In drafts, weapons hunter Charles Duelfer concluded Saddam's Iraq had no stockpiles of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons but said he found signs of idle programs that Saddam could have revived once international attention waned.
Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, was providing his findings Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His team has compiled a 1,500-page report; it is unclear how much will be made public.
Duelfer's predecessor, , who quit last December, also found no evidence of weapons stockpiles.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday the report will conclude "that Saddam Hussein had the intent and the capability, that he was pursuing an aggressive strategy to bring down the sanctions, the international sanctions, imposed by the United Nations, through illegal financing procurement schemes."
Saddam was importing banned materials, working on unmanned aerial vehicles in violation of U.N. agreements and maintaining industrial capability that could be converted to produce weapons, officials have said. Duelfer also describes Saddam's Iraq as having had limited research efforts into chemical and biological weapons.
But a Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said. "It appears that he did not vigorously pursue those programs after the inspectors left" in 1998.
Saddam's government fell in early April 2003 after a lightning U.S.-led invasion in mid-March. He was captured in December.
Duelfer's report will come on a week that the White House has been put on the defensive regarding a number of Iraq issues.
Remarks this week by , former U.S. administrator in occupied Iraq, suggested he argued for more troops in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, when looting was rampant. A spokesman for Mr. Bush's re-election campaign said Bremer indeed differed with military commanders.
President Bush's election rival, Democrat John Kerry, pounced on Bremer's statements that the United States "paid a big price" for having insufficient troop levels. On weapons, however, the Massachusetts senator has said he still would have voted to authorize the invasion even if he had known none would be found.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair — who for months has been trying to defend his justifications for joining the U.S.-led invasion — said the report shows Saddam was "doing his best" to get around United Nations' sanctions.
Blair said the report demonstrates that Saddam was "doing his best" to get around the sanctions, Britain's Press Association news agency reported from Ethiopia, where Blair is traveling.
The White House maintained Duelfer's report will support its view on Iraq's prewar threat.
"The report will continue to show that he was a gathering threat that needed to be taken seriously, that it was a matter of time before he was going to begin pursuing those weapons of mass destruction," McClellan said.
But prior to the war, the Bush administration did not argue that Iraq was on the verge of pursuing illegal weapons. Officials insisted he already had them.
Compare that to the words of Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech on Aug. 26, 2002, 6 1/2 months before the invasion:
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," he said. "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 in an Oct. 7, 2002, speech what he described as Iraq's threat:
"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. "
What U.S. forces found:
The Iraq Survey Group did not deal with whether Saddam's government had contacts with members of the al Qaeda network, a matter that remains subject to wide debate. The Sept. 11 commission said that while there are intelligence reports of contacts between al Qaeda and Iraqi agents until at least 1998, "to date we have seen no evidence that these or the earlier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship."
As the hunt for weapons has come up empty, there has been debate over whether Bush administration officials were simply using bad intelligence or had overstated the case for war.
A blamed the failure to find weapons on the CIA, citing faulty analysis. But a said the administration ignored substantial evidence to the contrary when it claimed before the war that Iraq had imported material for a nuclear weapons program.