'We found nothing, despite Saddam's ambitions'

Prime Minister goes on the defensive but CIA's report to Congress appears to undermine arguments for the conflict
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The Independent Online

The interim report of America's chief weapons inspector is a damning blow to those who argued the case for war against Iraq based on the imminent threat posed by Saddam Hussein's regime.

More than five months after Saddam was ousted and with 1,200 CIA operatives, special forces troops and weapons experts at this disposal, David Kay was forced to admit yesterday that his team's efforts to find Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction had come up with all but nothing.

While there was some evidence that Iraq had retained the template of a weapons programme, in all the areas in which the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has been looking ­ biological, chemical and nuclear ­ Mr Kay conceded that his staff had found nothing that proved Saddam ever actually possessed such weapons. He also admitted that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq had proved to be in sharp contrast to the reality on the ground.

But the former UN weapons inspector's interim report to the House and Senate intelligence committees went out of its way to deflect blame from the White House. Mr Kay said: "We have not yet found stocks of weapons but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapons stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone." He laid out six reasons for his team's failure to find proof of WMD, ranging from "WMD personnel" crossing borders before and after the conflict, to the relatively small size of any such weapons in contrast to Saddam's conventional weapons.

In regard to biological weapons (BW), Mr Kay claimed his team had uncovered "significant information" pointing towards the development of "BW-applicable organisms". Yet he said the team was still working to ascertain what these represented. The report said teams have discovered a network of clandestine laboratories and found live botulinum toxin ­ which could be used to make biological weapons ­ at an Iraqi scientist's home.

He said other weapons-related activities had been discovered, all of which were concealed from UN inspectors But in a display of verbal gymnastics, he said of two tractor trailers discovered in northern Iraq and cited by the White House as proof of a WMD programme: "We have not yet been able to corroborate the existence of a mobile BW production effort.

"Investigation into [the two trailers] has yielded a number of explanations including hydrogen, missile propellant and BW production but technical limitations would limit these processes from being ideally suited to these trailers. That said, nothing we have discovered rules out their potential use in BW production."

In regard to chemical weapons (CW), he said: "Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing centrally controlled CW programme after 1991."

He added: "We have not yet found evidence to confirm pre-war reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use CW against coalition forces."

Mr Kay's report also found no evidence that Saddam had developed a nuclear weapons programme. Instead he said that Iraqi scientists had reported that Saddam "remained firmly committed to acquiring nuclear weapons. These officials assert that Saddam would have resumed nuclear weap-ons development at some future point".

But he adds: "We have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material." The report said there was evidence that Iraq was developing a programme for unmanned drones.

Critics of the Bush administration quickly seized on Mr Kay's report. Scott Ritter, a former chief UN weapons inspector who loudly questioned the administration's case for war, said: "David Kay, after four months of searching, says he has found nothing. I find this deeply disturbing.

"They are not looking for tiny fragments ­ they are looking for stockpiles that President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Tony Blair said were there."

David Corn, political editor of The Nation magazine and author of The Lies of George W Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception, said he was astonished to hear Mr Kay say that pre-war claims about Iraq's alleged weapons had always bore a caveat.

He cited President Bush's comments on 17 March, two days before the war started, when he said: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised." Mr Corn said: "There was no such caveat. There was no qualifier."