Comments Revive Doubts Over Iraq Weapons
By ROBERT H. REID
The Associated Press
Friday, May 30, 2003; 12:19 PM
BRUSSELS, Belgium - European critics of the Iraq war expressed shock Friday at published remarks by a senior U.S. official playing down Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as the reason for the conflict.
In an interview in the next issue of Vanity Fair magazine, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz cited "bureaucratic reasons" for focusing on Saddam Hussein's alleged arsenal and said a "huge" reason for the war was to enable Washington to withdraw its troops from Saudi Arabia.
"For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on," Wolfowitz was quoted as saying.
He said one reason for going to war against Iraq that was "almost unnoticed but huge" was the need to maintain American forces in Saudi Arabia as long as Saddam was in power.
Those troops were sent to Saudi Arabia to protect the desert kingdom against Saddam, whose forces invaded Kuwait in 1991, but their presence in the country that houses Islam's holiest sites enraged Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden.
Within two weeks of the fall of Baghdad, the United States announced it was removing most of its 5,000 troops from Saudi Arabia and would set up its main regional command center in Qatar.
However, those goals were not spelled out publicly as the United States sought to build international support for the war. Instead, the Bush administration focused on Saddam's failure to dismantle chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.
The failure of U.S. forces to locate extensive weapons stocks has raised doubts in a skeptical Europe whether Iraq represented a global security threat.
Wolfowitz's comments followed a statement by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who suggested this week that Saddam might have destroyed his banned weapons before the war began.
On Friday, the commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq said he was surprised that extensive searches have failed to discover any of the chemical weapons that U.S. intelligence had indicated were supplied to front line Iraqi forces at the outset of the war.
"Believe me, it's not for lack of trying," Lt. Gen. James Conway told reporters. "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there."
The remarks by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld revived the controversy over the war as President Bush left for a European tour in which he hopes to put aside the bitterness over the war, which threatened the trans-Atlantic partnership.
In Denmark, whose government supported the war, opposition parties demanded to know whether Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen misled the public about the extent of Saddam's weapons threat.
"It was not what the Danish prime minister said when he advocated support for the war," Jeppe Kofod, the Social Democrats' foreign affairs spokesman, said in response to Wolfowitz's comments. "Those who went to war now have a big problem explaining it."
Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen said he was shocked by Wolfowitz's claim. "It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?" he told The Associated Press.
In Germany, where the war was widely unpopular, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeiting newspaper said the comments about Iraqi weapons showed that America is losing the battle for credibility.
"The charge of deception is inescapable," the newspaper said Friday.
In London, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who quit as leader of the House of Commons to protest the war, said he doubted Iraq had any such weapons.
"The war was sold on the basis of what was described as a pre-emptive strike, 'Hit Saddam before he hits us,' " Cook told British Broadcasting Corp. "It is now quite clear that Saddam did not have anything with which to hit us in the first place."
During a visit to Poland, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Friday he has "absolutely no doubt" that concrete evidence will be found of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction.
"Have a little patience," Blair told reporters.
Wolfowitz was in Singapore, where he is due to speak Saturday at the Asia Security Conference of military chiefs and defense ministers from Asian and key Western powers.
He told reporters at the conference that the United States will reorganize its forces worldwide to confront the threat of terrorism.
"We are in the process of taking a fundamental look at our military posture worldwide, including in the United States," Wolfowitz said. "We're facing a very different threat than any one we've faced historically."