CHICAGO - The invasion of Iraq has polarized the Middle East and may have worsened the threat of terrorism, former United Nations weapons inspector Hans Blix charged on Thursday.
On a tour of the United States to promote his book, "Disarming Iraq," Blix criticized U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for engaging in a "witch hunt" to justify the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq one year ago.
Former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix attends his book launch in Berlin March 11, 2004. The invasion of Iraq has polarized the Middle East and may have worsened the threat of terrorism, Blix charged on Thursday. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch
In a speech sponsored by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, Blix listed the negatives he believes have resulted from the war: polarized societies in the Middle East, a rift in NATO, damage to the U.N. Security Council, and no easing in the threat of terrorism.
"The terrorism threat has not abated," he said.
Asked to expand on his comments in light of the March 11 train bombings in Spain that killed more than 200, Blix said "it's clearly an increase in the terrorism.
"It was ... al Qaeda or some related terrorist movement trying to tell states that they should not participate in the actions in Iraq," he said.
Blix said his task of seeking weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was undermined by the Bush and Blair governments, which probably knew they were exaggerating the threat to justify the invasion. "(The war) was more punitive than preemptive," he said.
Apart from removing Saddam from power, Blix said he saw no benefit from the invasion and was skeptical of U.S. claims that Libya's subsequent decision to disarm was based on a fear that it could be next.
What bothered him most, he said, was the manipulation of intelligence on Iraq and the lack of support for the weapons inspections process and the UN in general.
"They are politicians, and we understand the need for hype. But still, as citizens, as voters, we want critical thinking, we want sincerity, not advertising hype," he said.
Blix said the UN could play a key role in a fight against terrorism. "First of all, the struggle against terrorism must be a multilateral one, and I think the United States realizes that," he said.
"This is not just an alliance of the willing, of big industrial states, but must have the rest of the world behind it."
© Copyright Reuters Ltd 2004