Charles Duelfer speaks alongside Brigadier General McMenamin at Senate Armed Services hearing
Jason Reed  /  Reuters
Charles Duelfer, left, speaks at the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday. Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph McMenamin, commander of the Iraq Survey group, is at right.
msnbc.com news services
updated 10/7/2004 3:56:44 PM ET 2004-10-07T19:56:44

President Bush and rival John Kerry on Thursday both seized a new U.S. weapons report to support their positions on Iraq.

The president stressed that the report, which concluded that Saddam Hussein had no capability to make weapons of mass destruction, also stated that Saddam was undermining U.N. sanctions with the goal of restarting a weapons program.

“Much of the accumulated body of our intelligence was wrong and we must find out why,” Bush said, but he insisted that Saddam had retained the “means and the intent” to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Kerry, for his part, said at a Colorado campaign stop that effective diplomacy would have prevented the sanctions from being lifted. "If you're doing good diplomacy, you wouldn't lift the sanctions. This underscores the failure of this administration's diplomacy," he said.

Kerry said the administration "rushed to war" and based its decision on evidence that was  “purposefully used to shift the focus from al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, to Iraq and Saddam Hussein.” 

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Kerry said that while he still believed that Saddam was a threat, dozens of other countries have the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction or are home to al-Qaida operatives.

Citing the continued violence in Iraq, Kerry said that if he elected, he "may be handed Lebanon, figuratively speaking," a reference to that country's recent history of instability.

At the White House, the president said "we were right to take action.”

Saddam "retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction, and he could have passed that knowledge on to our terrorist enemies," told reporters in a surprise statement before leaving for a campaign trip to Wisconsin.

Video: The report "showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil for food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions,” Bush said. “He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away.”

The report, presented Wednesday by the head of the Iraq Survey Group, undermined the president's main argument for the war: that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The report found no evidence of such weapons, adding that Saddam’s weapons capability had weakened, not grown, during a dozen years of U.N. sanctions before the U.S. invasion last year.

Cheney: Waiting 'wasn't an option'
Earlier Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney asserted that the report justifies rather than undermines the president’s decision to go to war. The report shows that “delay, defer, wait wasn’t an option,” Cheney told supporters at a Miami campaign stop.

“The headlines all say no weapons of mass destruction stockpiled in Baghdad. We already knew that,” Cheney said, adding that other parts of the report were “more intriguing.”

“As soon as the sanctions were lifted he had every intention of going back” to his weapons program, Cheney said.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan went even further Wednesday morning, stating he expected the report to show that Saddam retained not only the intent but also the "capability to produce weapons of mass destruction."

Others weigh in
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's key ally in the war, said the report showed that U.N. sanctions were not working and that the war was thus justified.

The report shows that "this is a far more complicated situation than many people thought," he added. "And just as I have had to accept that the evidence now is there were no stockpiles of actual weapons ready to be deployed, I hope others have the honesty to accept that the report also shows that sanctions weren’t working.”

Video: Kay's views Another Bush ally, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, echoed Blair. “So we had intelligence, intelligence presented a strong circumstantial case, we relied on that intelligence, we believed it and that was integral but not the only part of the decision taken to be involved," he said. "I’ve said that before and I don’t see that this report alters anything.”

David Kay, who had led the Iraq Survey Group before stepping down in January, told NBC's "Today" show that the final report showed that Saddam "was not an imminent threat."

Saddam certainly had intentions to produce weapons of mass destruction, Kay said, but the report makes clear he "had no plans for moving from intent to production."

What's in the report
Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, told Congress that the report established that Saddam did not have chemical and biological stockpiles when the war began and his nuclear capabilities were deteriorating, not advancing.

The report avoids direct comparisons with prewar claims by the Bush administration on Iraq’s weapons systems. But Duelfer largely reinforced the conclusions of Kay, his predecessor, who said in January that “we were almost all wrong” on Saddam’s weapons programs. The White House did not endorse Kay’s findings then, noting that Duelfer’s team was continuing to search for weapons.

But Duelfer supported Bush’s argument that Saddam remained a threat. Interviews with the toppled leader and other former Iraqi officials made it clear that Saddam had not lost his ambition to pursue weapons of mass destruction and hoped to revive his weapons program if U.N. sanctions were lifted, his report said.

“What is clear is that Saddam retained his notions of use of force and had experiences that demonstrated the utility of WMD,” Duelfer told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Iraq also appears to have destroyed its stocks of biological weapons in 1991 and 1992, but if it decided to restart that program it could have produced mustard agent in months and nerve agent in less than a year, Duelfer said.

Duelfer said his report found that aluminum tubes suspected of being used for enriching uranium for use in a nuclear bomb were likely destined for conventional rockets and that there was no evidence that Iraq sought uranium abroad after 1991. Both findings contradict claims made by Bush and other top administration officials before the war.

Duelfer said he also found no evidence of trailers’ being used to develop biological weapons, although he said he could not flatly declare that none existed.

Duelfer found that Saddam, hoping to end U.N. sanctions, gradually began ending prohibited weapons programs starting in 1991. But as Iraq started receiving money through the U.N. oil-for-food program in the late 1990s, and as enforcement of the sanctions weakened, Saddam was able to take steps to rebuild his military, such as acquiring parts for missile systems and restoring domestic chemical production.

However, the erosion of sanctions stopped after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Duelfer found, preventing Saddam from pursuing weapons of mass destruction.

“He was making progress in eroding sanctions — a lot of sanctions,” Duelfer told Congress. “And had it not been for the events of 9-11-2001, things would have taken a very different course for the regime.”

Fear of Iran
Duelfer’s team found no written plans by Saddam’s regime to pursue banned weapons if U.N. sanctions were lifted. Instead, the inspectors based their findings that Saddam hoped to reconstitute his programs on interviews with Saddam after his capture, as well as talks with other top Iraqi officials.

The inspectors found that Saddam was particularly concerned about the threat posed by Iran, the country’s enemy in a 1980-88 war. Saddam said he would meet Iran’s threat by any means necessary, which Duelfer understood to mean weapons of mass destruction.

Saddam believed his use of chemical weapons against Iran prevented Iraq’s defeat in that war. He also was prepared to use such weapons in 1991 if the U.S.-led coalition had tried to topple him in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The Iraq Survey Group did not deal with whether Saddam’s government had contacts with members of al-Qaida, a matter that remains subject to wide debate.

What administration had said
In the months before invading Iraq, the president and his top aides regularly made a case for removing Saddam.

“Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction,” Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech Aug. 26, 2002. “There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us.”

The president made similar charges, laying out what he described as Iraq’s threat in a speech on Oct. 7, 2002:

  • “It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.”
  • “We’ve also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.”
  • “Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles — far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and other nations — in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work. “

Instead, U.S. inspectors found only limited signs of the banned weapons after the active fighting ended. Among the findings:

  • A single artillery shell from Saddam’s pre-1991 stockpile was filled with two chemicals that, when mixed while the shell was in flight, would have created sarin. U.S. forces learned of it only when insurgents, apparently believing it was filled with conventional explosives, tried to detonate it as a roadside bomb in May in Baghdad. Two U.S. soldiers suffered from symptoms of low-level exposure to the nerve agent.
  • Another old artillery shell, also rigged as a bomb and found in May, showed signs that it once contained mustard agent.
  • Two small rocket warheads, turned over to Polish troops by an informer, showed signs that they once were filled with sarin.
  • Centrifuge parts were found buried in a former nuclear scientist’s garden in Baghdad. These were part of Saddam’s pre-1991 nuclear program, which was dismantled after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The scientist also had centrifuge design documents.
  • A vial of live botulinum toxin, which can be used as a biological weapon, was found in another scientist’s refrigerator. The scientist said it had been there since 1993.
  • Evidence emerged of advanced design work on a liquid-propellant missile with ranges of up to 620 miles. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had been prohibited from having missiles with ranges longer than 93 miles.

Imminent or not?
A key question is whether Saddam posed an imminent threat. Bush spokesman Scott McClellan is on the record as having said that he was, as is Ari Fleischer when he was Bush's press secretary.

But Condoleezza Rice, the president's national security adviser, last March on NBC's "Meet the Press" emphasized that the president never called it imminent.

"I think what the president said in his State of the Union (speech) is that we cannot wait until it becomes imminent," she said. "It is a gathering and grave threat. We all believed that it is an urgent threat and I believe to this day that it was an urgent threat."

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: No WMD

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