Anti-war Crowd Demands Proof of WMDs
- Anti-war Crowd Demands Proof of WMDs
Political Notebook By Jamie Dettmer
Despite the insistence of the Pentagon that a menacing arsenal of
weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) eventually will be found in Iraq,
the failure after more than a month of war and occupation to unearth
even a single illegal warhead or a drum of prohibited chemicals is
causing alarm in political circles here. Already British Prime
Minister Tony Blair is coming under mounting pressure in the House of
Commons to agree to setting up a formal British parliamentary inquiry
into Saddam Hussein's WMD programs and the claims made about them
before the war by the intelligence services.
Prior to the war both U.S. and British intelligence were behind a
series of claims involving, as it emerged, some faked documents. The
British insisted that Iraq, for example, had obtained "significant
quantities of uranium from Africa" and identified the source as
Niger. George W. Bush highlighted the allegation in a speech, but
the International Atomic Energy Agency later determined the documents
on which the claim was based had been forged - a conclusion that left
Downing Street red-faced and on the defensive in the House of Commons.
Some British government members remain uneasy; so too do Conservative
leaders who were supportive of the prime minister in the run-up to
the war and during the fighting. They have warned Downing Street
that there could be major political consequences if nothing large is
found and that Blair then will be faced with claims that he - and the
Bush administration - exaggerated the danger and set out to deceive
A hue-and-cry about the absence so far of WMDs already is under way
in the press here with The Independent on Sunday, among other
influential publications, demanding, "So where are they, Mr. Blair?"
Such blunt questioning hasn't surfaced yet in the United States. The
U.S. media, which many Europeans think hasn't been skeptical enough
throughout the crisis, has concentrated more on stories about the
rebuilding of Iraq and the growing anti-Americanism being exhibited
by Iraqi Shiites. American media appear more ready on the whole to
trust Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's assurances that a massive
WMD program will be uncovered in time. Most seemed unfazed by
Rumsfeld's comment that it may take up to a year to find the warheads
and the tons of chemical and biological toxins he insists Saddam had
That remark earned scorn in the United Kingdom, with some politicians
and journalists questioning the argument that Saddam's regime could
have been that cunning in concealing the weapons. They maintain the
shambolic nature of the regime, as revealed by the manner and speed
of its collapse, suggests that Baghdad wasn't capable of hiding WMD
Furthermore, there are few here who believe the claims being made by
some in the Bush administration that Saddam was able to ship the
weapons to Syria. Independent military experts say it is highly
unlikely that Saddam would have decided to disarm himself at a time
when the regime's survival was on the line.
There even are a few in the Bush administration losing confidence in
their prewar belief that U.S. intelligence agencies and the Pentagon
had a strong line on the whereabouts of WMDs. Not that they are
saying Saddam wasn't attempting to develop such programs. Their
point - and they include senior officials at the State Department -
is that the U.N. weapons-inspection regime and economic sanctions on
Iraq made it far more difficult for Saddam to fulfill his ambitions.
No doubt the effort to discover what Saddam was up to has been made
harder by regime loyalists stealing and burning files, electronic
data and equipment from the nonconventional arms programs, all under
the cover of the recent widespread looting. Belatedly, U.S. Central
Command has begun to expand security around a wider range of
facilities in a bid to secure evidence that Pentagon officials
maintain is melting away.
Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy, claimed
recently that some of the "looting is actually strategic," especially
when it comes to government ministries. Feith insists that evidence
will emerge eventually and that critics should be patient. "There's
a common assumption that if you know they have chemical or biological
weapons, then your intelligence should be good enough to know where
they are," he remarked recently.
Pentagon officials say the 50 WMD-related facilities now being
protected by U.S. forces represent just a tiny fraction of the many
thousands of government and Ba'ath Party offices, state enterprises,
prisons, barracks and private homes where Saddam may have hidden
evidence of nonconventional arms.
That may be so, but the absence of evidence so far contrasts jarringly
with the certainty being expressed before the war by the Bush and
Blair teams about their knowledge of Saddam's WMD programs. In the
weeks to come pressure likely will grow on the White House and
Downing Street to make good on all of that prewar certainty. If they
can't, either because what Saddam had was exaggerated by Washington
and London or because of a brilliant concealment effort by Baghdad,
critics of the war will at last have some hefty ammunition to fire.
Jamie Dettmer is a senior editor for Insight.
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