WAR OF BLAIR AND THE BBC: BLIX BLITZ; UN Weapons Chief Mocks No 10 Claim Saddam Could Launch WMD in 45 Mins It May Be a Bit Suspicious They Were 100% Sure They Had WMDs and Had 0% Knowledge about Where They Were - FORMER CHIEF UN WEAPONS INSPECTOR HANS BLIX YESTERDAY

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Byline: JAMES HARDY, Political Editor

FORMER UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said yesterday he found NO evidence Saddam Hussein could have launched weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes.

He also mocked US and Britain, declaring: "It may be a bit suspicious they were 100 per cent sure they (the Iraqis) had WMD and nought per cent knowledge about where they were."

MPs are today expected to clear Downing Street of a BBC claim that officials "sexed up" an intelligence dossier by falsely claiming Saddam could fire chemical or biological warheads in 45 minutes.

Tony Blair will challenge the BBC to withdraw the allegation saying it is "as serious an attack on my integrity there could possibly be".

But BBC Director General Greg Dyke is standing firm. He believes the row is a "do or die" issue for the Beeb's credibility.

Asked if Iraq could launch WMD in 45 minutes, Dr Blix told Radio 4 yesterday: "In view of the fact they did not find anything at all over three months, it sounds unlikely."

Further asked whether such weapons existed in Iraq, he said he found "absolutely none".

Dr Blix, who retired at the end of last month, admitted small quantities of anthrax could be hidden. But whether it could be mobilised in 45 minutes was "doubtful". He said: "Indeed, we didn't reach the conclusion they (the Iraqis) did have any weapons of mass destruction. They might have but we certainly did not conclude it."

Dr Blix added: "Starting a war is a fairly significant thing, especially if it is pre-emptive and without Security Council authorisation.

"In those cases I think many people would like to see that they are on solid evidence and also that the danger is really imminent."

The Commons Foreign Affairs committee is expected to accept in a report today that the 45-minute blunder was made by spy chiefs.

It may attack Downing Street spin chief Alastair Campbell for interfering with the dossier, released in September, in which the claim was made. It will also criticise him for a second "intelligence" dossier largely cribbed from the internet.

No 10 and the BBC have been locked in a stand-off for six weeks over the "sexing up" claim, made by Radio 4 reporter Andrew Gilligan.

In an interview yesterday, Mr Blair said: "The idea that I would start altering intelligence evidence, or saying to the intelligence services 'I am going to insert this', is absurd.

"There couldn't be a more serious charge that I ordered our troops into conflict on the basis of intelligence evidence that I falsified. …