The government's most definitive account of Iraq's arms programs, to be released today, will show that Saddam Hussein posed a diminishing threat at the time the United States invaded and did not possess, or have concrete plans to develop, nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, U.S. officials said yesterday.The group apparently concluded that Iraq had less capability in 2003 than they did in 1998, when inspectors left! Officials are quoted as saying that there's no evidence that WMD left Iraq via Syria, nor is there any evidence that Iraq was going to produce WMD once the UN left.
The officials said that the 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, concluded that Hussein had the desire but not the means to produce unconventional weapons that could threaten his neighbors or the West. President Bush has continued to assert in his campaign stump speech that Iraq had posed "a gathering threat."
The CIA also issued a report this week on the alleged ties between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and al Qaeda. Again, nothing. This is from Warren Strobel and colleagues at Knight Ridder:
A new CIA assessment undercuts the White House's claim that Saddam Hussein maintained ties to al-Qaida, saying there's no conclusive evidence that the regime harbored Osama bin Laden associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.This is consistent with what I blogged last week.
The CIA review, which U.S. officials said Monday was requested some months ago by Vice President Dick Cheney, is the latest assessment that calls into question one of President Bush's key justifications for last year's U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
The new assessment follows the independent Sept. 11 commission's finding that there was no "collaborative relationship" between the former Iraqi regime and bin Laden's terrorist network.
While intelligence officials cautioned that information about al-Zarqawi remains incomplete, Bush, Cheney and other top officials have publicly made al-Zarqawi the linchpin of their contention that Saddam's Iraq had ties to al-Qaida. Since the Sept. 11 commission's judgment in June, Bush and Cheney have repeatedly said that al-Zarqawi was an associate of bin Laden and received safe haven from Saddam.
...But Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld backed away Monday from such claims, apparently as a result of the new CIA assessment.