Deepening Doubts on Iraq
Los Angeles Times | Editorial
Friday 29 August 2003
Where are the weapons of mass destruction? As President Bush and other administration officials made the case for war with Iraq, their biggest selling point was the claim that Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime possessed chemical weapons. Allegations he had biological weapons were shakier; assertions he had nuclear arms or could build them were even more dubious. There were other ever-shifting official rationales for the Iraq invasion, like Hussein's torture and killing of his own people and promoting Mideast democracy through his ouster. The main justification, however, for sending Americans to die in the desert was Hussein's earlier use of chemical weapons, his continued possession of them and the imminent threat he would inflict them on the United States.
In this year's State of the Union speech, Bush cited United Nations reports or U.S. intelligence that showed that Hussein had failed to account for 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin and material for 500 tons of sarin, mustard agent and VX nerve agent. "From three Iraqi defectors, we know that Iraq, in the late 1990s, had several mobile biological weapon labs designed to produce germ warfare agents," Bush said. Where are those chemicals, those poisons or those labs?
Times staff writer Bob Drogin reported Thursday the deeply disturbing news that U.S. intelligence officials were now laboring to learn whether they had been fed false information about Iraq's weapons, especially by defectors. U.N. inspectors' prewar searches found no chemical, biological or nuclear stockpiles. Hundreds of inspectors combing Iraq since major combat ended May 1 have fared no better. One U.S. intelligence official says analysts may have been too eager to find evidence to support White House claims about Iraqi arms. Intelligence and congressional sources told Times reporters in October, five months before the invasion, that senior Bush officials were pressuring CIA analysts to shape their assessments of the threat to build the case against Hussein.
On the eve of war, this editorial page said Iraq should be given more time to disarm, otherwise the U.S. "risks being branded as the aggressive and arrogant superpower that disregards the wishes of the international community." The United States now wears that label, especially in light of the administration's vacillations on involving other nations' forces in postwar Iraq.
But worse is the possibility that nearly 300 American personnel and dozens of British soldiers, plus U.N. officials and untold numbers of Iraqis, have died due to incredibly bad or corrupted intelligence. In Britain, a Sunday Telegraph poll showed that 67% of the public thought that their government, the main U.S. ally, had deceived the British people to get them into Iraq.
The war was more popular in the U.S. But Bush, administration officials, intelligence analysts and Congress need to keep asking: Where are the weapons of mass destruction? And if they are not found, was the defiant U.S. insistence that Iraq had them the result of incompetence or lies?
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