WASHINGTON – U.S. weapons inspector David Kay’s conclusion that Iraq hasn’t had an active chemical-weapons program since 1991 deals a blow to more than just the administration’s prewar assertion that Baghdad had such a program, as well as large weapons stockpiles.
It also seriously undermines its case that Baghdad posed a terrorist threat to America.
“On any given day,” President Bush warned last year, Saddam Hussein could decide to “provide a biological or chemical weapon” to al-Qaida.
And just last month, while Kay was finishing up his report, Vice President Dick Cheney charged that Saddam’s regime over the past decade had been training al-Qaida terrorists in both its biological and chemical weapons “systems.”
“There was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s,” Cheney said Sept. 14 on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It involved training, for example, on BW [biological weapons] and CW [chemical weapons], that al-Qaida sent personnel to Baghdad to get trained on the systems that are involved.”
But Kay’s report, delivered Thursday to Congress, casts doubt on the claim, which continues to lack specificity.
“Multiple sources with varied access and reliability have told ISG (Iraq Survey Group) that Iraq did not have a large, ongoing, centrally controlled CW program after 1991,” said Kay, an Iraq hawk who was hand-picked three months ago by the administration to find the alleged banned weapons.
“Information found to date suggests that Iraq’s large-scale capability to develop, produce and fill new CW munitions was reduced – if not entirely destroyed – during Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, 13 years of U.N. sanctions and U.N. inspections,” he added.
Before the war, there was “low confidence” among the U.S. intelligence agencies, including that of the Defense Department, that “Saddam would engage in clandestine attacks against the U.S. homeland” or “share chemical or biological weapons with al-Qaida,” according to declassified key judgments of the 90-page National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq.
In a separate secret report, also prepared late last year, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded there was “no reliable information” that Saddam’s regime had an active chemical-weapons program.
Kay also found no evidence of an active nuclear-weapons program in Iraq.
However, his team discovered a vial of a “reference strain” of live botulinum bacteria stored since 1993 in the household refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist. Though it’s not a weapons agent, Bush seized on the report’s reference to the vial as proof of an ongoing biological weapons program.
Kay also doused rumors that Saddam had ordered Iraqi forces to use chemical weapons against invading U.S., British and other allied forces. No unconventional munitions were used during the march on Baghdad, nor have they been used by remnants of Saddam’s regime in guerrilla attacks against occupation forces stationed at various bases in and around Baghdad.
“We have not yet found evidence to confirm prewar reporting that Iraqi military units were prepared to use CW against coalition forces,” he said. “Our efforts to collect and exploit intelligence on Iraq’s chemical weapons program have thus far yielded little reliable information on post-1991 CW stocks and CW agent production.”
Kay says his team of 1,300 inspectors are continuing their investigation in Iraq.