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How Long Will it Take the White House to Plant WMD
Mon Apr 21 03:51:28 2003
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# How Long Will it Take the White House to Plant WMD in Iraq? They Could Just Use Some of the U.S. Military Created Anthrax that Was Used in the Attack on Daschle. 4/20

Article Published: Friday, April 18, 2003 - 12:00:00 AM MST
http://www.denverpost.com/Stories/0,1413,36~6439~1333807,00.html

Stakes high for White House in arms search
Too early for criticism, administration insists
By Michael Riley, Denver Post Staff Writer
Of all the activity now going on in the chaos of postwar Iraq, none is more important to the Bush administration than the search for the deadly chemical and biological weapons that American officials used to justify the war - and which Iraq claimed don't exist.

Special military teams are combing ministry basements and abandoned factories, looking for telltale signs of the deadly substances. More sophisticated investigations will be conducted by a team of at least 40 of the world's top weapons experts, many of whom have studied Iraq and its unconventional- weapons programs for more than a decade.

But the fact that no weapons have shown up so far is a bit of a mystery.

A week of intensive searches didn't produce a major production facility or weapons cache as expected. And palaces that U.S. intelligence predicted were little more than a front for biochem factories turned out instead to be something unexpected: palaces.

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the military's search for such weapons is unlikely to succeed until Iraqis lead American forces to them.

"I think what will happen is we'll discover people who will tell us where to go find it. It is not like a treasure hunt where you just run around looking everywhere, hoping you find something."

For the Bush administration, the stakes in the search are high.

American officials based the case for war not on the Iraqi regime's record of human-rights abuses or links to terrorism, but on its alleged cache of secret weapons that violated United Nations prohibitions.

"The argument was that we, the United States of America, were threatened by this regime not because of any intentions, but because it had dangerous capabilities that it could use to carry those intentions out," said John White, deputy secretary of defense during the Clinton administration.

"The fact that we haven't found anything yet is not a big deal. But if this goes on for two or three more weeks, then it is a big deal," he said.

Arms inspectors from the United Nations are ready to assist such efforts but don't want to work under a new U.S.-led disarmament effort.

"We're not dogs on a leash," chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told The Associated Press. Blix said U.N. teams would be willing to confirm any discoveries of banned weapons the Americans report but repeatedly noted that U.S. troops haven't found any such weapons thus far.

No one believes that U.S. intelligence got it so wrong that Saddam Hussein actually had none of the weapons or manufacturing capabilities the Bush administration claimed. Some of the stocks may have been destroyed or taken out of the country. Others may still be hidden in the dark corners of Hussein's former regime.

In the coming weeks and months, U.S. officials say, inspectors will engage in an exhaustive search of factories, warehouses and government buildings.

Recent efforts show the difficulties that lie ahead.

At one site in Karbala, a special Defense Department team spent days scouring a maintenance warehouse that initial searches indicated could provide clues to a major manufacturing site. They found radioactive material, dual-use biological equipment and thousands of pages of documents, but no "smoking gun." The area had been heavily looted, and critical evidence may have been carried off by nearby villagers.

The administration maintains it's too early to level criticism.

"We know how easy it is to hide things in a country that size and how hard it is to find things," said Michael Anton, a National Security Council spokesman. "It could take months or even years to fully come to grips with the scope of these programs."

Former chief U.N. weapons inspector David Kay knows what that frustration is like. In 1991-92, Kay's team searched much of Iraq's major military facilities without finding what a high-level defector later revealed was a large stock of anthrax, mustard gas and VX.

"It was enormously frustrating. You'd be talking to Iraqis and they'd be lying to your face. You know they were lying and they knew you knew they were lying," Kay said. "But there was nothing we could do."

He noted that U.S. inspectors now have a huge advantage that their U.N. counterparts did not. They can talk to scientists and soldiers familiar with weapons programs who are no longer afraid they or their families will be killed if they disclose secrets.

But he said it's also possible that in the chaos of the regime's final days, Iraqis "may have taken some of these weapons across the border to sell in order to get the $50,000 that could buy them a better life than the one they knew as part of the Republican Guard. Having gone to war to prevent the transfer of these weapons to terrorists," Kay said, "the Bush administration may have inadvertently created the conditions under which they will never know what happened to many of these threats."

That leaves another question hanging over much of the furious search that will take place in the coming weeks, experts say: What if inspectors find traces of regime efforts to produce biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons, but nothing on the scale the administration suggested in making the case for war?

As an example, they cite the Iraqi drone U.S. authorities claimed could be used to spray troops or even U.S. cities with biological weapons. Reporters who inspected the aircraft before the invasion said it looked more like something out of the age of the Wright brothers than an intricate weapon of war.

Failure to prove Iraq had a secret weapons program sophisticated enough to threaten the region could be a major problem for Bush and his new muscular foreign policy. Experts say it would call into question the administration's contention that the United States can identify potential threats years before they are serious enough to reach home shores - and with enough certainty to go to war to snuff them out.
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