NEW YORK – Retiring chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix (search) lashed out Tuesday at "bastards" in the Bush administration who he said consistently undermined his efforts to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and "leaned on" his staff to tailor their reports, a British newspaper reported Wednesday.
In an interview with the Guardian newspaper (search), the lifetime Swedish civil servant stated, "I have my detractors in Washington."
"There are bastards who spread things around, of course, who planted nasty things in the media," he continued. "Not that I cared very much."
[In an interview with Fox News' Eric Shawn on Wednesday, Blix refuted any claim that there was a smear campaign against him in the Pentagon and denied he was referring to anyone in the Bush administration when he used the word "bastards."
["I was talking about private individuals," Blix said. "I had very good and correct relations with the Bush administration. I hope I still do."
[He said his "bastards" remark was directed toward former Swedish Prime Minister Per Ahlmark, a longtime detractor who implied that Blix was naive and ineffective for not discovering Saddam's nuclear weapons program before the first Gulf War.]
In the weeks before the war, some U.S. officials strongly criticized Blix's reports to the U.N. Security Council (search) for failing to support the Bush administration's contention that Saddam had an active illegal weapons program.
Blix reported that his inspectors had not found such weapons, but still had many outstanding questions about the country's previous weapons programs.
Nonetheless, Blix, who plans to retire on June 30, welcomed the U.S.-led ouster of Saddam Hussein.
"He was an ancient-type ruler who got control of a country with an oil income and could use 21st century weapons," he told the Associated Press on Monday in a separate interview. "That was a very dangerous combination, and I think we all feel a great relief that he is put out of action."
But he feels that the American government went out of its way to discredit the work of U.N. weapons inspectors.
"By and large, my relations with the U.S. were good," Blix told the Guardian, "but towards the end the administration leaned on us."
"There are people in this administration who say they don't care if the U.N. sinks under the East River, and other crude things," he continued, adding that some in Washington viewed the international organization as an "alien power, even if it does hold considerable influence within it."
"Such feelings don't exist in Europe, where people say that the U.N. is a lot of talk at dinners and fluffy stuff," he added.
Asked by the Guardian if he thought he had been the target of an American smear campaign, Blix replied, "Yes, I probably was at a lower level."
"I would say that I think the criticism that was directed to us was misdirected," Blix told the AP.
At the same time, Saddam's government was blasting Blix as a "homosexual who went to Washington every two weeks to pick up instructions," according to the Guardian.
"The Iraqis were spreading that rumor about me early in the autumn, and then I heard the counter-rumor that I had told my wife, Eva, about this rumor and that she said she had never noticed it," Blix told the British daily with a laugh. "My alleged comment to her was that nor had I."
The administrations of President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have come under criticism because no weapons of mass destruction have been found since American, British and Australian troops invaded and conquered Iraq.
However, Blix declined to gloat, saying that the matter was too serious. He told the AP that he had something to say to the U.S. teams now searching for banned weapons: "Good luck."
"I think we should all be looking to truth," he said. "We want to find out what was the real truth" — whether Saddam was concealing illegal weapons or had destroyed them before he was attacked.
Nevertheless, he was critical of intelligence his teams received from the United States and other countries before the war began, saying the information was "not very good ... and that shook me a bit."
Blix, in an interview with ABC's Good Morning America, said the United States had faulty information despite its satellites and other intelligence-gathering tools.
"I agree that the Iraqis are very clever. They have learned, had many years to learn how to hide things," he said. "But nevertheless, most of [the] intelligence has not been solid. Maybe they thought it was solid, but it hasn't led us to the right places."
Blix credited the U.S. military build-up which started last summer for pressuring Iraq to allow U.N. inspectors to return in November after four years.
While many people in the U.S. government believed from the beginning that inspections wouldn't work, Blix said he thinks Bush was sincere in initially wanting to give inspections a chance and not go to war.
Even in late February, if Saddam had come forward as the British had hoped and confessed "everything" about his weapons program, that could have averted war, he said.
Saddam didn't, and U.S. patience gave out — but Blix said his inspectors should have been given more time.
"At the end, Iraqis were pretty frantic in trying to find explanations, not very successfully," he said.
"I certainly think a number of months more would have been interesting to have, provided that we still had the military pressure," Blix said.
"The longer that one does not find any weapons in spite of people coming forward and being rewarded for giving information, etc., the more I think it is important that we begin to ask ourselves 'If there were no weapons, why was it that Iraq conducted itself as it did for so many years?'" Blix said.
"They cheated, they retreated, they changed figures, they denied access, etc. Why was that if they didn't have anything really to conceal? I have speculations — one could be pride," he said.
"Saddam Hussein regarded himself as an emperor of Mesopotamia, some said, and he regarded inspectors as impostors," Blix said.
Nonetheless, he said, U.N. inspectors could not jump to conclusions — and the Bush administration shouldn't have either.
"I think they should remember that in the future, too, that the international inspection that is not on a leash is the inspection that has the greatest credibility," Blix said. "It might even be right."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.