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WMD: Will the real culprit stand up
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - The failure of the US military to find any strong evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD), let alone links between former president Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, is creating growing unease within both Congress and the administration of President George W Bush.

The administration sold the war it launched in March with it allies the United Kingdom and Australia based on its contention that Baghdad had massive quantities of WMD, some of which could have been transferred to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda or similar groups to carry out an attack against the United States or its allies.

But after seven weeks of uncontested control of Iraq's territory, it has yet to find even one gram of biological, chemical or nuclear material designed for weapons use, despite an intensive search by specially trained teams that have investigated all of the sites identified by the intelligence community before the war as most likely to hold WMD.

"The Bush team's extensive hype of WMD in Iraq as justification for a preemptive invasion has become more than embarrassing," said Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, the longest-serving lawmaker in Congress, who has emerged as its most scathing critic of the war.

"It has raised serious questions about prevarication and the reckless use of power. Were our troops needlessly put at risk? Were countless Iraq civilians killed and maimed when war was not really necessary? Was the American public deliberately misled? Was the world?" he asked in a blistering address on the Senate floor last week.

It is not only Democrats who are raising such questions. "Obviously it concerns us that we have what I think are credible reports that weapons exist that cannot be accounted for," said the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Representative Porter Goss of Florida. Goss and his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts, are already planning hearings to assess information acquired by the intelligence community and used by the administration to rally public opinion behind the war.

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has also launched a review, reportedly at the behest of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, whose own pressure on the intelligence community to unearth evidence of WMD and links between Baghdad and al-Qaeda ironically has been blamed by retired intelligence officers for distorting the process that led to the US-led attack.

Rumsfeld last year created an Office of Special Plans (OSP) under the direction of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Under Secretary William Luti precisely because they were unhappy that the evidence compiled by the CIA and other intelligence agencies, particularly about alleged ties between Baghdad and al-Qaeda, was extremely weak.

As explained by W Patrick Lang, former director of Middle East analysis at the Defense Intelligence Agency, to the New York Times, the OSP "started picking out things that supported their thesis and stringing them into arguments that they could use with the president ... It's not intel," he said, using an insider's word for intelligence, "it's political propaganda."

The Pentagon naturally strongly denies this, and even the CIA, some of whose analysts were reportedly furious about what they saw as manipulation of intelligence by the Pentagon, insists that, while the al-Qaeda evidence was always considered shaky, its own evidence that Baghdad did retain significant quantities of WMD in violation of United Nations resolutions was strong.

Both agencies have offered explanations for why no WMD have been uncovered. Pentagon Under Secretary for Policy Douglas Feith recently told Congress that only about 20 percent of roughly 600 suspected sites have been investigated, although he conceded that most of those considered most likely to hold WMD have been examined.

"I am confident that we will eventually be able to piece together a fairly complete account of Iraq's WMD programs, but the process will take months and perhaps years," he testified this month. "We're learning about new sites every day."

Other Pentagon officials have suggested that perhaps Saddam did destroy all his WMD just before the war, or that he had a "just in time" weapons system that kept key chemicals separated in civilian neighborhoods or other unlikely areas until the moment they would be combined and used, or that the weapons remain hidden in remote mountain areas deep in the ground where they are unlikely ever to be discovered, or that all the suspect sites were looted before US troops could secure them, as happened with a major nuclear site.

Some have even suggested that Baghdad may have destroyed all the weapons in the early 1990s, but then acted as if it still had them in order to deter an attack. Kenneth Adelman, a member of Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and a major war booster, said he thought that Saddam might have launched a "massive disinformation campaign" to that end.

The strongest evidence collected to date, aside from special chemical-warfare gear that could have been left over from the Iran-Iraq war, is the discovery two weeks ago of two trailers of the kind that Secretary of State Colin Powell described to the UN Security Council before the war as mobile units used to create biological weapons on site.

While Pentagon officials have insisted that no other purpose for the vans could be explained, they have still failed to find any specific biological or chemical evidence, such as residues in the equipment, that proves they were used for that purpose. The trailers remain under investigation.

Even before their discovery, however, the chief task force created by the Pentagon to find the weapons - consisting of biologists, chemists, arms-treaty experts, nuclear operators, translators and computer experts - was told to wind down its operations and prepare to return home.

Meanwhile, the administration, in addition to reducing expectations over WMD, has tried to focus public attention instead on the discovery and exhumation of mass graves of alleged victims of Saddam's rule, in part to provide an alternative justification for going to war.

Some analysts have argued that the administration relied far too heavily on defectors, particularly those supplied by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) led by Ahmed Chalabi who has made little secret of his ambitions since 1992 - when he created the group - to replace Saddam in Baghdad.

Indeed, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Iraq and Saddam's own son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, told US, British and UN interrogators in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed all its WMD after the first Gulf War in 1991, and also warned them against Kidhir Hamza, a nuclear scientist who defected in 1994, as "a professional liar".

Like other defectors used by the INC, Hamza played a key role in convincing Washington that Saddam was revving up his nuclear program, for which no evidence has been found. Hamza is now in Baghdad working with the US occupation.

"This could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time," noted Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee last week. "I doubt it, but we have to ask."

(Inter Press Service)
 
May 29, 2003



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