< Ambassador Hans Blix on the 'End' of the War In Iraq


Thursday, August 19, 2010

CELESTE HEADLEE: We’re joined by Hans Blix. He served as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997, and then he was tapped to lead the U.N. committee charged with searching for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Good morning.


HEADLEE: I want to take you back in time just a little bit. You led U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq before the U.S.-led invasion. You found nothing. That clearly did not stop the invasion. I wanted to play for you this clip of President Bush announcing that the invasion of Iraq had begun.

PRESIDENT BUSH (on tape): At this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.

This was a war that you tried to stop; it was a war that you called illegal. What were your feelings about President Bush making that announcement? 

BLIX: Well I was sad that we had failed to prevent military action. We would have been helpful. If we could have continued inspections a few months more inspection would have put undermined alleged evidence that the U.S. and the U.K. presented and thereby made anymore military action more difficult.

HEADLEE: Have your feelings changed at all. Do you now there was something positive that came out of the U.S. invasion?

BLIX: No. The toppling of Saddam Hussein, he was a horrible dictator, a brutal figure and that was a blessing. But what followed was not. The peace and quiet that the U.S. had expected and predicted, but rather years of anarchy and perhaps one might say anarchy turned out at times to be worse than terror.

HEADLEE: Do you think it’s fair to say at this point, the war is over?

BLIX: Well, the active war is over, but the wounds that were inflicted have not healed. It is up to the Iraqis to try to bridge the gaps and try to get a balance between the groups – the Kurds and the Sunnis and the Shiites and the Christians and others – in the same sort of balancing act that has succeeded in the past. It’s not easy, but that’s what they need to do if they want to avoid civil war and perhaps for an intervention again.

HEADLEE: We have some of the same sort of ominous rumblings now coming out of Iran. Russia’s preparing to transfer to Tehran some low-enriched uranium to fuel and Iranian nuclear power plant. Here’s John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, speaking on Fox News on Tuesday.

JOHN BOLTON: The Russians and the Iranians announced last week that they’re gonna begin inserting the fuel rods into the Bushehr reactor this Friday. That’s really the point at which those rods are either in the reactor or so close it that an attack on it would release radiation into the atmosphere or the water.

HEADLEE: I’m wondering if you hear echoes here, of the run-up to the Iraq war when you hear this kind of thing.

BLIX: Well, Mr. Bolton has always been very militant and I think he stood for a policy that clearly failed in case of Iran. He wanted, like the Bush administration, to isolate Iran. They said you should suspend the enrichment program and if you do that then we are willing to talk to you. It was a pre-condition and the Iranians were not interested in suspending it, so the program just continued. I think Mr. Obama has been much wiser, in saying that no we are willing to talk to you at any time. We still wish Iran to suspend the enrichment or at least to get conditions under which we are sure that they will not produce nuclear weapons. There is greater hope and there is now a prediction of talks in September of this though, although I think they will begin to be limited to the delivery of 20 percent fuel for the Bushehr reactor, which is a research reactor produced for medical use south of Tehran. But that could be a start of a broader negotiation, so it’s a little more hopeful, but still very, very difficult conversation.

HEADLEE: So you think Iran and Ahmadinejad could be better diplomatic partners and more trustworthy than Saddam Hussein was?

BLIX: Well, they are not easy customers – I am not suggesting that. But nevertheless, I think Saddam was different altogether, he was brutal and I don’t think he had a clear idea of the world. He was isolated and the people didn’t dare to tell him about the reality, and I think he had the illusion that he would get away both with inspectors and sanctions. The Iranians, I think, are much more sophisticated, they are much more open society so talks are much more meaningful in their case. Now, we don’t know whether they really want to go for weapons – that has been the assumption and there are many reasons why one can suspect it. They say themselves, on the other hand, that they want only to produce fuel for the reactors. Now, the acceptance of Russian fuel for the reactors perhaps is an argument for the West and the outside world. We can tell the Iranians that look, you don’t need to produce your own fuel because you’re getting it from the Russians. There can be guarantees about it in the futures – I think that’s why there is no strong reaction against it, the fuel, the 3.5 percent for the reactor.

HEADLEE: Let me ask you the same question we’re asking out listeners all morning. What do you think will be the legacy of the U.S. invasion of Iraq?

BLIX: As a terrible mistake. A failure, that it costs a great number of lives – American lives, injured people and even more Iraqi lives. And also, as undermining the view of the United States as a country exercising some restraints and some wisdom. I do hope this memory will also work on the case of Iran. In the case of Iraq, it was a case launched against the eradication of weapons of mass destruction that turns out didn’t exist. In the case of Iran, we are seeing people calling for armed action against alleged intentions.

HEADLEE: Hans Blix was the director general of the IAEA tapped to led the U.N. committee.


Hans Martin Blix

Produced by:

Noel King and Elizabeth Ross