The chief US weapons inspector in Iraq said Wednesday that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before the US-led invasion of the country in March 2003.
Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, also said in briefings to Senate committees that he found former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's weapons' capability was decaying after 12 years of UN sanctions, in sharp contrast to statements by President George W. Bush and administration officials before the US launchedthe war last year.
Bush and senior administration officials claimed repeatedly before the war that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was an immediate threat, a major reason he cited to launch the war, in which over 1,000 US soldiers have been killed so far.
Duelfer, the CIA special adviser who led the WMD hunt in Iraq, said he did not expect that militarily significant WMD stocks were cached in the country.
He said Iraq's nuclear weapons program had deteriorated since the 1991 Gulf War, but Saddam did not abandon his nuclear ambitions, an apparent effort to support Bush's argument that Saddam remained a threat despite no WMD was found in Iraq.
Duelfer's findings were contained in a report of more than 1,000 pages, which included assessments based on FBI interrogations of Saddam and said the former Iraqi leader intended to rebuild his weapons capabilities once UN sanctions were lifted.
Duelfer's team, however, did not find written plans by Saddam'sregime to pursue banned weapons if UN sanctions were lifted.
"The analysis shows that despite Saddam's expressed desire to retain the knowledge of his nuclear team, and his attempts to retain some key parts of the program, during the course of the following 12 years Iraq's ability to produce a weapon decayed," Duelfer said.
Duelfer said he was convinced that his team had "contained a problem before it matured into a major threat," a connection between chemical weapons experts from Saddam's former regime with insurgents fighting the US-led forces now in Iraq.
Duelfer's findings seemed to largely reinforce the conclusions of his predecessor, David Kay, who said in January that "we were almost all wrong" on Saddam's weapons programs.
Less than four weeks before the Nov. 2 presidential election, in which Bush's handling of Iraq has become the central issue, thefindings would add more fuel to the already heated campaigns.
Democratic presidential nominee has said Bush rushed to war based on faulty intelligence and without allowing UN inspections enough time to investigate Iraq's armaments, while Bush has given varying justifications for the war.
In a campaign speech in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, Bush cited Saddam's "history of using weapons of mass destruction, a long record of aggression and hatred for America" in calling the invasion the right thing to do. The concern, he said, was that terrorists would get banned weapons from Saddam.