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Tuesday, January 27

Saddam's intent cited as basis for going to war

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON If deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein didn't have weapons of mass destruction before the war, then he had the means to make them at the first opportunity and represented a threat worthy of elimination.

This is the essence of the latest case the Bush administration is making for defending the war in Iraq, originally launched on the premise that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States.

Despite recent reports from David Kay, the outgoing chief weapons hunter in Iraq who said he doubts Saddam had illicit weapons before the war, the president and top administration officials have been insisting that Iraq was capable of making them with weapons-related programs and intended to do so.

On Tuesday, while answering questions about Kay's statements, Bush spoke not of Saddam's weapons but rather the threat his weapons "programs" represented.

"There is no doubt in my mind Saddam Hussein was a gathering threat to the United States," Bush told reporters at the White House.

Some weapons experts who have been tracking the evolving weapons debate are concerned the administration is now seeking cover in gray-area rhetoric.

"This is a nebulous area," said George Perkovich, an arms control expert at the Washington, D.C.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Is a weapons program-related activity the same thing as saying there are weapons or weapons programs? Is it the kind of thing that you invade a country over? That's a pretty serious policy judgment, and I think we need to have national discussion about it."

The administration's logic for invading Iraq has also included other justifications besides possession of WMD, as well as possible explanations for not finding any despite months of searching.

James Clapper Jr., who heads the National Imagery and Mapping Agency, recently suggested Saddam's illicit weapons might have been taken to neighboring Syria before the war. Prior to that, as weapons hunters came up empty handed in Iraq, Bush and top administration officials argued that Saddam's crimes against humanity were reason enough to topple him.

Secretary of State Colin Powell recently told Russian media that "military action was justified by Iraq's violation of 12 years of U.N. resolutions."

Taken together, the recent statements by the Bush administration indicate it has no plans any time soon to admit any serious mistakes in Iraq, as some Democrats, including presidential hopefuls, are alleging.

Kay has said he believes the CIA appears to have grossly misread the intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons and overstated the threat Saddam represented.

Still, Bush on Tuesday said he has "great confidence" in the intelligence community.

"The administration seems to be in deep denial," said California Rep. Jane Harman, senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. "There has been no acknowledgement of serious deficiencies in prewar intelligence on Iraq and there is no apparent commitment to addressing them."

Recent statements shaping the increasingly murky WMD debate:

- Even though Powell voiced new doubts that Iraq possessed banned weapons before the war, he told reporters "This is a regime that never lost its intention to have such programs and have such weapons."

- During his recent State of the Union address, Bush contended that even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, Saddam had programs ready to make them.

"Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," Bush insisted.

- Clapper recently told reporters that prewar satellite images of Iraq show heavy traffic toward Syria, which could be convoys transporting illicit weapons.

- Kay said that despite finding no banned weapons, his investigation had "discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment." Kay led the CIA's 1,400-person Iraq Survey Group, charged with searching for WMD in Iraq.

- Former Iraq weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, appointed to replace Kay atop the Iraq Survey Group, recently said that he believed Saddam's regime had planned to outlast the U.N. weapons inspectors sent in before the war, "and then to proceed forward with (its) weapons programs."

Some Democratic presidential candidates, along with Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, have been calling for an independent investigation of the prewar intelligence on Iraq.

Thus far, the probe has been limited to a joint House-Senate Intelligence Committee inquiry working behind closed doors.