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Questions about Iraq weapons haunt US election year
( 2004-01-09 13:56) (Agencies)

The failure to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction looks set to dog the Bush administration in an election year amid persistent accusations it exaggerated evidence in making a case for war.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a liberal-leaning U.S. think tank, issued a report on Thursday that compared public and declassified intelligence information with statements made by administration officials.

U.S. President George W. Bush delivers his State of the Union speech, during which he discussed the possibility of war with Iraq, January 28, 2003.  [Reuters]
It concluded that the administration made the threat from Iraq sound more dire than the underlying information.

"We have found and have gone to some length to define and lay out serious misrepresentation of the facts over and above what was in the intelligence findings," Jessica Mathews, president of the think tank and one of the authors, said.

In one example, she said U.N. weapons inspectors said the amount of biological growth medium that Iraq had could produce three times as much anthrax as it had declared if it used all that growth medium to produce anthrax.

U.S. President Bush in an Oct. 7, 2002, speech in Ohio, said: "The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for and is capable of killing millions."

Mathews said this was an example of how a possibility cited by the inspectors became a likelihood and then a stockpile in Bush's speech.

"And finally, biological agent is transformed into weapons" which would require highly sophisticated delivery systems if they were capable of killing millions, she said.

Joseph Cirincione, director of the non-proliferation project at Carnegie and an author of the report, said administration officials dropped caveats.

"In that process they changed something that is an opinion into a fact, and they consistently did this," he said at a briefing on the report.

"The problem is it gives a misleading impression to the public, to the (U.S.) Congress, about what you know and how certain you are about that knowledge," Cirincione said.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, said he was confident of the presentation he made about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction last year at the United Nations before the war.

"The intelligence community is confident of the material they gave me," he said. "It was information they presented to the Congress. It was information they had presented publicly and they stand behind it. And this game is still unfolding."

Analysts see signs of fading expectations of finding any chemical or biological weapons in Iraq -- such as the possibility that CIA adviser David Kay, in charge of the hunt for banned weapons in Iraq, may step down from that job.

The authors of the Carnegie report said they do not expect any large stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to be found. U.S. officials have said that such stockpiles could be hidden in relatively small areas.

Former CIA Director Stansfield Turner said he was in general agreement with the Carnegie presentation, and that he believed no Iraqi weapons of mass destruction had been found for several reasons.

"A combination of the intelligence people overestimating what was there, policy people exaggerating the intelligence estimates, combined with the fact that the inspections and destruction by the U.N. from '91 to '98 eliminated a lot of these and made it very difficult for the Iraqis to start it up again because they couldn't get the materials or the equipment," he said.

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