Spooks Said Iraq WMD Use Unlikely

Defense Intelligence Agency seal over a map and flag of Iraq, with weapons of mass-destruction symbols AP / CBS

A 2002 intelligence assessment said Iraqi field units had been given chemical weapons but were unlikely to use them unless threatened with destruction, a newspaper reports.

The classified Defense Intelligence Agency study, completed in November, found that Saddam Hussein would probably not use illegal weapons if U.N. inspectors were in Iraq, and would employ them only "under extreme circumstances," The New York Times reports. The report was first mentioned in last week's U.S. News & World Report.

The report appears to back Bush administration claims that Iraq had chemical weapons and had placed them in the field. But it counters the claim that Iraq planned to use them against the United States.

"Iraq's chemical agent use against Iran and the Kurds suggest that Baghdad possesses the political will to use any and all" weapons, the Times quoted the report as saying, but only if "regime survival was imminently threatened."

Intelligence about Iraq's alleged weapons and supposed plans to use them are at the center of a dispute in the United States and its allies over whether prewar intelligence was misinterpreted, or deliberately misused, by those supporting the war.

A major rationale for the war was Iraq's alleged large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and nuclear program.

But despite searches by covert teams during the war and exploration units in the two months since the fall of Baghdad, no illegal weapons have been found. Two trailers are suspected of being mobile biological production labs, but there is no proof they ever handled deadly germs.

Facing charges they skewed intelligence in order to press for war, Bush administration officials have said weapons were only one reason for the invasion, and that ousting Saddam Hussein and stabilizing the Middle East were also important.

U.S. officials have also pointed to intelligence reports from the Clinton and Bush administrations that judged Iraq was likely to possess illegal weapons.

But some intelligence reports suggest more doubt that the administration acknowledged — another DIA report from last year said there was no "reliable information" on chemical weapons in Iraq.

Some former intelligence officers have told newspapers that they were pressured to shape intelligence to align with the administration's policy supporting war.

The White House denies it, but Democrats have seized on the charges.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate Intelligence Committee met to discuss how to conduct a review of the prewar intelligence and its House counterpart held closed-door hearings on the matter.

Senate Democrats have demanded a full, public investigation, but Republican committee chairman Pat Roberts wants closed door hearings at first, with the possibility of open hearings and a public report later on.

In Britain, two parliamentary inquiries are planned. There, as in the DIA report, a key issue is what Iraq was prepared to do with its alleged weapons.

The probes concern two dossiers on prewar intelligence in which Blair made the case for military action. One dossier published in February has since been found to be substantially copied from an American researcher's thesis that was available on the Internet.

Another in September made the claim — since disputed — that Iraq could fire chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam giving an order to do so.

The lingering questions about weapons have been facing the biggest challenge of Prime Minister Tony Blair's six years in office.

On Tuesday, two lawmakers who quit Blair's Cabinet to protest his Iraq policy criticized his government's handling of intelligence about Iraqi weapons.

Clare Short, the former International Development Secretary, told the Foreign Affairs committee that Blair had "pre-committed" Britain to conflict months before the war, even as the United Nations was working to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Former House of Commons leader Robin Cook told the committee that officials "used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled."

But Home Secretary David Blunkett said those two ministers hadn't had access to all the intelligence on Iraqi programs. Blair's main argument for going to war in Iraq was based on those claims.

On Wednesday, during a lively and aggressive question-and-answer session in the House of Commons, Blair insisted that Saddam had posed a threat to the Middle East and the rest of the world.

"Saddam Hussein was a threat to his region and to the wider world," Blair told the legislators. "I always made it clear that the issue was not whether he was about to launch an immediate strike on Britain. The issue was whether he posed a threat to his region and to the wider world."

Meanwhile, Blair's office on Wednesday denied a newspaper report claiming that an official British investigation of two trailers found in northern Iraq had concluded they were not mobile germ warfare labs. A spokesman for Blair's office said that the government's investigation into the two trailers in Iraq was still under way.

Also Wednesday, an official said the British government has proposed offering leniency to some Iraqi scientists and technicians in an effort to improve the search for weapons of mass destruction.

In Australia, the Senate has voted hold an inquiry into prewar intelligence, much to the chagrin of Prime Minister John Howard, a war supporter. Howard accused lawmakers of politicizing the issue, reports the Australian Broadcasting Company.
  • Joel Roberts

Comments