The U.S. military has found more Iraqi weapons in recent months, in addition to the 500 chemical munitions recently reported by the Pentagon, a top defense intelligence official said on Thursday.
Lt. Gen. Michael Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, did not specify if the newly found weapons were also chemical munitions. But he said he expected more.
"I do not believe we have found all the weapons," he told the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, offering few details in an open session that preceded a classified briefing to lawmakers.
Responding to questions from lawmakers anxious to make political points ahead of the November congressional elections, U.S. defense officials said the 500 chemical weapons discovered in Iraq were "weapons of mass destruction." However their degraded state may make them more dangerous to those who find them than anyone else.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, Michigan Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra, wrote to U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte accusing intelligence officials of downplaying the significance of the finds.
Hoekstra said intelligence officials at a June 21 press briefing told journalists the weapons predated the 1991 Gulf War, were too degraded to be used as originally intended and posed no threat to U.S. forces deployed in the region during the run-up to the 2003 invasion.
"I am very disappointed by the inaccurate, incomplete, and occasionally misleading comments made by the briefers," Hoekstra said in the letter.
At the Armed Services Committee, Maples also asserted that the rockets and artillery rounds that had been found were produced in the 1980s and could not be used as intended.
If the chemical agent, sarin, was removed from the munitions and repackaged, it could be lethal. Its release in a U.S. city, in certain circumstances, would be devastating, Maples said.
LITTLE THREAT TO U.S.
But despite statements of concern by Republicans about the risk of terrorists releasing the chemical in the United States, defense officials said the munitions pose as much a threat to people who try to handle them as potential victims.
When asked by a Democrat to confirm the weapons pose a risk to troops in Iraq, not Americans at home, Maples said, "Yes."
Republican lawmakers, some facing tough election battles amid growing anti-war sentiment, called the discovery of the weapons significant.
Republican Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania suggested the munitions were in fact the weapons of mass destruction that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein lied about, leading the United States to war.
"For those who claim that these weapons are not the weapons of mass destruction that the United States went to war over, I would refer them to 17 United Nations Security Council resolutions that Saddam Hussein violated," Weldon said. "It didn't say pre-'91 chemical weapons. It didn't say post-'91 chemical weapons. It said chemical weapons."
But Democrats dismissed such arguments and said the weapons were not the "imminent threat" used to justify the war.
"It's very difficult to characterize these as the imminent threat weapons that we were told we were looking for," said Rep. Ellen Tauscher, a California Democrat.