Blix retires as U.N. WMD inspector
LONDON, England -- The man responsible for finding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to war has retired.
Hans Blix stood down this week as head of the of the U.N.'s Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) after three years.
During that time he found himself in the diplomatic crossfire between those who insisted Saddam Hussein still had WMD and the Iraqi regime which denied it did.
Blix, who advocated prudence and patience in the search for alleged weapons, was subsequently over ruled by a White House administration which insisted on carrying out a pre-emptive strike against Iraq.
The 75-year-old, who will retire to his native Sweden, described his time at the U.N. as "difficult but also rewarding."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a farewell letter: "Few United Nations officials have demonstrated the calm, grace and professionalism that you have in the face of virtually unprecedented pressure and attention over the past several months."
The U.S.-backed coalition has come in for increasing criticism over its failure to unearth evidence of the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons it alleged Iraq had, despite the war coming to an end more than two months ago.
Blix was quoted by Reuters as saying: "Well we still don't exclude that they can find things but the longer time passes, the less possibility perhaps.
"But I think we were vindicated in the prudence that we showed. We consistently maintained that unaccounted for is not the same thing as saying things exist. They might exist, they might not exist and I think everything shows that that was wise."
Blix believes Iraq may have destroyed most of its dangerous weapons but questions remain why Saddam did not produce data showing he had disarmed.
The diplomat speculated that Saddam might have wanted to create the mystique that he still had weapons of mass destruction.
The U.N. is still barred by the U.S.-led coalition from helping in searches.
Blix's relationship with the U.S. has increasingly worsened. He has become more openly critical of intelligence he received from Washington and other capitals.
He told the Council on Foreign Relations last week he was "not impressed" by some of the evidence presented to the U.N.
Security Council by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in February, Reuters reported.
The Swede's reports before the war were criticized by the White House for not emphasizing Iraq's lack of cooperation in declaring all its weapons.
But Blix went out of his way to say this week that he had "civil relations" with Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
Blix was executive chairman of UNMOVIC between March 2000 and July 2003. His team did not return to Iraq until November 27, 2002. Before UNMOVIC he spent 16 years, until 1997 as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).