U.S. 'Almost All Wrong' on Weapons
By Dana Priest and Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
Thursday 07 October 2004
The 1991 Persian Gulf War and subsequent U.N. inspections destroyed Iraq's illicit weapons capability and, for the most part, Saddam Hussein did not try to rebuild it, according to an extensive report by the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq that contradicts nearly every prewar assertion made by top administration officials about Iraq.
Charles A. Duelfer, whom the Bush administration chose to complete the U.S. investigation of Iraq's weapons programs, said Hussein's ability to produce nuclear weapons had "progressively decayed" since 1991. Inspectors, he said, found no evidence of "concerted efforts to restart the program."
The findings were similar on biological and chemical weapons. While Hussein had long dreamed of developing an arsenal of biological agents, his stockpiles had been destroyed and research stopped years before the United States led the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Duelfer said Hussein hoped someday to resume a chemical weapons effort after U.N. sanctions ended, but had no stocks and had not researched making the weapons for a dozen years.
Duelfer's report, delivered yesterday to two congressional committees, represents the government's most definitive accounting of Hussein's weapons programs, the assumed strength of which the Bush administration presented as a central reason for the war. While previous reports have drawn similar conclusions, Duelfer's assessment went beyond them in depth, detail and level of certainty.
"We were almost all wrong" on Iraq, Duelfer told a Senate panel yesterday.
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States.
But after extensive interviews with Hussein and his key lieutenants, Duelfer concluded that Hussein was not motivated by a desire to strike the United States with banned weapons, but wanted them to enhance his image in the Middle East and to deter Iran, against which Iraq had fought a devastating eight-year war. Hussein believed that "WMD helped save the regime multiple times," the report said.
The report also provides a one-of-a-kind look at Hussein's personality. The former Iraqi leader participated in numerous interviews with one Arabic-speaking FBI interrogator. Hussein told his questioner he felt threatened by U.S. military power, but even then, he maintained a fondness for American movies and literature. One of his favorite books was Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea." He hoped for improved relations with the United States and, over several years, sent proposals through intermediaries to open a dialogue with Washington.
Hussein, the report concluded, "aspired to develop a nuclear capability" and intended to work on rebuilding chemical and biological weapons after persuading the United Nations to lift sanctions. But the report also notes: "The former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam" tasked to take this up once sanctions ended.
Among the most diplomatically explosive revelations was that Hussein had established a worldwide network of companies and countries, most of them U.S. allies, that secretly helped Iraq generate $11 billion in illegal income and locate, finance and import banned services and technologies. Among those named are officials or companies from Belarus, China, Lebanon, France, Indonesia, Jordan, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
Duelfer said one of Hussein's main strategic goals was to persuade the United Nations to lift economic sanctions, which had devastated the country's economy and, along with U.N. inspections, had forced him to stop weapons programs. Even as Hussein became more adept at bypassing the sanctions, he worked to erode international support for them.
Democrats seized on the exhaustive report, which comes amid a presidential race dominated so far by the Iraq war, to argue that the administration misled the American public about the risk Hussein posed and then miscalculated the difficulties of securing postwar peace.
"Now we have a report today that there clearly were no weapons of mass destruction," Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), the Democratic vice presidential candidate, said in West Palm Beach, Fla. "All of that known, and Dick Cheney said again last night that he would have done everything the same. George Bush has said he would have done everything the same. . . . They are in a complete state of denial about what is happening in Iraq."
Neither Bush nor challenger John F. Kerry spoke directly about the report yesterday, though at a campaign appearance in Pennsylvania the president emphasized that Hussein was a threat to the United States.
"There was a risk -- a real risk -- that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks," Bush said. "In the world after September 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take."
Supporters rallied around the administration, which has suffered a string of setbacks recently with revelations that the CIA had warned the White House about the strength of Iraqi insurgents, and from former Iraq administrator L. Paul Bremer, who said this week that the United States should have put more troops in Iraq during the invasion.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said: "We didn't have to find plans or weapons to see what happened when Saddam Hussein used chemical and biological weapons on his own people. So just because we can't find them and Saddam Hussein had 12 years to hide them doesn't mean he didn't have them and didn't use them."
But Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.) said the report showed U.N. inspections and sanctions had worked in preventing Hussein from pursuing his weapons ambitions. "Despite the effort to focus on Saddam's desires and intentions, the bottom line is Iraq did not have either weapons stockpiles or active production capabilities at the time of the war."
Duelfer's report contradicted a number of specific claims administration officials made before the war.
It found, for example, that Iraq's "crash" program in 1991 to build a nuclear weapon before the Persian Gulf War was far from successful, and was nowhere near being months away from producing a weapon, as the administration asserted. Only micrograms of enriched uranium were produced and no weapon design was completed. The CIA and administration officials have said they were surprised by the advanced state of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear program, which was discovered after the war, and therefore were more prone to overestimate Iraq's capability when solid proof was unavailable.
There also was no evidence that Iraq possessed or was developing a mobile biological weapons production system, an assertion Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and others made before the invasion. The two trailers that were found in early 2003 were "almost certainly designed and built . . . exclusively for the generation of hydrogen" gas.
Duelfer also found no information to support allegations that Iraq sought uranium from Africa or any other country after 1991, as Bush once asserted in a major speech before the invasion. The only two contacts with Niger that were discovered were an invitation to the president of Niger to visit Baghdad, and a visit to Baghdad by a Niger minister in 2001 seeking petroleum products for cash. There was one offer to Iraq of "yellowcake" uranium, and that was from a Ugandan businessman offering uranium from Congo. The deal was turned down, and the Ugandan was told that Baghdad was not interested because of the sanctions.
Despite the U.S. intelligence judgment that Iraq in 2002 had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, Duelfer reported that after 1991, Baghdad's nuclear program had "progressively decayed." He added that the Iraq Survey Group investigators had found no evidence "to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."
There was an attempt to keep nuclear scientists together and two scientists were discovered to have saved documents and technology related to the uranium enrichment program, but they appeared to be the exception.
Although some steps were taken that could have helped restart the nuclear program, using oil-for-food money, Duelfer concluded that his team "uncovered no indication that Iraq had resumed fissile material or nuclear weapons research and development activities since 1991."
Duelfer's report is the first U.S. intelligence assessment to state flatly that Iraq had secretly destroyed its biological weapons stocks in the early 1990s. By 1995, though, and under U.N. pressure, it abandoned its efforts.
The document rules out the possibility that biological weapons might have been hidden, or perhaps smuggled into another country, and it finds no evidence of secret biological laboratories or ongoing research that could be firmly linked to a weapons program.
Some biological "seed stocks" -- frozen samples of relatively common microbes such as bolutinum -- were found in the home of one Iraqi official last year. But the survey team said Iraq had "probably" destroyed any bulk quantities of germs it had at the height of the program in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The team also found no evidence of stocks of the smallpox virus, which the administration had claimed it had.
Duelfer's report said that no chemical weapons existed and that there is no evidence of attempts to make such weapons over the past 12 years. Iraq retained dual-use equipment that could be used for such an effort.
"The issue is that he has chemical weapons, and he's used them," Cheney told CNN in March 2002. The National Intelligence Estimate said that "although we have little specific information on Iraq's CW stockpile, Saddam probably has stocked at least 100 metric tons and possibly as much as 500 MT of CW agents -- much of it added in the last year."
One of the reasons the intelligence community feared a chemical weapons arsenal was that U.N. inspectors said Iraq had not fully explained missing chemical agents during the 1990s. The report determined that unanswered questions were almost certainly the result of poor accounting.
Iraq's responses to U.N. inspectors regarding chemical weapons appear to have been truthful, and where incomplete, with differing recollections among former top officials, mostly the result of fading memories of when or how stockpiles were destroyed. Those were the identical reasons Iraq offered to U.N. inspectors before the war.
One of the key findings of the report is that "Saddam never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical weapons effort when sanctions were lifted."
The evidence included in the report to back up claims of Hussein's intent is described as "extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial." The report quotes a single scientist who reached that conclusion in hindsight and based on information he learned from the U.S. inspection team long after U.S. troops had captured Iraq.
After 17 months of investigation, the U.S. team was able to find only 30 of 130 scientists identified with Iraq's pre-1991 chemical weapons programs. "None of those interviewed had any knowledge of chemical weapons programs" or knew of anyone involved in such work, according to the report. There was one exception, the reported noted, from a scientist who maintained he was asked to make a chemical agent, but that story was uncorroborated and there was no follow-up.
Iraq's secret quest to develop a more powerful missile was discovered and disrupted by U.N. weapons inspectors in the weeks before the U.S.-led invasion. In the 19 months since then, the survey team has uncovered more evidence suggesting that Hussein intended to use the Al Samoud 2 and other proposed missiles to extend the reach of his military beyond the country's borders.
Iraq was allowed to continue developing short-range missiles for self-defense under the terms of the U.N. agreement that ended the 1991 Gulf War. But the Al Samoud 2, which Iraq began building in 2001, was clearly designed for flights exceeding the U.N.-imposed 93-mile limit, the new report says. And Duelfer's team found blueprints for missiles with potential ranges up to 10 times as far.
The team "uncovered Iraqi plans or designs for three long-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 400 to 1,000 kilometers (250 to 621 miles), and for a 1,000-km-range (932-mile) cruise missile," the report says. It adds that none of the planned missiles was in production, and only one of them had progressed beyond the design phase.
The report concludes that Iraq "clearly intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems," and maintains that the missiles, if built, could potentially have been combined with biological, chemical or nuclear warheads, if Hussein acquired them.
At the same time, the missile that U.S. military planners had most feared in the run-up to the invasion appears to have vanished. While Bush administration officials had asserted that Hussein had hidden a small arsenal of Scud missiles, Duelfer said interviews and documents suggest Iraq "did not retain such missiles after 1991."