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June 2, 2022
Effort to Find WMD in Iraq Comes Up Short

Paul Kerr

The U.S.-led effort to find Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) has so far found no evidence that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons or that it was actively reconstituting its nuclear weapons program at the time coalition forces invaded Iraq this past March. Administration officials insist, however, the search’s results to date justify their decision to go to war.

David Kay, a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector leading the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), testified before the House and Senate Intelligence Committees Oct. 2 about the group’s progress. (Click here for a deconstruction of Kay's testimony). The ISG is the task force coordinating the search effort. Kay’s testimony revealed that Iraq was pursuing low-level, dual-use biological research and development (R&D) efforts, may have considered plans to produce chemical weapons, had a rudimentary R&D effort in dual-use nuclear technology, and was pursuing several programs to develop missiles that exceeded the range permitted under relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Still, before the war, U.S. officials were more expansive in their claim, saying Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program, and possessed prohibited missiles.

Kay cautioned Oct. 2 that the report “does not represent a final reckoning of Iraq’s WMD programs” and that “much remains to be done.” He added that continuing the weapons search is necessary for several reasons: learning lessons to improve the quality of future intelligence; stopping terrorists and Iraqi insurgents from acquiring WMD that may remain in the country; and keeping weapons, information, and expertise from spreading elsewhere. Kay told National Public Radio Oct. 5 that the task force could complete its mission in six to nine months.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gen. (Ret.) James R. Clapper Jr., head of the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, told reporters Oct. 28 that he personally believes Iraqi officials decided to move prohibited weapons materials to Syria prior to the war. He based his belief on pre-invasion satellite imagery showing a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria.

Administration officials insist that Kay’s report justified taking military action because it revealed that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein intended to acquire prohibited weapons and was concealing the means to produce them. President George W. Bush told reporters Oct. 3 that the Kay report proves Iraq “was a threat, a serious danger.”

Secretary of State Colin Powell argued in an Oct. 7 Washington Post op-ed that Iraq’s failure to declare its dual-use equipment and activities to UN weapons inspectors placed it in material breach of its disarmament obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions. He added that Iraq intended to develop WMD despite the presence of inspectors. Vice President Dick Cheney stated in an Oct. 3 speech that Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted in November 2002, “deemed” Iraq’s material breach “to be sufficient cause to go to war.”

However, Resolution 1441 required the Security Council only to “consider” any instances of reported Iraqi noncompliance, rather than providing an automatic authorization for invasion. Moreover, the inspectors reported that prior to the March invasion Iraq was gradually increasing its cooperation with inspectors, although Iraq had not met its requirement to provide the Security Council with a complete declaration of its weapons programs and related activities.

Kay’s findings also challenge the Bush administration’s persistent dismissal of containment and UN weapons inspections as a useful means of checking Hussein’s WMD ambitions. According to an Oct. 27 article in The New Republic, Kay told reporters Oct. 3 that ISG workers have “been struck…by how often [Iraqi scientists] refer to the impact of sanctions” in constraining Iraq’s WMD programs.