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US report finds no evidence of Iraq WMD

Updated: 2004-10-07 09:47

Contradicting the main argument for a war that has cost more than 1,000 American lives, the top U.S. arms inspector said Wednesday he found no evidence that Iraq produced any weapons of mass destruction after 1991. He also concluded that Saddam Hussein's capabilities to develop such weapon had dimmed — not grown — during a dozen years of sanctions before last year's U.S. invasion.

Contrary to prewar statements by U.S. President Bush and top administration officials, Saddam did not have chemical and biological stockpiles when the war began and his nuclear capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing, said Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group.

The findings come less than four weeks before an election in which Bush's handling of Iraq has become the central issue. Democratic candidate John Kerry has seized on comments by the former U.S. administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, that the United States did not have enough troops in Iraq to prevent lawlessness after Saddam was toppled.

The inspector's report could boost Kerry's contention that Bush rushed to war based on faulty intelligence and that United Nations sanctions and U.N. weapons inspectors should have been given more time.

But Duelfer also supports Bush's argument that Saddam remained a threat. Interviews with the toppled leader and other former Iraqi officials made clear that Saddam had not lost his ambition to pursue weapons of mass destruction and hoped to revive his weapons program if U.N. sanctions were lifted, his report said.

"What is clear is that Saddam retained his notions of use of force, and had experiences that demonstrated the utility of WMD," Duelfer told Congress.

Campaigning in Pennsylvania, Bush defended the decision to invade.

"There was a risk, a real risk, that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks," Bush said in a speech in Wilkes Barre, Pa. "In the world after Sept. 11, that was a risk we could not afford to take."

But a top Democrat in Congress, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said Duelfer's findings undercut the two main arguments for war: that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and that he would share them with terrorists like al-Qaida.

"We did not go to war because Saddam had future intentions to obtain weapons of mass destruction," said Levin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Under questioning from Levin, Duelfer said his report found that aluminum tubes suspected of being used for enriching uranium for use in a nuclear bomb were likely destined for conventional rockets and that there is no evidence Iraq sought uranium abroad after 1991. Both findings contradict claims made by Bush and other top administration officials before the war the Bush administration before the war.

He also found no evidence of trailers being used to develop biological weapons, Duelfer said, although he said he couldn't flatly declare that none existed.

Traveling in Africa, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the report shows Saddam was "doing his best" to evade the U.N. sanctions.

Duelfer presented his findings in a report of more than 1,000 pages, and in appearances before the Armed Services Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report avoids direct comparisons with prewar claims by the Bush administration on Iraq's weapons systems. But Duelfer largely reinforces the conclusions of his predecessor, David Kay, who said in January, "We were almost all wrong" on Saddam's weapons programs. The White House did not endorse Kay's findings then, noting Duelfer's team was still searching for weapons.

Duelfer found that Saddam, hoping to end U.N. sanctions, gradually began ending prohibited weapons programs starting in 1991. But as Iraq started receiving money through the U.N. oil-for-food program in the late 1990s, and as enforcement of the sanctions weakened, Saddam was able to take steps to rebuild his military, such as acquiring parts for missile systems.

However, the erosion of sanctions stopped after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Duelfer found, preventing Saddam from pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

"He was making progress in eroding sanctions — a lot of sanctions," Duelfer told Congress. "And had it not been for the events of 9-11-2001, things would have taken a very different course for the regime."

Duelfer's team found no written plans by Saddam's regime to pursue banned weapons if U.N. sanctions were lifted. Instead, the inspectors based their findings that Saddam hoped to reconstitute his programs on interviews with Saddam after his capture, as well as talks with other top Iraqi officials.

The inspectors found Saddam was particularly concerned about the threat posed by Iran, the country's enemy in a 1980-88 war. Saddam said he would meet Iran's threat by any means necessary, which Duelfer understood to mean weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam believed his use of chemical weapons against Iran prevented Iraq's defeat in that war. He also was prepared to use such weapons in 1991 if the U.S.-led coalition had tried to topple him in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday that Saddam was "a gathering threat that needed to be taken seriously, that it was a matter of time before he was going to begin pursuing those weapons of mass destruction."

But before the war, the Bush administration cast Saddam as an immediate threat, not a gathering threat.

For example, Bush said in October 2002 that "Saddam Hussein still has chemical and biological weapons and is increasing his capabilities to make more." Bush also said then, "The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

Interviews with Saddam left Duelfer's team with the impression Saddam was more concerned about Iran and Israel as enemies than he was about the United States. Saddam appeared to hold out hope that U.S. leaders ultimately would recognize that it was in the country's interest to deal with Iraq as an important, secular, oil-rich Middle Eastern nation, the report found.

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