Parliament Probes Iraq WMD Claims

WMD -- weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, United Nations,
A British parliamentary committee said it will investigate whether Prime Minister Tony Blair's government presented accurate information about Iraq's weapons before making the decision to go to war.

Meanwhile, the Central Intelligence Agency is examining a crucial summary report on Iraq's suspected weapons, The New York Times reports, as the agency reviews whether its prewar analysis was flawed

With little evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) yet found in Iraq, the British and U.S. governments are under increasing pressure to explain intelligence reports that the weapons presented a real threat.

So is the Australian government. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports Prime Minister John Howard is defending the intelligence he presented, amid calls by his opposition for hearings.

In one promising sign for the governments that invaded Iraq, the Times of London reports Wednesday that U.S. teams have uncovered what they believe are engines for missiles that would have violated the U.N. limit, and would have reached Israel.

However, in visits to some 300 sites, teams scouring Iraq have located only two trailers that the Pentagon believes are mobile biological weapons factories, as well as a third that might be a mobile military laboratory, but none contained evidence of illegal agents.

The absence of evidence of the massive stockpiles Iraq was alleged to have is causing trouble on both sides of the Atlantic.

In Washington, the New York Times reports, two Senate panels and one House committee plan hearings on the quality of prewar intelligence.

In the past week, members of the Bush administration have insisted they feel weapons will be found, in time.

"We believe they're there. But it is a country about the size of California," Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week.

But earlier in the week, the defense secretary also acknowledged that Saddam may have destroyed the arms before the war. His deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, has said the illegal weapons were only one of several reasons for invading.

Blair, however, faces the toughest questions, including accusations that he deliberately overplayed unconfirmed evidence of the Iraqi threat.

The latest round of controversy about the weapons was fueled by a report on BBC Radio quoting an unidentified "senior British official" as saying that intelligence officers were unhappy about parts of an intelligence dossier that they regarded as unreliable — such as a claim that weapons could be activated within 45 minutes.

John Reid, leader of the House of Commons, was quoted by London's Times as saying the furor over the failure to find the weapons seven weeks since the fall of Baghdad was "ridiculous."

In an interview published Wednesday, he blamed "rogue elements" in the intelligence services for raising questions about the British weapons report.

Some legislators, including the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat Party, had called for a public inquiry, but Blair's office resisted that. His official spokesman suggested Tuesday that he favored an inquiry by the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which meets in private and reports to the prime minister, not to Parliament.

But the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, which holds most of its hearings in public and does report to Parliament, said Tuesday it would hold an inquiry into the decision to go to war.

On Wednesday, The New York Times, citing unnamed officials, said the CIA was investigating a "national intelligence estimate" produced in October to summarize Iraq's weapons programs.

The report was the Bush administration's last major overview of Iraq's capabilities before the United States and its allies went to war. The Times said a team of retired intelligence analysts had been brought in by CIA director George Tenet to conduct the investigation.

The Times says the CIA is turning over to Congress the source material for the estimate. It is also asking for documents from a Pentagon office set up to screen intelligence on Iraq in the run-up to war.

Some intelligence agents have said the Pentagon office may have politicized the intelligence by selecting only the data that backed the case for attacking Iraq.

The newspaper reports that the CIA had indications in the early 1990s that Iraq was trying to restart its illegal weapons programs. In later years, when intelligence was not as reliable, the agency assumed Iraq was continuing on the same path. It may not have been.

One area where the intelligence was almost certainly flawed was the prediction that Iraqi forces would use WMD on advancing U.S. troops. None were used, nor has WMD equipment been found at any Iraqi defensive sites.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Iraqi Brig. Gen. Alaa Saeed — once an official in Iraq's earlier illegal weapons programs — denies there were any such programs when the war started. He has been interrogated by Britain's MI6 spy agency.

"I tell them there are no hidden chemical or biological weapons," he told the Los Angeles Times. "Maybe there is some other group, like the SSO (Special Security Organization) or the Mukhabarat (the intelligence agency), who have done it. I don't know. That is not my responsibility."

In a final report to the United Nations this week, chief inspector Hans Blix says his teams found no evidence of illegal weapons, but did have additional questions when they were forced to abandon their work because of the war.

Prior to the war, the U.S. claimed Iraq hadn't accounted for 30,000 shells and rockets designed to carry WMD, nor proved that it destroyed material that could produce 25,000 liters of anthrax and 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent.

Blair's government charged Iraq could produce aflatoxin, tabun and ricin as well.

Britain also claimed that Iraq had tried to import uranium from Africa for nuclear bombs. The Bush administration said Saddam had purchased aluminum tubes to process the nuclear material.

Both countries also alleged that Iraq had or was developing missiles that overshot the 93-mile U.N. limit, including SCUDs.