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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 18:07 GMT
Iraq weapons report draws another blank

By Paul Reynolds
BBC News Online world affairs correspondent

The latest assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is scornful of the way intelligence was presented and goes beyond concluding that Iraq was not an imminent threat - it calls for an end to the US doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The report is from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a liberal think tank in Washington, which opposed the war, arguing that UN inspections should continue.

In its 111-page report, it takes the debate beyond the issue of Iraq into the question of how threats are assessed in the future and what the response should be.

Among its recommendations:

  • The US National Security Strategy should be revised to eliminate the doctrine of "unilateral preventive war" which it calls "pre-emptive war in absence of imminent threat."

  • An independent commission should be set up to establish a clear picture of what the intelligence community knew and believed it knew.

  • The head of the CIA should perhaps be a career post instead of a political appointment.

  • The UN should set up a permanent non-proliferation inspections capability.

  • Distinctions should be recognised in the degree of threat presented by different kinds of weapons of mass destruction.

  • The assertion that the threat of evil states and international terrorism calls for acting on the worst-case scenario should be examined.

Undue influence

Underlying the whole report and its conclusions is scepticism about the way intelligence was assessed and presented.

As far as the WMD were concerned, it concluded:

  • Iraq's nuclear programme had been suspended for many years. Iraq focussed on preserving a dual-use chemical and problem biological weapons capability but not on weapons production. Iraqi nerve agents had lost most of their lethality by 1991.

  • The intelligence community overestimated the chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.

  • Intelligence agencies appear to have been unduly influenced by policymakers' views. Officials misrepresented the threat over and above intelligence findings.

  • There was no solid evidence linking Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, nor evidence that Iraq would transfer WMD to terrorists.

Among the examples quoted of how officials went beyond the known facts to exaggerate the threat was a comment from President Bush who said:

"The regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 litres of anthrax and other deadly biological agents."

In fact, the report notes, UN inspectors had commented only that Iraq might have imported enough growth media to produce these amounts, not quite the same thing.

This is an echo of the claim that Iraq had VX nerve agent. All that the UN ever said was that there was material unaccounted for. Iraq always said that it had been destroyed.

Violations

The assessment dismisses other claims - that Iraq had been seeking uranium from Niger; that it had developed unmanned aircraft to spray chemical and biological weapons; that it had Scud missiles hidden away.

It also plays down the finding of a vial of botulinum in a fridge, saying that experts had concluded that it was very old and not the most toxic strain.

But in one area, it does accept that Iraq was acting in violation of UN sanctions. It had developed its al Samoud rocket by more than the 150 kilometres permitted, albeit by only 30 km. The rockets were destroyed by the inspectors.

The report also acknowledges that Iraq probably intended to develop a 1000 km range missile.

This intention has been confirmed in an interview by the Washington Post with a leading Iraqi scientist, Modher Sadeq-Saba Tamimi. He said that he had made drawings of such a rocket which would have used parts from the al Samoud.

The Carnegie report takes its place among other assessments which have drawn a blank on Iraq's WMD.

The report which everyone is now waiting for is the conclusion of the Iraq Survey group, the American led effort on WMD carried out after the war.

It issued an interim report in October stating: "We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."


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