Bush Officials Change Tune on Iraqi Weapons


Richard Moore


   Bush Officials Change Tune on Iraqi Weapons
   By Alan Elsner

   Wednesday 14 May 2003

  WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has changed its
tune on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the reason
it went to war there. Instead of looking for vast
stocks of banned materials, it is now pinning its hopes
on finding documentary evidence.

  The change in rhetoric, apparently designed in part to
dampen public expectations, has unfolded gradually in
the past month as special U.S. military teams have
found little to justify the administration's claim that
Iraq was concealing vast stocks of chemical and
biological agents and was actively working on a covert
nuclear weapons program.

  "The administration seems to be hoping that
inconvenient facts will disappear from the public
discourse. It's happening to a large degree," said
Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, a
liberal think-tank which opposed the war.

  Few politicians have raised the issue, not wishing to
question a popular military victory. However,
California Rep. Jane Harman, ranking Democrat on the
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee, said
last week she was concerned.

  "Though I was convinced of the case made prior to the
war, I am increasingly concerned about the lack of
progress in uncovering the Iraqi weapons. We need a
thorough accounting of what intelligence was available
to Congress and war planners before and during the
conflict," she said.

  In a New York Times/CBS poll released on Tuesday, 49
percent said the administration overestimated the
amount of banned weapons in Iraq, while 29 percent said
its estimates were accurate and 12 percent said they
were low.

  Still, 56 percent said the war would still have been
worthwhile even if weapons of mass destruction were
never found, while 38 percent said it would not have
been worth it.

  President Bush's national security adviser,
Condoleezza Rice, told Reuters on Monday that
Washington was sending a new team to Iraq to scour for

  The new team will be "more expert" at following the
paper trail and other intelligence. She said Iraq
appeared to have had a virtually "inspections proof"
system of concealing chemical and biological weapons by
developing chemicals and agents that could be used for
more than one purpose, but that could be put together
as weapons at the last minute.

  She said U.S. officials never expected that "we were
going to open garages and find" weapons of mass


  That statement represents a dramatic change from
rhetoric from Bush and other top officials before the
war, backed up by a steady stream of documents, all of
which are still accessible on the White House web site.

  In his March 17 speech giving Iraqi President Saddam
Hussein 48 hours to leave the country, Bush 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."

  Earlier, in a speech last Oct. 7, Bush said: "The
Iraqi regime ... possesses and produces chemical and
biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons.

  "We know that the regime has produced thousands of
tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, sarin
nerve gas, VX nerve gas ... And surveillance photos
reveal that the regime is rebuilding facilities that it
had used to produce chemical and biological weapons."

  In his State of the Union address last January, Bush
accused Iraq of having enough material "to produce over
25,000 liters of anthrax -- enough doses to kill
several million people ... more than 38,000 liters of
botulinum toxin -- enough to subject millions of people
to death by respiratory failure ... as much as 500 tons
of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent."

  In his presentation to the U.N. Security Council on
Feb. 6, Secretary of State Colin Powell said Washington
"knew" that Baghdad had dispersed rocket launchers and
warheads containing biological warfare agents to
locations in western Iraq.

  "We also have satellite photos that indicate that
banned materials have recently been moved from a number
of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities,"
Powell said. "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein
has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly
produce more, many more."

  In Congressional testimony in April, Powell said
weapons "will be found." He said of his U.N speech,
"everything we had there had backup and double sourcing
and triple sourcing."

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this
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