Top inspector says Iraq had no illicit arms

Nuclear program, others `essentially destroyed'

Report: Hussein hoped to resume

October 07, 2004|By Bob Drogin and Greg Miller | Bob Drogin and Greg Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Saddam Hussein did not produce or possess any weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade before the U.S.-led invasion last year, according to a comprehensive CIA report released yesterday.

Hussein intended to someday reconstitute his illicit programs and rebuild at least some of his weapons if United Nations sanctions were eased and he had the opportunity, the report concluded. But the Iraqi regime had no formal, written strategy to revive the banned programs after sanctions, and no staff or infrastructure in place to do so, the investigators found.

The only known attempts to produce illicit weapons came a year after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the report said in a new disclosure. In March, investigators found Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad were trying to recruit former weapons scientists to develop nerve gases and ricin, a biological toxin, to attack U.S. forces. The discovery led to a series of raids.

The 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group weapons-hunting teams, is the most definitive account yet of Iraq's long-defunct weapons programs and comes as the presidential campaign increasingly is focused on President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq primarily to disarm Hussein of suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

More than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed in hostilities, and thousands more have been wounded.

Based on 16 months' work, the report vastly expands on previous efforts by U.N. inspectors and Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay.

In his report, and in testimony yesterday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer specifically refuted many of the Bush administration's most dramatic claims before the war, basing his findings in part on extensive information gleaned directly from interrogations of Hussein and his top aides.

Duelfer said, for example, that there was no evidence that Hussein sought to import uranium from Africa, as Bush claimed in his 2003 State of the Union speech.

Duelfer said investigators also found no evidence that Hussein had passed illicit weapons material to al-Qaida or other terrorist organizations, or had any intent to do so.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters yesterday aboard Air Force One that the report showed Hussein "was a threat we needed to take seriously."

Democrats seized on the dense, three-volume report as proof that Hussein did not pose a threat to the United States before the war, as the White House continues to argue.

For example, the report said that Hussein's illicit weapons capability was "essentially destroyed" after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and was never rebuilt. It said Hussein considered the U.N. sanctions "an economic stranglehold" that effectively curbed his ability to build or develop weapons over the ensuing 12 years.

"In short, we invaded a country, thousands of people have died, and Iraq never posed a grave or growing danger," said West Virginia Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Among the report's highlights:

The Iraqi dictator had abandoned his nascent nuclear program and had destroyed his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons by December 1991.

Hussein knew he had no banned weapons before the war and believed Washington ultimately would make peace with his secular regime to counter the growing power and nuclear threat of what he considered his main enemy: neighboring Iran's Islamic government.

Hundreds of individuals and companies from around the world, as well as government agencies and officials in Syria and Yemen, helped funnel conventional weapons and other goods to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions and are named in the report.

Widespread kickbacks and other corruption in the U.N.'s oil-for-food program "rescued Baghdad's economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions" and helped subsidize the Iraqi regime.

Duelfer spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session yesterday morning, and then in public to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Asked there to explain how U.S. intelligence agencies could have been so wrong about Iraq's weapons, Duelfer said U.S. analysts were convinced that Hussein would never give up his quest for weapons because they were vital to his survival.

Duelfer also noted that U.S. intelligence had "almost no contact with Iraq over more than a decade" and had become increasingly divorced from reality in the country.

The new report also provides fresh evidence of misjudgments by U.S. and other Western intelligence agencies that warned before the war that Baghdad was secretly stockpiling nerve gases and germ weapons, and was secretly reconstituting its nuclear program.

Duelfer determined that the nuclear effort had been abandoned after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and Iraq's ability to reconstitute the program "progressively decayed after that date."

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