LONDON - Two former senior UN weapons inspectors in Iraq criticized US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair for clinging to ever-weaker arguments to justify their war on Iraq.
In separate comments in The Independent on Sunday, Hans Blix, the former UN chief arms inspector until the US-British invasion in March 2003, and Scott Ritter, a senior inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, backed a US official report concluding Iraq had no banned weapons before the war.
The authors of that report, although Bush appointees, "have had to acknowledge that the reality on the ground was totally different from the virtual reality that had been spun", Blix wrote.
Charles Duelfer, who headed the Iraq Survey Group, said in the 1,000-page report released Wednesday that Saddam had destroyed most of his chemical and biological weapons after his 1991 Gulf War defeat and that his nuclear program had "progressively decayed".
Duelfer said the Iraqi leader had however hoped to renew his weapons quest if sanctions were lifted -- and both Blair and Bush have rushed to use that to argue their pre-emptive strike was necessary.
"This is the new straw to which the governments concerned have begun to cling", Blix wrote.
A former Swedish foreign minister who led the UN hunt for banned chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, Blix said that in fact "the world succeeded in disarming Saddam (Hussein) without knowing it".
He questioned whether, as the Duelfer report recommends, UN inspectors would be allowed to carry out their work "in future cases, when supervision and verification will be needed, for example, in Iran, Libya and North Korea ".
Ritter, too, said Bush and Blair were "scrambling to re-justify" the war now that the banned weapons argument no longer held water, with claims they have made the world safer.
But Ritter charged that history would judge the leaders harshly for making the world a worse place by flouting international law and creating chaos in Iraq.
He said "the world's two greatest democracies" had undermined the legal framework of the United Nations set up after World War II at exactly the time when the world needed multilateralism most, to fight a global war on terror.
"Saddam is gone, and the world is far worse for it -- not because his regime posed no threat, perceived or otherwise, but because the threat to international peace and security resulting from the decisions made by Bush and Blair to invade Iraq in violation of international law make any threat emanating from an Iraq ruled by Saddam pale in comparison," he wrote.
Ritter, a former intelligence officer in the US Marines, was an inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, when he resigned, citing a lack of UN and US support for his tough disarmament methods.
Both men have been outspoken critics of Bush and Blair, and authors of books on the hunt for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.