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What has been discovered about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction so far?

The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) -- over 1,000 military and intelligence specialists led by Dr. David Kay -- has found no weapons of mass destruction. They've been looking since July 2003. Prior to the U.S. invasion, the Bush administration claimed that there was an active nuclear weapons program and that Iraq had large stocks of chemical and biological weapons.

The ISG has discovered "dozens of WMD-related program activities," however, and Kay says this evidence leads him and other experts to believe Iraq "planned to continue production of weapons of mass destruction at some future point in time."

The ISG also had one revelation in its October 2003 preliminary report: Iraq had been secretly developing several long-range missiles and seeking forbidden technology from North Korea. The banned long-range missiles would have made Iraq capable of striking Syria, Israel, and Iran, Iraq's longtime enemy. These regional conflicts are the most likely reason that Saddam continued to develop the forbidden missile program.

The ISG is scheduled to deliver its next report by the end of January 2004.

So what was Saddam's game? Why didn't he come clean with U.N. inspectors in the months leading up to the U.S. invasion?

One theory is that Saddam Hussein wanted to retain the self-image of a tough leader, both for Iraqis and for other countries in the region. Says Hans Blix, former top U.N. weapons inspector, "I think that he thought of himself as the Nebuchadnezzar of the Mesopotamia and … he felt that we [inspectors] were intruders. Iraq had gone along with Resolution 687. Yes, they would do that, but not one inch more. Not in a situation where they felt that they could have a reasonable argument of keeping inspectors out. I think that was a pride on his part. He didn't want to be humiliated."

And many think that Saddam Hussein simply may have miscalculated. He had bluffed about having weapons of mass destruction because he didn't think the U.S. would call his bluff.

What are some of the challenges that the ISG confronts in its search for WMD evidence in Iraq?

• Fear
People are afraid to come forward about what they know. Jane Corbin, correspondent for FRONTLINE's "Chasing Saddam's Weapons," says, "We all underestimated the so-called fear factor that made people afraid to tell the truth and reveal things. And I really believe that this was at the heart of this mystery [of the weapons]. And we still underestimate it now today, even though Saddam Hussein has been captured."

• Massive Amounts of Records
Iraq was a bureaucratic nation. Although members of Saddam's regime tried to destroy many documents as they fled, mountains of paperwork from ministries, barracks and factories have been collected by the ISG and will take months, possibly years, to go through and connect all the dots: locate all the facilities, all the possible hiding places and the network of scientists involved in WMD development.

Read more specifics of their investigative work in the opening section of the ISG's October 2003 interim report.

• Post-War Violence
The ISG's intelligence teams may not only become targets of the guerrilla violence, but the analysts have been diverted to help in the hunt for the insurgents. David Kay has had to fight to keep the full resources of his team.

• Hunting for WMD No Longer Seems A Priority
In a December 2003 television interview, President Bush seemed to suggest that with Saddam Hussein captured, actually finding his weapons no longer mattered. And polls indicate that most Americans also don't seem to care whether the weapons are discovered or not.

What's at stake if the ISG is not able to complete a thorough investigation into what Iraq had -- or didn't have?

Weapons inspectors and intelligence experts believe it's vital to find out the "ground truth" -- even if it takes years.

•. The world must know if any of Iraq's WMD material or weapons got out of the country. Was it sold or shared with other countries, terrorists, or would-be proliferators?

• If the ISG's work isn't fully completed -- tracking down all the scientists, all the seed stocks of biological agents, all parts of the programs, etc. -- what kind of message does that send to other countries who could be, or want to be, WMD proliferators?

• And if Iraq never possessed active WMD capability, there are important lessons for policymakers and the intelligence community. One lesson would be that the West's containment policy during most of the 1990s was more effective than had been realized. Another lesson would be the importance of having inspectors on the ground. From 1998 through 2002, the West had to rely on satellite pictures or information from Iraqi exiles and defectors. Much of the information provided by exiles and defectors has been proven false.

In the end, says David Kay, knowing the full weapons story will help us better understand how to adjust the intelligence services for the new demands posed by countries like Iraq. "We're not going to know how to make that adjustment," says Kay, "until we know the lessons learned here."

Read The New York Times' Jan. 24, 2004 interview with Kay, conducted days after his resignation as head of the ISG team in Iraq. Kay discusses how chaos in Iraq's leadership, in particular, notes reporter James Risen, "an increasingly isolated and fantasy-riven Saddam Hussein," had corrupted Iraq's capability to develop banned programs and weapons. This disarray at the top level of the government was something the C.I.A. had failed to detect in the years leading up to the 2003 war.

 

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posted january 22, 2004

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