Bush Stands By WMD Claims

President Bush, map and a flag of Iraq, and weapon inspectors with UN logo
For the second time in as many days, President Bush on Tuesday said critics of the Iraq war were forgetting recent history, but did not claim illegal weapons would be found there.

"I know there's a lot of revisionist history going on. But he is no longer a threat to the free world," Mr. Bush said as he promoted his domestic agenda at a community college in a Washington suburb.

"We made it clear to the dictator of Iraq that he must disarm. And we asked other nations to join us in seeing to it that he would disarm and he chose not to do so, we disarmed him," Mr. Bush said.

The president made similar remarks Monday. He mentioned "weapons" in neither speech and did not say on either occasion that Iraq actually possessed illegal weapons or that coalition troops would find them.

The threat posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was the main reason given by the U.S. and British governments for going to war, but inspectors have found no hard evidence of chemical, biological or nuclear arms.

In Britain, two former senior Cabinet ministers told lawmakers Tuesday that the government made selective use of intelligence to justify going to war with Iraq.

Two parliamentary committees are investigating claims that Blair's office redrafted a dossier on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, published in September, to emphasize the claim that Iraq could fire chemical or biological weapons within 45 minutes of Saddam giving an order to do so. Intelligence officials reportedly believed the information was unreliable.

Prime Minister Tony Blair has said there is not "a shred of truth" in allegations that the government manipulated evidence.

But former House of Commons leader Robin Cook, who quit in March to protest the government's pro-war stance, told lawmakers he feared Blair's government had used intelligence about Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs to support a policy it had settled on earlier.

"I fear the fundamental problem is that instead of using intelligence as evidence on which to base a decision about policy, we used intelligence as the basis on which to justify a policy on which we had already settled."

Clare Short, who also quit as international development secretary over the Iraq war, said she had seen reports from the foreign intelligence service MI6 that said Iraqi scientists were still working on chemical and biological weapons programs, but did not support government claims that Saddam had weapons ready to use.

"I think that is where the falsity lies," Short said. "The exaggeration of immediacy means you cannot do things properly, and action has to be immediate."

Cook said he had received a similar briefing from MI6. He said he believed Saddam "did not have an immediate threat capability" in the run-up to the war, and he doubted whether investigators would find evidence of substantial chemical and biological arms programs in Iraq.

"Such weapons require substantial industrial plant and a large work force. It is inconceivable that both could have been kept concealed for the two months we have been in occupation of Iraq," Cook said.

Over the next few weeks the committee will hear evidence from senior politicians including Foreign Secretary Jack Straw — but not Blair, who said last week that neither he nor his staff would appear. Blair will give evidence to another inquiry by the Joint Intelligence Committee, which unlike the foreign affairs committee meets in private.

In Washington, a Democratic senator urged the CIA on Monday to release information that he said would prove the United States withheld from U.N. inspectors key information on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., has said for months that CIA Director George Tenet's open statements about how much intelligence was shared with inspectors contradict classified information. The contradictions show the need for a Senate investigation into whether U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was "shaded or exaggerated," he said.

Republican leaders have rejected Democrats' calls for a formal investigation, contending there is no sign of wrongdoing, and said the Armed Services and Intelligence committees will review the intelligence as part of their regular oversight processes. In the House, Democrats and Republicans on the Intelligence Committee have agreed to hold a review.

Levin said if Americans had known that not all information about top weapons sites had been shared with inspectors, "there could have been greater public demand that the inspection process continue."

A CIA spokesman would not comment.

Amid rising questions about the lack of hard evidence that such weapons existed, Mr. Bush's spokesman, Ari Fleischer, told reporters that the president still believes such weapons existed.

Asked what Mr. Bush meant by "revisionist history," Fleischer said, "the notion that Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction before the war."

Challenged about their prewar claims, Bush administrations have lately referred to statements by their predecessors on Iraq.

In a 1998 white paper, the Clinton State Department stated that, "the world's experts conclude that enough production components and data remain hidden and enough expertise has been retained or developed to enable Iraq to resume development and production of WMD."

"They believe Iraq maintains a small force of Scud-type missiles, a small stockpile of chemical and biological munitions, and the capability to quickly resurrect biological and chemical weapons production," the paper continues.

But in a report on WMD activity in 2000, the CIA offered a more qualified opinion.

"Given Iraq's past behavior, it is likely that Iraq has used the period since (1998) to reconstitute prohibited programs," it read. "Without an inspection-monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so."