Right after I graduated, I interned with the Arms Control Association. It was terrific.

– George Stephanopolous
Host of ABC's This Week
January 1, 2005
Iraq Weapons Hunt Ends; Other Investigations Continue

Paul Kerr

The Bush administration has essentially wrapped up its investigation of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and of the failure to find significant stockpiles of such weapons after the U.S.-led invasion of that country in March 2003. Several related investigations, however, are still ongoing.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Jan. 12 that a final report from Charles Duelfer, the head adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), is not expected to add any new information to an interim report Duelfer issued in September 2004, which said that Iraq had no WMD stockpiles. McClellan described the final report as an “addendum,” adding that the September report is “essentially the completion” of Duelfer’s work. (See ACT, November 2004.) Run by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the ISG is the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led WMD search.

Before the U.S.-led invasion, Bush administration officials claimed that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and had an active nuclear weapons program. The threat posed by these weapons was a key administration justification for beginning the war. UN weapons inspectors reported prior to the invasion that they had not found any evidence that Iraq either had WMD stockpiles or had reconstituted its related programs. They had, however, not been able to account for the disposition of some of Iraq’s previous chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and related materials.

Despite the subsequent failure to find such stockpiles, administration officials have continued to argue that the invasion was necessary because deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein still had the capability and intent to develop such weapons. These officials frequently add that Hussein would have produced prohibited weapons if UN economic sanctions imposed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War were lifted. For example, Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett stated during a Jan. 16 television interview that Duelfer’s report showed that Hussein retained weapons production “capabilities that could be turned on a moment’s notice.”

Duelfer told the Senate Armed Services Committee in October 2004 that Iraq “was making progress in eroding sanctions” prior to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. But he indicated that international opinion had changed following the attacks, helping to shore up the sanctions regime. Lifting the sanctions was not seriously under discussion during the run-up to the invasion.

He told the committee that the sanctions placed “constraints” on Iraq’s ability to produce prohibited weapons, as well as “modified [Hussein’s] behavior because his prime objective was to get rid of those sanctions.”

Duelfer also testified that, in the long run, the sanctions would not have been sustainable. He did not address whether the long-term monitoring measures that the UN Security Council had mandated be left in place after the sanctions were to have ended would have prevented future rearming.

Duelfer’s testimony and report also showed that Iraq had not restarted its nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs before the invasion.

Furthermore, the evidence regarding Hussein’s intentions and latent capabilities is mixed. According to Duelfer, Hussein retained ambitions to develop nuclear and chemical weapons, but not biological weapons. As for capabilities, Iraq was expanding its dual-use chemical infrastructure that could have later produced chemical weapons agents, but Duelfer’s report showed that Iraq had not restored significant nuclear capabilities.

Duelfer concluded that Iraq did have limited programs to develop ballistic missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles that exceeded UN-permitted ranges, but Hussein had no plans to equip them to deliver weapons of mass destruction as long as sanctions were in place.

Investigations Continue
Although the ISG’s “physical search has essentially ended,” McClellan said the group will still conduct WMD-related work, such as examining captured Iraqi documents. Department of Defense officials say this work will take place but told Arms Control Today that the ISG has also been given higher-priority tasks, such as combating the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, cited the diversion of ISG personnel to these other missions as one reason he left the position. (See ACT, March 2004.)

With Duelfer’s investigation essentially complete, McClellan stated that Bush’s “focus” is on the recommendations of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, chaired by former Senator Charles Robb (D-Va.) and U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Laurence Silberman. According to the commission, which the president established in February 2004, Duelfer’s final report is to serve as a “point of reference in reviewing the quality of U.S. intelligence concerning Iraq’s WMD program.” The commission’s task also includes an evaluation of the “quality of U.S. intelligence on all WMD and related 21st Century threats.” The commission’s final report is due March 31.

The status of two ongoing congressional investigations is unclear. The Senate Intelligence Committee is conducting a second phase of its review of U.S. intelligence on Iraq. The committee has said that this phase includes an evaluation of administration policymakers’ public statements about the Iraqi threat, as well as intelligence activities conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The committee issued a report this past July that criticized the intelligence community for failing before the war to describe Iraq’s weapons programs accurately. (See ACT, September 2004.)

The House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation, but both the status and scope of that effort are unclear.