
Iraq files a declaration of banned weapons programs, if any, by December 8.
The arrival of the UN team coincided with air attacks on Iraqi defensive positions.
The Iraqis fired back, a move the US insists contravenes the UN resolution passed
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002