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Editorials
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Sunday, June 1, 2003




[ OUR OPINION ]

WMD ambiguity may
have been Saddam’s ruse


THE ISSUE

American and British forces have been unable to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.


CONGRESSMAN Neil Abercrombie is not alone in his displeasure about U.S. failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After all, President Bush had cited Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons as the major reason why Saddam Hussein posed a serious threat to neighboring countries and the United States. The inability so far to find any such weapons may expose major flaws in U.S. and British intelligence, or the embracing of dubious evidence that supported political assumptions. It does not necessarily mean the decision to go to war was unjustified.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld now says the Iraqis may have destroyed such weapons before the American and British invasion two months ago. "We don't know what happened," he told the Council on Foreign Relations.

Sharing the bewilderment that such weapons have not been found is Lt. Gen. James Conway, commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq. "Believe me, it's not for lack of trying," he told reporters. "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, and they're simply not there."

The Pentagon has announced a "significant expansion" of efforts to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq by a team of as many as 1,400 Americans, British and Australians. Even before the war began, Rumsfeld asked that the CIA review its intelligence assessments, and that review has taken on new importance. Prime Minister Tony Blair is taking heat for having allegedly "transformed" an assessment by Britain's Joint Intelligence Committee to conform with his aims.

"I think it is a very big deal," says Abercrombie, who voted against the congressional resolution authorizing the war. "After all, this was the principle justification that was given for the necessity of conducting this attack and the subsequent war."

True, but failure to find weapons of mass destruction will not mean Saddam was the peace-loving victim of a huge miscarriage of justice. Saddam used such chemical weapons in Iraq's war against Iran, nerve-gassed Kurds in the 1990s, and refused to account for 1,000 tons of chemical agents and 8,500 liters of anthrax that United Nations inspectors had determined to exist in the mid-1990s. Iraq claimed to have destroyed its chemical weapons, along with records of the disposal.

Saddam may have been playing a dangerous shell game, creating an uncertainty that served to keep neighboring countries at bay and domestic dissidents in fear. The international community could only conclude that Iraq's capability of launching chemical or biological attacks was real. No member of the U.N. Security Council, even those calling for continued U.N. inspections, doubted that potential.

If Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction, the concern should be that intelligence agencies failed to see through the ruse or that political forces acted on evidence that lacked credibility, not that the U.S. and British engaged in an illegitimate war.

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