20 falsehoods about the iraq war

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    Glen Rangwala and Raymond Whitaker sift fact from fiction as controversy rages over the Iraq war.

    1) Iraq was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks.

    A supposed meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, leader of the September 11 hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence official was the basis for this claim, but Czech intelligence later conceded that the Iraqi's contact could not have been Atta. This did not stop the stream of assertions that Iraq was involved.

    At one stage opinion polls showed that two-thirds of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. Almost as many believed Iraqi hijackers were on the crashed aircraft.

    2) Iraq and al Qaeda were working together.

    Claims by United States and British leaders that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were in league were contradicted by a leaked British intelligence report, which said there were no current links between them. Bin Laden's "aims are in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq", it added.

    Another strand to the claims was that al Qaeda members were being sheltered in Iraq, and had set up a poisons training camp.

    When US troops reached the camp, they found no chemical or biological traces.

    3) Iraq sought uranium from Africa for a "reconstituted" N-weapons programme.

    The head of the CIA has admitted that documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to import uranium from Niger were forged, and that the claim should never have been in President George W. Bush's State of the Union address.

    Britain sticks by the claim, but the Foreign Office conceded last week that this information was now "under review".

    4) Iraq was trying to import aluminium tubes to develop nuclear weapons.

    The US persistently claimed that Baghdad tried to buy high-strength aluminium tubes whose only use could be in gas centrifuges, needed to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

    The International Atomic Energy Agency said the tubes were for artillery rockets. Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei told the UN Security Council in January that the tubes were useless for centrifuges.

    5) Iraq still had vast stocks of chemical and biological weapons from the first Gulf War.

    Iraq possessed enough dangerous substances to kill the whole world, it was alleged more than once. It had pilotless aircraft that could be smuggled into the US and used to spray chemical and biological toxins.

    Experts pointed out that apart from mustard gas, Iraq never had the technology to produce materials with a shelf-life of 12 years, the time between the two wars. All such agents would have deteriorated to the point of uselessness years ago.

    6) Iraq retained up to 20 missiles able to carry chemical or biological warheads, which would threaten British forces in Cyprus.

    Apart from the fact that there has been no sign of these missiles since the invasion, Britain downplayed the risk of there being any such weapons in Iraq once the fighting began.

    Chemical protection equipment was removed from British bases in Cyprus last year, indicating that the Government did not take its own claims seriously.

    7) Saddam had the wherewithal to develop smallpox.

    This claim was made by US Secretary of State Colin Powell in his address to the Security Council in February. The following month the UN said there was nothing to support it.

    8) US and British claims were supported by weapons inspectors.

    According to British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, chief UN weapons inspector Dr Hans Blix "pointed out" that Iraq had 10,000 litres of anthrax.

    British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Iraq's chemical, biological and "indeed the nuclear weapons programme" had been well-documented by the UN.

    Blix's reply? "This is not the same as saying there are weapons of mass destruction," he said last September.

    In May he added: "I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were not."

    9) Previous weapons inspections had failed.

    Blair told the Independent in March that the UN had "tried unsuccessfully for 12 years to get Saddam to disarm peacefully". But in 1999 a Security Council panel concluded: "Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated."

    Blair also claimed UN inspectors "found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme" until his son-in-law defected. In fact, the UN got the regime to admit to its programme more than a month before the defection.

    10) Iraq was obstructing the inspectors.

    Britain's "dodgy dossier" in February claimed inspectors' escorts were "trained to start long arguments" with other Iraqi officials while evidence was being hidden, and inspectors' journeys were monitored and notified ahead to remove surprise.

    Blix said in February that the UN had conducted more than 400 inspections, all without notice. "In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew the inspectors were coming."

    11) Iraq could deploy its weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes.

    This now-notorious claim was based on a single source, said to be a serving Iraqi military officer.

    This individual has not been produced since the war, but in any case Blair contradicted the claim in April. He said Iraq had begun to conceal its weapons in May last year, which meant they could not have been used within 45 minutes.

    12) The "dodgy dossier".

    Blair told Parliament in February, when the dossier was issued: "We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports."

    It soon emerged that most of it was cribbed without attribution from three articles on the internet.

    13) War would be easy.

    Public fears of war in the US and Britain were assuaged by assurances that Iraqis would welcome the invading forces.

    Resistance was patchy, but stiffer than expected, mainly from irregular forces fighting in civilian clothes. "This wasn't the enemy we war-gamed against," one general complained.

    14) Umm Qasr.

    The fall of Iraq's only port was announced several times before Anglo-American forces gained full control - among others by Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of Britain's defence staff.

    "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the US Marines and is now in coalition hands," he said, somewhat prematurely.

    15) The Basra rebellion.

    Claims that the Shia Muslim population of Basra, Iraq's second city, had risen against their oppressors were repeated for days, long after it became clear to those on the ground that this was little more than wishful thinking.

    The defeat of a supposed breakout by Iraqi armour was also announced by a military spokesman in no position to know the truth.

    16) The "rescue" of Private Jessica Lynch.

    Lynch's "rescue" from a hospital in Nasiriyah by American special forces was presented as the major "feel-good" story of the war.

    She was said to have fired back at Iraqi troops until her ammunition ran out, and was taken to hospital suffering bullet and stab wounds.

    But all her injuries were suffered in a vehicle crash, which left her incapable of firing.

    Medical staff had tried to return her to the Americans after Iraqi forces pulled out, but the doctors had to turn back when US troops fired on them.

    The special forces encountered no resistance, but made sure the whole episode was filmed.

    17) Troops would face chemical and biological weapons.

    As US forces approached Baghdad, there was a rash of reports that they would cross a "red line", within which Republican Guard units were authorised to use chemical weapons.

    Lieutenant-General James Conway, the leading US Marine commander in Iraq, conceded later that intelligence reports that chemical weapons had been deployed around Baghdad were wrong.

    18) Interrogation of scientists would yield the location of weapons.

    "I have got absolutely no doubt that those weapons are there ... Once we have the co-operation of the scientists and the experts, I have got no doubt that we will find them," Blair said in April.

    Other leading figures said interrogations would provide discoveries that searches had failed to supply. But almost all of Iraq's leading scientists are in custody, and claims that lingering fears of Saddam are stilling their tongues are beginning to wear thin.

    19) Iraq's oil money would go to Iraqis.

    Blair complained in Parliament that "people falsely claim that we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues, adding that they should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN.

    Instead, Britain co-sponsored a Security Council resolution that gave the US and Britain control over Iraq's oil revenue.

    20) Weapons of mass destruction found.

    After repeated false sightings, both Blair and Bush claimed on May 30 that two trailers found in Iraq were biological laboratories. "We have already found two trailers, both of which we believe were used for the production of biological weapons," said Blair.

    It is almost certain the vehicles were for producing hydrogen for weather balloons.

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