January 08, 2004

White House 'distorted' Iraq threat

Eight more US soldiers died today in Iraq. For what?

Financial Times: "Bush administration officials "systematically misrepresented" the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to war, according to a new report to be published on Thursday by a respected Washington think-tank."

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White House 'distorted' Iraq threat
By Stephen Fidler in London
Published: January 7 2004 21:56 | Last Updated:
January 7 2004 21:56

Bush administration officials "systematically
misrepresented" the threat from Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction in the run-up to war, according to a new
report to be published on Thursday by a respected
Washington think-tank.

These distortions, combined with intelligence
failures, exaggerated the risks posed by a country
that presented no immediate threat to the US, Middle
East or global security, the report says.

The study from the Carnegie Endowment for
International Peace concludes that, though the
long-term threat from Iraq could not be ignored, it
was being effectively contained by a combination of UN
weapons inspections, international sanctions and
limited US-led military action.

It says the evidence shows that although Iraq retained
ambitions to develop weapons of mass destruction,
almost all of what had been built had been destroyed
long before the war.

Inspectors from the US-led coalition are still seeking
evidence of the programmes in Iraq. But Joseph
Cirincione, director of Carnegie's non-proliferation
project, said: "We think it's highly unlikely that
there will be any significant finds from now on."

Carnegie is regarded as a moderately left-of-centre
think-tank. It opposed the war, saying Iraq's
disarmament could be achieved via inspectors, if
necessary backed up by force. Mr Cirincione said the
report, which took more than six months to compile,
was based on hundreds of documents and dozens of
interviews with specialists, former weapons inspectors
and current and former US officials.

It concludes that before 2002 the US intelligence
community appears to have accurately perceived Iraq's
nuclear and missile programmes, but overestimated the
threat from chemical and biological weapons. But it
also says that during 2002, published intelligence
became excessively politicised. A "dramatic shift" in
intelligence assessments during the year was one sign
that "the intelligence community began to be unduly
influenced by policymakers' views sometime in 2002".

The report says administration officials
misrepresented the threat in three ways.

They presented nuclear, biological and chemical
weapons as a single WMD threat, lumping together the
high likelihood that Iraq had chemical weapons with
the possibility that it had nuclear weapons, a claim
for which there was no serious evidence. The
administration also insisted without evidence that
Saddam Hussein, the former Iraqi leader, would give
WMD to terrorists.

Finally, officials misused intelligence in many ways.
"These include the wholesale dropping of caveats,
probabilities and expressions of uncertainty present
in intelligence assessments from public statements,"
it says.

The Carnegie assessment concluded: "There is no
evidence of any Iraqi nuclear programme", contrary to
assertions by Dick Cheney, vice-president, and others
in 2002. It notes that since the war the US-led
coalition has found no chemical weapons or programmes
and no biological weapons or agents.

The report says the White House approach to the war
was based on what it called "worse case reasoning",
assuming that what intelligence agencies did not know
was worse than what they did know. "Worst-case
planning is valid . . . [But] acting on worst-case
assumptions is an entirely different matter."

The picture of an Iraqi arsenal existing only on paper
is reinforced by an article in Wednesday's Washington
Post, based partly on interviews with Iraqi
scientists. It said that none of Iraq's weapons
programmes had got past the planning stage since the
1991 Gulf war.

Posted by richard at January 8, 2004 02:31 PM