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The UK investigated claims of links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda but decided they were not "natural allies", the Iraq inquiry has been told. Despite "sporadic" contacts between al-Qaeda members and Iraq in the 1990s, there was no "serious collaboration", Foreign Office officials said.
They also said it was a "surprise" that no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) were found in Iraq after the invasion. "It was not what we had expected" said ex-defence director Sir William Ehrman. Asked to explain the absence of WMD and why the UK government had got this wrong, Sir William noted a "great deal" of the intelligence about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons production provided before the war had been withdrawn afterwards as false. He also said the situation had been complicated by Saddam Hussein not wanting to reveal the true state of his weapons arsenal for fear of showing himself "quite so weak" to Iran.
The reasons for going to war in Iraq - including the now discredited claim that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction which could be used within 45 minutes of an order being given - are a long-standing source of controversy.
Sir William Ehrman, the Foreign Office's director general for defence and intelligence between 2002 and 2004, said it had discussed the issue with Washington which had put "more weight" on the claims. But he said: "Our view was that there was no evidence to suggest serious collaboration of any sort between Iraq and al-Qaeda."
Addressing the overall threat posed by Iraq in 2001, the Foreign Office said it was "not top of its list" of countries causing concern because of their stated desire to develop weapons of mass destruction, ranking below Iran, North Korea and Libya.
As for biological and chemical weapons, Mr Dowse said most evidence suggested Iraq's programme had largely been "destroyed" in 1991.
However, he said recent intelligence had suggested Iraq was seeking to rebuild its capacity and there were "unanswered questions" about its actual capability since weapons inspectors had been expelled in 1998.
Weapons inspectors entered 10 out of 19 Iraqi sites under suspicion of concealing WMD in the weeks before the invasion, Sir William said. He told the inquiry they uncovered illegal materials, documents and weapons components at four of these sites although none proving the existence of an active WMD programme.