Iraqi WMD claims spun? (Christian Science Monitor with sources)
Date: Thu, 29 May 2003

Iraqi WMD claims spun?

Two trailers found in post-war Iraq are probably mobile bioweapons production plants. So says a Bush administration assessment summarized in a report released Wednesday.

"We're highly confident" of the assessment because of the similarity between the physical evidence and the testimony of Iraqi sources, an American official told reporters. However, investigators discovered neither biological agents nor evidence the equipment had been put to nefarious use.

News editors at major US newspapers didn't hitch their trucks to the trailers, however. The story got generally low placement. But the Bush administration can consider themselves fortunate compared to the British media drubbing Tony Blair took today over the elusive weapons of mass destruction.

Simmering impatience with the weapons hunt boiled over after a senior British intelligence official told the BBC that the British government's dossier on Iraq's WMD was rewritten to make it "sexier." The official said that Downing Street ordered a transformation of the report a week before publication, angering intelligence agents who felt the final version "didn't reflect the considered view they were putting forward." The official denounced in particular the dramatic claim that Iraq could use its WMD within 45 minutes. "Most things in the dossier were double source but that was single source and we believe that the source was wrong," the official said.

The revelation, denied by Downing Street, crested an upsurge of British outrage over a comment Tuesday by US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "We don't know what happened," Mr. Rumsfeld said, referring to WMD in Iraq. "It is also possible that [Saddam Hussein's government] decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict." Little noted in America, the comment drew headlines in Britain, where the Blair government relied more heavily on the WMD issue to gain domestic support for the war. The UK Independent garnished their account of Rumsfeld's remarks with a timeline of the official claims made of WMD leading up to the war.

The Washington Post points out that Rumsfeld's comment echoes other senior Bush administration officials who are now "hedging" on the issue.

Robin Cook, who resigned from Blair's cabinet to protest the impending Iraq war, called the Rumsfeld statement "breathtaking":

"Saying that they can't find the weapons, and they may never find the weapons, blows an enormous gaping hole through the case for war that was made on both sides of the Atlantic. ... We were told Saddam had weapons ready for use within 45 minutes. It's now 45 days since the war finished and we still have not found anything ... We could have avoided this war.",2763,966007,00.html

Mr. Cook suggested the need for a Parliamentary inquiry into the matter, and pressure on Blair is expected to mount from leftwing Labour MPs when the commons reconvenes next week. Responding to the crisis, Blair stuck to his guns. "I have said throughout and I repeat I have absolutely no doubt about the existence of weapons of mass destruction," he said. And Armed Forces minister Adam Ingram led the government defense in an interview on BBC Radio 4, saying, "[A] single source who has not been corroborated ... said that this report had been concocted under pressure from No. 10.... There was no pressure from Number 10." Read the full transcript.

Meanwhile, Blair is using his tour of Iraq to reassure the British public that the war was for the good. In a speech thanking troops in Basra, Blair said: "You can see in relation to countries like Syria and Iran where there are big issues we need to discuss with them and resolve with them, that we can do that in a completely different atmosphere than was possible a few months ago."

But the questions surrounding the quality and use of intelligence surrounding the Iraq war will likely linger for quite some time. CBS News reports that the opening strike of the war may have floundered on bad intelligence. The US struck a compound near Baghdad with a surprise barrage in an attempt to decapitate the regime based on intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein was in an underground bunker complex. However, searches of the site have found no such bunker. "No underground facilities, no bodies," said US Army Col. Tim Madere.

The Economist cautions "conspiracy theorists" that the evidence the US and UK used against Hussein "came not from the American and British governments or their spies, but from two unimpeachable sources." Who were the sources? UN weapons inspectors and Saddam Hussein.

Mr. Hussein had what police call form. He made and used chemical weapons in the 1980s. Throughout the 1990s, he strove to hide his WMD programme from UNSCOM, the UN inspectorate then responsible for dismantling it. In this endeavour he enjoyed much success, though Iraqi defectors helped the inspectors to uncover, among other things, the extent of Iraq's biological weapons programme, and its manufacture of VX, a nerve gas. ... Mr Hussein's form continued until the end. Regardless of the intelligence source, the buck ultimately stops with Bush, argues Mark Bowden, the author of "Black Hawk Down":

When the President of the United States addresses the nation and the world, I expect the spinning to stop. He represents not just a party or a cause, but the American people. ... When a president lies or exaggerates in making an argument for war, when he spins the facts to sell his case, he betrays his public trust, and he diminishes the credibility of his office and our country. We are at war. What we lost in this may yet end up being far more important than what we gained.