Julian Borger / The Independent U.K. – 2004-09-20 23:19:05
WASHINGTON (September 18, 2004) — The comprehensive 15-month search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has concluded that the only chemical or biological agents that Saddam Hussein’s regime was working on before last year’s invasion were small quantities of poisons, most likely for use in assassinations.
A draft of the Iraq Survey Group’s final report circulating in Washington found no sign of the alleged illegal stockpiles that the US and Britain presented as the justification for going to war, nor did it find any evidence of efforts to reconstitute Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme.
It also appears to play down an interim report which suggested there was evidence that Iraq was developing “test amounts” of ricin for use in weapons. Instead, the ISG report says in its conclusion that there was evidence to suggest the Iraqi regime planned to restart its illegal weapons programmes if UN sanctions were lifted.
Charles Duelfer, the head of the ISG, has said he intends to deliver his final report by the end of the month. It is likely to become a heated issue in the election campaign.
President George Bush now admits that stockpiles have not been found in Iraq but claimed as recently as Thursday that “Saddam Hussein had the capability of making weapons, and he could have passed that capability on to the enemy”.
The Duelfer Report
The draft Duelfer report, according to the >i>New York Times, finds no evidence of a capability, but only of an intention to rebuild that capability once the UN embargo had been removed and Iraq was no longer the target of intense international scrutiny.
The finding adds weight to Mr. Bush’s assertions on the long-term danger posed by the former Iraqi leader, but it also suggests that, contrary to the administration’s claims, diplomacy and containment were working prior to the invasion.
The draft report was handed to British, US and Australian experts at a meeting in London earlier this month, according to the New York Times. It largely confirms the findings of Mr. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, who concluded “we were almost all wrong” in thinking Saddam had stockpiled weapons. The Duelfer report goes into greater detail.
Mr. Kay’s earlier findings mentioned the existence of a network of laboratories run by the Iraqi intelligence service, and suggested that the regime could be producing “test amounts” of chemical weapons and researching the use of ricin in weapons.
Subsequent inspections of the clandestine labs, under Mr. Duelfer’s leadership, found they were capable of producing small quantities of lethal chemical and biological agents, more useful for assassinations of individuals than for inflicting mass casualties.
No Evidence WMDs Were ‘Smuggled’ Out of Iraq
Mr. Duelfer, according to the draft, does not exclude the possibility that some weapons materials could have been smuggled out of Iraq before the war, a possibility raised by the administration and its supporters. However, the report apparently produces no significant evidence to support the claim. Nor does it find any evidence of any action by the Saddam regime to convert dual-use industrial equipment to weapons production.
“I think we know exactly how this is going to play out,” said Joseph Cirincione, a proliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“You’ll see a very elaborate spin operation. But there’s not much new here from what the ISG reported before,” he said. “There are still no weapons, no production of weapons and no programmes to begin the production of weapons. What we’re left with here is that Saddam Hussein might have had the desire to rebuild the capability to build those weapons.”
“Well, lots of people have desire for these weapons. Lots of people have intent. But that’s not what we went to war for.”
The motives for war, meanwhile, came under fresh scrutiny last night as the Telegraph reported that Tony Blair was warned in Foreign Office papers a year before the invasion of the scale of dealing with a post-Saddam Iraq.
The Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell, said that if authenticated, the papers “demonstrate that the government agreed with the Bush administration on regime change in Iraq more than a year before military action was taken”.
Mr. Duelfer, who is reported to still be in Baghdad, did not respond to a request for an interview on the question of WMD yesterday.
Earlier this year, he told the Guardian that he expected his report would leave “some unanswered questions”.
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