Iraq hid from United Nations inspectors some preliminary plans to develop banned weapons, but a U.S. survey team has found no evidence of weapons stockpiles or active weapons-building programs, a newspaper reports.
The Washington Post, quoting interviews with Iraqi scientists, British and American arms experts, and documents, reports that Iraq may have also concealed facilities and materials that may have allowed it to build weapons in the future.
But Iraq's nuclear weapons program appears never to have recovered from the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Biological weapons apparently were also destroyed in 1991. And evidence suggests Iraq was not developing anthrax, smallpox or VX nerve gas.
Iraq's alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were a leading rationale for the invasion in March 2003. The lack of any evidence to support the U.S. allegations has brought into question the accuracy of American intelligence, or the veracity of the way the Bush administration employed it.
A 1,400-member Iraq Survey group has hunted weapons for months, with little success. Its director, David Kay, reported to Congress in October that there was evidence Iraq had violated U.N. resolutions and hid proscribed activities, but cited no evidence of weapons or advanced programs to make them.
The hunt continues. CIA interrogators are pressing Saddam Hussein for details on the insurgency in Iraq, on possible weapons of mass destruction and on his government's ties to terrorists, U.S. officials say.
The newspaper says there are several theories on why the prewar intelligence has not been confirmed. One is that Iraqi scientists created fake weapons programs to elicit more funding from Saddam's government. Another possibility is that scientists exaggerated Iraq's capabilities to Saddam to keep the dictator happy.
The Post reports that Iraq may have harbored ambitions to create new biological or chemical weapons, but concentrated on developing ways to deliver the weapons first, like long-range missiles.
U.N. resolutions had limited the range of Iraqi missiles so they could not threaten neighbors. In the fall of 2002, U.N. inspectors concluded that one Iraqi missile, the Al Samoud, violated the limit.
The missiles were destroyed. But The Post reports Iraqi missile scientists had plans for more advanced, even longer-flying missiles. However, these plans consisted merely of designs: There had been no moves to develop the weapons, a process that may have taken six years.
Other suspected weapons programs appear to have been even less advanced. The Iraqi scientist known as Dr. Germ, Rahib Taha, has admitted to American interrogators that Iraq did begin research on a viral weapon in 1990 — which Iraq had long denied. Construction even began on a lab. But the effort was halted with Iraq's August 1990 invasion of Kuwait.
U.S. teams have hunted for evidence Iraq was developing smallpox, but found no sign of the variola virus that causes it, said The Post.
American experts probed Iraqi research into animal poxes, to see if Iraq was trying to use these poxes in weapons research; all they found were well-known veterinary research programs into goatpox and sheeppox, The Post said. Those programs could have been used for nefarious purposes, but appeared "legitimate" according to one coalition scientist.
U.S. teams even investigated a hunch that Iraq was trying to combine pox with snake venom to make it more lethal. But Ali Zaag, a Baghdad University scientist, told the newspaper: "You have seen our labs. For us, these capabilities are science fiction."
Documents obtained by the Post that appear to be high-level Iraqi government memos indicate that Iraq destroyed its biological weapons in 1991.
Evidence has even called into doubt the U.S. claim that two trailers found in northern Iraq were mobile weapons laboratories. Iraqis contend they were used to make hydrogen for weather balloons used to target artillery during the 1980-88 war with Iran.
© 2004 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.