Finding Iraq arms evidence ‘rests on taking full control’




By Mark Huband, Security Correspondent

Financial Times, 23 April 2003

The US and UK are not expecting to unearth significant evidence of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction before they have full control of the country, which could be at least another two weeks, intelligence officials said yesterday.

Military planners have given May 10 as the date they expect to establish full control. Only then would there be a systematic search for the weapons whose alleged existence provided the reason for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime, the officials said.

Both the British and US governments are under mounting pressure to provide evidence that Iraq was hiding its WMD programmes. Though foreign troops now have a presence throughout the country, officials believe Iraqi scientists with knowledge of WMD programmes are only likely to provide information once all signs of resistance by the deposed regime have ended.

US troops in areas near Baghdad have publicised a number of apparent finds of WMD-related material in recent weeks, but in each case have had to retract their claims.

However, intelligence officials insist there has been no significant change in their analysis of Iraqi capabilities, now that they have been able to make preliminary assessments on the ground.

Current intelligence thinking on the question of why no WMD have been found so far centres on suggestions that Mr Hussein’s regime reduced the scale of its alleged weapons programmes in order to hide them from UN inspectors.

US and UK weapons investigators expect to find small though useable quantities of chemical weapons, though they do not yet know where to look, officials say.

They also expect to find mobile biological warfare facilities capable of producing anthrax, and up to 20 banned Scud missiles with a range of up to 650km, though they are not expected to be weaponised for chemical warfare.

Pre-war assessments and UN inspections had led to the conclusion that Iraq had mothballed its nuclear programme before the war, though databases and research material had been retained. However, the programme is now said by intelligence officials to have been further advanced than the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had suggested.

While Iraq’s nuclear programme is regarded as the least active of its WMD projects, it has been at the heart of the controversy over the credibility of the intelligence on WMD programmes used to justify the war.

Mohamed ElBaradei, IAEA director general, said on March 7 that letters purportedly proving Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger were forgeries. Colin Powell, US secretary of state, had previously used the documents in a presentation to the Security Council of US evidence against Iraq.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.