Who Needs WMD When You've Got Saddam?
by Jim Lobe
former president Saddam Hussein in the bag, the administration of
President George W. Bush appears determined to make U.S. voters
forget Washington invaded Iraq on the pretext that its apparently
nonexistent weapons of mass destruction (WMD) posed a direct threat
to the United States and its allies.
effort so far has taken two forms: the suggestion by administration
officials, including Bush himself, that ousting and capturing Saddam
were ample justifications for going to war; and the quiet dissolution
of the nearly billion-dollar effort to find WMD in Iraq.
a nationally televised interview earlier this week, Bush appeared
to dismiss the relevance of whether Iraq actually had WMD and the
possibility that Saddam might eventually move to acquire them.
what's the difference?" asked Bush, who later added that he was
persuaded Saddam constituted "a gathering threat, after 9/11 ...
that needed to be dealt with."
so we got rid of him, and there's no doubt the world is a safer,
freer place as a result of Saddam being gone," he went on.
the same time, the reported decision by David Kay, director of the
Iraq Survey Group (ISG), to step down as early as next month appeared
to confirm that US intelligence agencies have concluded there are
no WMD to be found in Iraq.
the timing of the still-unconfirmed report by the 'Washington Post'
about Kay's decision while the US media are still celebrating
Saddam's capture suggests the administration wants to wind
down the effort while US lawmakers, who have been pressing for evidence
of a WMD threat, are out of session and thus less able to ask embarrassing
questions about what the president knew and when.
my many years on (Capitol Hill)," one veteran congressional staffer
told IPS, "I don't know that I've seen anything quite as cynical
as this. They're clearly hoping that Congress and the American public
will just forget that they waged war because of a threat that never
existed but that they hyped to kingdom come."
analysts said they believed Kay's decision, which was reportedly
communicated to White House officials and the Central Intelligence
Agency (CIA), which oversees the 1,400-member ISG, was an implicit
admission by the former U.N. inspector who had called for Saddam's
ouster as early as the mid-1990s that he did not believe WMD
would be found.
departure of Kay, who supported the administration's prewar WMD
claims, is an indicator that the he does not expect to unearth any
of the weapons of mass destruction that had previously been cited
by the administration as a threat that required US intervention,"
said Charles Peña, head of defense studies at the Cato Institute,
a libertarian think tank.
and others said Kay's departure should renew questions about the
basis for the administration's prewar claims, the subject already
of investigations by congressional intelligence committees that,
however, will not reconvene until mid-January.
the administration began seriously gearing up for war against Iraq
some 16 months ago, it argued that the threats posed by Baghdad
were essentially twofold: that the regime had failed to dismantle
and destroy large stocks of WMD and the missiles to deliver them;
and that it had operational links with al-Qaeda and other terrorist
groups that were already, in effect, waging war against the United
Washington's claims about Iraq's WMD stockpiles were largely accepted
many of the same claims were made by the former Clinton administration,
a point that Bush officials have been making with increasing defensiveness
over the past several months Saddam's links to Osama bin
Laden's al-Qaeda met with skepticism on the part of counter-terrorism
experts and virtually all of Washington's foreign allies.
Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, in particular, never entirely
dropped charges of a Baghdad-bin Laden link, they stressed the WMD
threat increasingly in the run-up to the war.
chief Donald Rumsfeld even declared to reporters Mar. 30, or 10
days into the invasion, "We know where (the WMD) are. They're in
the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north
and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice were particularly
insistent that Saddam was well on the way to building a nuclear
device, a point suggested in a passage in Bush's January 2003 State
of the Union Address, when he charged that Iraq had bought many
tons of uranium "yellowcake" from an African country,
later identified as Niger.
the prewar hype began to fall apart once US troops secured most
of Iraq, including the area described by Rumsfeld, and rounded up
key scientists alleged to have worked on WMD programs in the past.
July, former US ambassador Joseph Wilson, who had gone to Niger
at the CIA's behest to check out the yellowcake story in early 2002,
charged that the administration, particularly Cheney's office, must
have known the charge was bogus.
the same time, Kay, who had long charged Saddam with holding vast
supplies of WMD, was hired by the CIA to head a massive, nearly
billion-dollar, interagency effort to find the goods.
filed an initial report in early October that conceded not only
that no weapons had been found, but also that Iraq showed on traces
of a chemical weapons program since 1991. But he stressed that the
ISG had found "laboratories" that could be used to develop
administration officials appeared already to be distancing themselves
from the importance of Kay's work, and in the following months as
resistance to the U.S.-led occupation intensified, hundreds of ISG
members were redeployed to the counterinsurgency effort.
think David Kay is at the end of his tether and that if he thought
there was a job to be done, he would stay and do it," Scott
Ritter, a former UN arms inspector, told IPS.
think the CIA and the White House have concluded that there are
no WMD to be found and that's Kay's continued presence is itself
a distraction," added Ritter, who was among the very few experts
who argued before the war that Bush's WMD claims were not credible.
Khadduri, a 30-year veteran of Iraq's atomic energy program who
emigrated to Canada before the first Gulf War and has long insisted
the administration's claims were a hoax, also claimed Kay's reported
decision to leave as vindication.
departure suggests that he has been lying and that now he knows
it," Khadduri told IPS. "Since 1994, (Kay) was obsessed by the
idea of knocking over Saddam, no matter what.
whose prewar skepticism about the administration's WMD claims often
provoked virulent attacks and even insinuations that he was working
for Saddam, charged the administration is using his capture "to
divert attention from the WMD issue. The test will be whether Congress
and the American people will stand for that," he said.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2003 Inter Press Service