• Saddam bribery revealed
• WMD said to have been destroyed
• Blair accepts mistake over WMD
"Just as I have had to accept that the evidence now is that there were not stockpiles of actual weapons ready to be deployed, I hope others have the honesty to accept that the report also shows that sanctions weren’t working" - Tony Blair
SADDAM HUSSEIN believed he could avoid the Iraq war with a bribery strategy targeting Jacques Chirac, the President of France, according to devastating documents released last night.
Memos from Iraqi intelligence officials, recovered by American and British inspectors, show the dictator was told as early as May 2002 that France - having been granted oil contracts - would veto any American plans for war.
But the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which returned its full report last night, said Saddam was telling the truth when he denied on the eve of war that he had any weapons of mass destruction (WMD). He had not built any since 1992.
The ISG, who confirmed last autumn that they had found no WMD, last night presented detailed findings from interviews with Iraqi officials and documents laying out his plans to bribe foreign businessmen and politicians.
Although they found no evidence that Saddam had made any WMD since 1992, they found documents which showed the "guiding theme" of his regime was to be able to start making them again with as short a lead time as possible."
Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions - which stopped him acquiring weapons - were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focusing on Russia, France and China - three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the "primary motive for French co-operation" was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
Iraqi intelligence officials then "targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac," it said, including two of his "counsellors" and spokesman for his re-election campaign.
They even assessed the chances for "supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election." Chirac is not mentioned by name.
A memo sent to Saddam dated in May last year from his intelligence corps said they met with a "French parliamentarian" who "assured Iraq that France would use its veto in the UN Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq."
Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, last night said again that he was wrong to suggest Saddam had WMD - but asked the British public to accept that Iraq would probably have acquired such weapons if he had not acted.
However, the ISG uncovered millions of pages of documents and, after interviewing scores of captured Iraqis - including Mr Aziz - the report lays out what it says is were plans to end the United Nations sanctions then start to acquire weapons.
Saddam, it says, even fooled his own military chiefs into believing that he had WMD. This was designed to deter uprising from rebel Iraqis, on whom he deployed mustard gas in 1988, and aggressors in the Middle East.
Speaking during his trip to Ethiopia last night, the Prime Minister referred to his speech last week where he admitted being "wrong" in the main part of his case for war but right to see a gathering threat in Iraq.
"Just as I have had to accept that the evidence now is that there were not stockpiles of actual weapons ready to be deployed, I hope others have the honesty to accept that the report also shows that sanctions weren’t working," he said.