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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Recall key dates, browse defining photos from six weeks of combat in Iraq. (Requires Flash)


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Wednesday, April 30

Bush to declare combat in Iraq over, but loose ends linger

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - By most accounts, the war with Iraq will be remembered as one of the most successful wars Americans have ever fought.

President Bush is expected to proclaim Thursday evening that major hostilities in Iraq are over, stopping short of declaring victory. But some of the conflict's most important chapters still contain loose ends the president clearly would like wrapped up.

Indeed, the unknown whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and his arsenal of banned weapons are not trivial hanging threads. The former Iraqi president and the biological and chemical weapons he has used more than once over the last decade were central elements in the U.S. justification for the war that much of the world opposed.

Failing to account for them at some point carries both political and, potentially, major security risks, according to experts.

``Of all the urgent missions remaining for U.S. forces in Iraq, none is more important than finding and securing Iraq's chemical and biological arsenal,'' said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. ``It is very serious that we do not know where these weapons are, and that we do not yet have any sense of who has control of them.''

Dangerous weapons

The United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), assigned to inspect Iraq for weapons of mass destruction from 1991 to 1998, documented tens of thousands of gallons of anthrax, botulism toxin and nerve agent. Weapons inspectors were never able to determine how much more Saddam's scientists might have produced or how much of what they discovered was actually destroyed.

``Some of it simply might have been buried in the desert,'' said former weapons inspector Jonathan Tucker.

Finding it now will be extremely difficult, say former weapons inspectors, in part because of how adept Iraqi scientists were at hiding biological and chemical weapons programs in what are called dual-use facilities. These are capable of making legitimate civilian products as well as lethal agents.

Feeling the pressure to find Saddam's banned weapons, the Pentagon is ratcheting up its search with a massive hunt that dwarfs any of the United Nations' efforts to find them.

U.S. troops had been conducting weapons searches even before the major combat operations of the war ended. But the Pentagon now plans to establish a separate program of more than 1,000 specially trained weapons hunters, including some former U.N. weapons inspectors, headed by the Defense Intelligence Agency.

That program is expected to be fully staffed and operating within months.Politically, the Bush administration used what it claimed was Saddam's massive arsenal of banned weapons to justify its invasion of Iraq despite the U.N. Security Council's refusal to authorize an explicit use-of-force resolution in the weeks before the war.

Failure to find compelling evidence of programs to make the banned weapons would provide powerful ammunition to anti-American factions in the Middle East who say the war was an act of colonialism aimed at plundering Iraqi oil.

The mystery of Saddam

Failure to produce Saddam is more of a public relations problem than a security concern.

``Saddam was not a charismatic figure like (Osama) bin Laden - he ruled by fear,'' said Michael O'Hanlon, a military strategy expert with the Brookings Institution. ``If he were able to escape, it would be difficult to be very effective without some kind of force to back to back him up. And he doesn't have that.''

Bush has stressed that Saddam's regime has been toppled and that Iraqis no longer have to fear it. Still, without Saddam, Bush could suffer politically at the hands of critics who have lambasted him for letting bin Laden escape from Afghanistan despite claiming he wanted the master terrorist linked to the Sept. 11 attacks ``dead or alive.''

There is also the issue of Saddam's legacy among the anti-American legions of the Arab world and his history of eluding previous U.S. attempts to kill him.

During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, U.S.-led coalition forces launched 260 air attacks on Iraqi targets, including Saddam's Baath party headquarters, bunkers and military command centers, but still failed to get him.

Without absolute proof of Saddam's capture or death now, a mythology is almost certain to grow up around him. Earlier this week, Dubai, an Iraqi group opposed to the U.S. troops in Iraq, claimed that Saddam would soon address the nation.

"He is still alive - he is going to address a message to Iraqis and to the (Arab) nation," the group wrote in a letter to the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi.

``Now, there is an opportunity for some groups to play on the mythology of the missing leader,'' said Hussain Haqqani, an author and expert on the Muslim world. ``Without Saddam, the all-powerful nature of U.S. intelligence and its ability to shape things - that gets diminished.''