Bush says weapons inspectors' report strengthens case for war

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The Independent US

On the eve of the second, and vital, presidential debate, an unrepentant President George Bush insisted yesterday that the report saying Saddam Hussein did not have illicit weapons nevertheless strengthened, rather than weakened, the case for last year's invasion of Iraq.

On the eve of the second, and vital, presidential debate, an unrepentant President George Bush insisted yesterday that the report saying Saddam Hussein did not have illicit weapons nevertheless strengthened, rather than weakened, the case for last year's invasion of Iraq.

On his way to a campaign stop in the swing state of Wisconsin, Mr Bush said the report, by the Iraq Survey Group of weapons inspectors, proved that Saddam retained "the knowledge, materials, means and intentions" to produce weapons of mass destruction, and pass them on to terrorists.

"We were right to take action, and America is safer with Saddam Hussein in prison," the President insisted. The intelligence might have been wrong, but the Iraqi leader has been "a unique threat, a sworn enemy of the US, and a state sponsor of terrorism".

In another foretaste of the line Mr Bush will take in his clash with John Kerry in St Louis, Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, also insisted that the report of more than 1,000 pages showed that "delay and defer wasn't an option". Brushing aside the document's conclusion - that, contrary to every administration assertion before the war, Iraq had no weapons - Mr Cheney said the findings proved Saddam planned to reconstitute his biological and chemical weapons programmes as soon as United Nations sanctions were lifted.

Within the hour, Mr Kerry emerged from the Colorado resort hotel where he was practising for the debate to accuse the President and the Vice-President of "living in a world of spin". They were probably "the last two people on earth not to face the truth about Iraq".

Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: "Thousands have died and yet Iraq never posed a grave or growing danger."

Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate's Armed Services Committee, dismissed Republican claims that the Iraqi leader planned to start building illicit weapons once sanctions were lifted as "speculative discussion about Saddam's future intentions".

Tonight's debate, using a town-hall format where the candidates will answer questions from the audience, is supposed to focus on domestic issues. But Iraq seems bound to top the agenda. Mr Bush will try to avoid a detailed discussion of the report and of his reasons for the invasion. Instead, if his latest speeches are any indication, he will step up personal criticism of his opponent.

Speaking in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, the President delivered a slashing attack on Mr Kerry, saying he would "weaken America" and make the world a more dangerous place. Then, in anticipation of the economic themes he will raise in St Louis, Mr Bush also unsheathed the trusty Republican sword of taxes, branding Mr Kerry as a free-spending liberal who would raise taxes the moment he entered the Oval Office.

But the economic segment of the debate will be overshadowed by today's monthly unemployment figures, the last before the 2 November election. Poor figures would give precious ammunition to Mr Kerry.

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