Criticism Grows at U.S. Failure to Find Iraqi Weapons
By Alan Elsner
Monday 12 May 2003
WASHINGTON - Criticism is mounting at the failure of the United States to find Iraqi nuclear, chemical or biological weapons programs, with some experts raising questions about U.S. intelligence as well as the way the Bush administration justified the war.
Over a month after the end of hostilities launched by President Bush to find and destroy Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, special U.S. military teams have found little to justify the administration's claim that Iraq was concealing vast stocks of chemical and biological agents and was actively working on a covert nuclear weapons program.
Last week's disclosure that a possible biological mobile weapons lab had been found was the most definitive development so far. Even that discovery, if confirmed, fell far short of claims made by Bush and other officials before the war.
"We can conclude that the large number of deployed chemical weapons the administration said that Iraq had are not there. We can also conclude that Iraq's nuclear weapons program was not nearly as sophisticated as the administration claimed," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security and a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector in Iraq.
U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice told Reuters in an interview on Monday that the United States and its allies were sending a larger team to Iraq to find the missing evidence.
Rice said Iraq appeared to have had a virtually "inspections proof" system of concealing chemical and biological weapons by developing chemicals and agents that could be used for more than one purpose.
That was a far cry from some of the claims being made before the war. Bush in an October 2002 speech said, "We know that the regime has produced thousands of tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin nerve gas, VX nerve gas. And surveillance photos reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."
Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said the failure to turn up large-scale weapons programs pointed to serious problems.
"Was it a massive intelligence failure? Was it intentional manipulation of information by the Bush administration? Or were the weapons somehow destroyed or slipped out of Iraq?"
"I think it's safe to say the weapons do not exist in the quantities claimed by the administration ... and there simply was not the imminent strategic threat that the president cited as his main cause for going to war," Cirincione said.
Robert Einhorn of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, "The administration worked very hard to find information that supported its case for military action, although I don't think it consciously fabricated information."
Einhorn and some other experts still urge patience and suggest allowing time for mid-level Iraqi officials and scientists to be interviewed about the weapons programs.
Politically at home it may not matter much to Bush whether evidence is found. Many Americans have concluded the United States was right to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein because of his abuses of human rights.
Internationally, it is another matter. Governments which opposed the war will find their original doubts confirmed and will be even more suspicious of U.S. intentions in the future.
Iraq's Mobile Laboratories
New York Times | Editorial
Tuesday 13 May 2003
American military inspectors have found what they consider their most persuasive evidence yet that Iraq was pursuing weapons of mass destruction: three trailers that look as if they may be mobile biological weapons laboratories. Should the evidence hold up after more thorough analysis, it would validate at least one of the claims made by the Bush administration in arguing that Iraq had an active biological weapons program. But at this point it is difficult to know for sure whether these mobile units were part of a program to produce unconventional weapons or served a more benign purpose.
Two of the suspicious trailers contained equipment that American military experts concluded was almost certainly intended to produce biological weapons. These included, in one trailer or the other, a fermenting machine, a dryer, a system to bring in fresh water and eliminate contaminated water, and equipment to contain the emission of gases that might give away the laboratory's purpose. Yet outside critics say it remains possible that the military investigators, who have cried wolf several times in the past, may once again have misinterpreted what they are seeing.
One former weapons inspector suggests that the trailers may be chemical processing units intended to refurbish Iraq's antiaircraft missiles. Indeed, one was parked at a missile research site. An agricultural expert suggests that the labs may have been intended to make biological pesticides close to agricultural areas to avoid degradation problems.
Neither expert, of course, is on the scene. The American military teams claim to have considered these and other alternatives before concluding that biowarfare was the only likely purpose. That judgment will need confirmation from outside experts if it is to carry weight in world opinion. The most definitive proof would be the detection of traces of anthrax or other biological agents in the equipment as analysts continue to examine these most intriguing finds in the weapons search.
Meanwhile, the search for the large stocks of chemical and biological weapons that the administration cited as a threat that could wipe out millions of people has yet to turn up anything significant. The recent surrender of Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azzawi al-Tikriti, known as Dr. Germ for her past role in the Iraqi biological warfare program, offers some hope that she may shed light on whether the program has continued to function in recent years. But several other high-level scientists and military officials in the weapons programs have already surrendered and have apparently so far denied that Iraq had an active program to make unconventional weapons. Some insist that the programs were dismantled during the years of United Nations monitoring.
American authorities have begun broadcasting offers of rewards in an effort to get lower-level Iraqis to lead them to illicit weapons, and military experts continue to pore over documents that may offer leads. All that is fine, but we still believe that the best way to spur this investigation and give its findings credibility is to invite the United Nations to send its inspection teams back in. They are ready to go if invited.