U.S. inspectors find no evidence of banned arms

Congress is told weapons may have been destroyed

Three-month `progress report'

Data point to Iraqi intent to resume development

October 03, 2003|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - After a three-month search, American inspectors have found no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq and don't know whether any existed before the United States led an invasion of the country in March, the inspections coordinator told Congress yesterday.

But David Kay, the search coordinator, said in what he called an interim report that his team had found "dozens" of activities related to unconventional weapons programs and evidence that Saddam Hussein intended to resume development and production of the weapons once sanctions imposed by the United Nations were lifted.

Inspectors also uncovered substantial information on Iraqi efforts to deceive U.N. inspection teams; a clandestine laboratory network, including a prison lab complex that might have been used to test biological weapons on humans; evidence that Iraq sought both to develop missiles capable of hitting targets throughout the Middle East and to buy banned longer-range missiles from North Korea.

Kay's report, a declassified version of which was released after he testified behind closed doors to three congressional committees, was the first official report on the search for the weapons of mass destruction that President Bush used as his chief justification for the war in Iraq.

The White House played down the report's findings, saying Kay's work is incomplete. "This is a progress report. Keep it in perspective," said spokesman Scott McClellan.

To some members of Congress who heard him, the lack of evidence of any weapons that could pose an imminent threat seriously undercut American credibility and the doctrine of pre-emptive war that is a key element of Bush's national security strategy.

The report also gave new ammunition to critics of America's pre-war intelligence gathering, including getting information from Iraqi defectors who in some cases fabricated it or were themselves under the control of Iraqi intelligence, and finding indications of only small and unsophisticated research on nuclear weapons.

"I'm not pleased by what I heard today, but we should be willing to adopt a wait-and-see attitude - and that's the only alternative we really have," said Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The panel's senior Democrat, John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said, "To be where we are today without any evidence ... leads me to believe that we need to do some serious thinking about the doctrine of pre-emption, that we need to do some serious thinking about where did our intelligence allow us to get so that we could make these kinds of conclusions that we would decide to go to war."

But the report also contained information buttressing the argument of supporters of the war that Hussein remained intent on acquiring weaponry that could threaten the region.

Kay, who led an early team of nuclear inspectors in Iraq after the 1991 Persian Gulf war, was sent to Iraq this time by the CIA as part of a revamped weapons search after initial postwar efforts came up empty.

A frustrating search

He delivered his report to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, along with the House defense appropriations panel, as the Bush administration sought a reported $600 million from Congress to prolong Kay's search operation for at least another six to nine months. The new money is part of the $87 billion being sought for the U.S. military occupation and reconstruction in Iraq.

Kay's report, describing a frustrating search effort fraught with obstacles and danger in an unstable Iraq, stated bluntly that inspectors do not know what happened to the weapons of mass destruction, if, in fact, they existed before the war.

"We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone," he wrote in his 11-page report.

He said Iraq had deliberately destroyed or dispersed documentation and material before and during the war, and some of it may have been taken outside Iraq.

In addition, he said, "It is important to keep in mind that even the bulkiest materials we are searching for, in the quantities we would expect to find, can be concealed in spaces not much larger than a two-car garage."

Evidence seemed especially sparse on Iraq's nuclear program, undercutting claims by Vice President Dick Cheney and other officials before the war that Iraq was trying to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program.

While Hussein "still wanted to obtain nuclear weapons," the report said, the effort was limited to "several small and relatively unsophisticated research initiatives" that could have been of long-term usefulness but did not amount to a weapons program.

The report indicated that Iraq's biological and missile programs were the most active.

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