The United States admitted on Wednesday that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) before the US-led invasion in March 2003, but President George W. Bush defended the war, saying "the path to safety is the path of action."
A report released on Wednesday by the chief US weapons inspector in Iraq concluded that Saddam had neither nuclear, chemical and biological weapons nor solid plans to build such weapons.
Charles Duelfer, the CIA special adviser who led the WMD hunt in Iraq, said he did not expect 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. The latter part of the claim is an apparent effort to support Bush's argument that Saddam remained a threat despite no WMD was found in Iraq.
Duelfer's report of more than 1,000 pages included assessments based on FBI interrogations of Saddam. It said the former Iraqi leader intended to rebuild his weapons capabilities once UN sanctions were lifted.
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.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld acknowledged Monday that he has seen no "strong, hard evidence" linking Saddam with the al Qaeda network, adding intelligence about Iraq's WMDs was faulty.
Less than four weeks before the Nov. 2 presidential election, in which Bush's handling of Iraq has become the central issue, the findings would add more fuel to the already heated campaigns.
Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry has said Bush rushed to war, relying on faulty intelligence and without allowing UN inspections enough time to investigate Iraq's armaments. Bush insisted that the world is safer without Saddam Hussein.
Mike McCurry, Kerry campaign strategist, said Duelfer's report presents "a very significant commentary on the mistaken case for war presented by this administration."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush's staunchest allay in the Iraq war, said on a trip to Ethiopia that he welcomed the report. "I think it will show us that it is far more of a complicated situation than people thought." Blair, who also used Iraq's WMD as the case for war, has been under fire in his country as well.
However, addressing a mass rally in Pennsylvania, Bush said that after the Sept. 11 attacks, his country had to look for sources of WMD available to terrorists.
"We had to take a hard look at every place where terrorists might get those weapons," Bush said. "One regime stood out -- the dictatorship of (former Iraqi president) Saddam Hussein."
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.
"There was a risk, a real risk, that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks," Bush claimed.
Bush and senior administration officials had based the case for war on Iraq's WMD program and said repeatedly that Iraq was an immediate threat to the United States. Both claims now prove to be false.
Meanwhile, violence continues in Iraq. A suicide car bomber plowed into an Iraqi military checkpoint in the western town of Anah, near the Syrian border, killing 16 Iraqis and wounding about 30.
A second car bomb went off at a checkpoint in Baghdad, killing a child and wounding seven national guards. Another roadside bomb killed a civilian and wounded four policemen in the southern city of Basra. A Kurdish tribal leader and a companion were shot dead in the northern city of Mosul.