Dr. Hans Blix, former chief of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) between 1999 and 2003, was called to testify at the British Iraq War Inquiry board. He was discussing the findings of the inspection teams in Iraq before the US invasion in 2003 - findings that weren't released until June 2003, months after the invasion began.
Asked about the inspections he oversaw between November 2002 and 18 March 2003 - when his team was forced to pull out of Iraq on the eve of the war - he said he was "looking for smoking guns" but did not find any.
While his team discovered prohibited items such as missiles beyond the permitted range, missile engines and a stash of undeclared documents, he said these were "fragments" and not "very important" in the bigger picture.
"We carried out about six inspections per day over a long period of time.
"All in all, we carried out about 700 inspections at different 500 sites and, in no case, did we find any weapons of mass destruction."
Although Iraq failed to comply with some of its disarmament obligations, he added it "was very hard for them to declare any weapons when they did not have any".
It's a popular meme for the conservatives in our country to claim that Saddam didn't allow the inspectors back into the country prior to the 2003 invasion, but in fact he did. The teams had a little over three months before they withdrew, and they only withdrew because they were warned that Iraq was about to become a war zone. It's also a popular meme for the conservatives to even deny that WMDs were the principle justification for the US invasion. The record shows otherwise.
I'm not particularly thrilled by Blix's behavior in 2002-2003. I think he was extremely passive, that he could have done much more prior to the invasion to alert the media and other countries that Iraq really had no WMD program to either threaten Western interests or to arm terrorists. But, like many scientists, he preferred to wait until all the data were in and a full report could be staffed for the United Nations. Now he spends his time trying to make up for that lapse in judgment.
Interestingly, the New York Times covers the same Blix testimony without using the words "weapons of mass destruction" at all. The editors there must have forgotten the paper's history in that department. Or maybe they're just embarrassed by it all.