Iraq arms row swirls after Kay says beliefs 'wrong'
( 2004-01-29 09:04) (Agencies)
Former chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay said the belief Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was wrong, as both the United States and Britain grappled with controversy over why they went to war against Saddam Hussein.
Kay spoke to the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday while in Iraq a suicide bomber killed three people when he rammed a car packed with explosives into a Baghdad hotel.
"Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here," Kay said in his first public appearance on Capitol Hill since stepping down last week.
"I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there."
With U.S. presidential elections due in November, Democrats trying to unseat Republican President Bush are using evidence such as Kay's to try to make a case that the White House exaggerated intelligence to go to war -- waged to rid Iraq of what Washington said was an arsenal of banned weapons.
In Britain, Bush's staunchest ally in the war against Iraq, Tony Blair, cleared the second hurdle of his toughest week in power on Wednesday when a judge said the prime minister bore no blame for the suicide of a top Iraq weapons expert.
Although the report by senior judge Lord Hutton for the most part exonerated Blair, it did not rule on the merits of the war and many Britons remain unconvinced of whether it was justified.
In Iraq, a South African contractor and two Iraqis were killed and at least 10 others were wounded in the suicide attack on the Shaheen Hotel.
U.S. military spokesmen and security guards said the bomber used a white vehicle painted with Red Crescent symbols, giving it the appearance of an ambulance. The bomber also died.
The attack followed a string of deadly strikes on U.S. soldiers and other targets, and as controversy reverberated from Baghdad to Washington over Shi'ite demands for early elections to transfer power to Iraqis by June 30.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said if Iraq was deemed safe he would send a team to Iraq to study the feasibility of early polls. An advance U.N. team arrived in Iraq on Tuesday ahead of a possible mission, U.N. sources said.
Early elections have been demanded by Iraq's most revered Shi'ite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who has challenged the U.S. plan for regional caucuses to pick a transitional assembly. He says Iraqis should pick their leaders in direct elections.
At a news conference at the European Commission's headquarters in Brussels, Annan said the U.N. would do its best to end the row over whether elections were possible this year.
"But...it's the Iraqis who have to take things in hand. If the Iraqis can agree on a mechanism to create a provisional government, it could help everyone," he said. "If they don't... I fear the conflicts and divisions will continue."
Adnan Pachachi, current head of the Governing Council appointed by the U.S. in Iraq after Saddam was ousted last April, said the United Nations would be asked to run a census and help assemble voter rolls.
U.S. troops captured Saddam in December.