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updated 10/8/2004 3:44:02 PM ET 2004-10-08T19:44:02

The last thing the administration probably wanted weeks before the election is the release of a new U.S. weapons report. Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, told Congress Wednesday 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.

It’s an issue the White House has been trying to avoid for months:

In June 10, 2004, when President Bush was asked about Iraq’s missing weapons of mass destruction, he said it was too early to comment.

This week, Duelfer gave his report to Congress.  It concluded Saddam:

  • destroyed chemical/biological weapons in 1991
  • ended nuclear weapons program in 1991 and never restarted it and
  • abandoned biological research in 1996 because of U.N. sanctions

Duelfer testified that based on CIA interrogations with Saddam, the Iraqi leader deliberately mislead the world to scare Iraq’s real enemy, Iran.

“He wanted to create the impression he had more than he did,” said Dulfeur. He added that Saddam retained the intent to restart his weapons programs and had the capability to do so.

This is the part of the statement the president jumped Thursday.

Still, intent to restart a program on the possibility that knowledge could get passed along is far different from the imminent threat the president suggested before the war.

The harshly critical report is just the latest in a series of blows to the administration. This week, the president’s former administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, said too few troops had been sent “to Iraq to keep control.”

Last week, the CIA said it doubted Saddam Hussein had helped terrorists, as the administration had charged.

Over the summer, CIA analysts said Iraq could be expected, in the next 18 months to achieve a “tenuous stability” in the best case scenario, and in the worst case, “to dissolve into civil war.”

Meanwhile, John Kerry continues to pound away on the growing evidence that the Bush team had its facts, and its planning was lethally incomplete.

Even top Republicans acknowledge that the terrain in this election has now shifted… and that instead of focusing on John Kerry down the stretch, the Bush campaign is having to play defense on Iraq and on the president’s reasons for going in.

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