WASHINGTON – President Bush insisted Monday that Baghdad had a program to manufacture weapons of mass destruction (search), seeking to rebut critics who say his administration's credibility is at stake in the search for illicit arms.
But the White House said it would be "appropriate" for Congress to review the intelligence that led up to the war.
Weeks of searches in Iraq by military experts have not validated the administration's portrayal of Iraq's cache of weapons. Alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons have not turned up, nor has significant evidence of a nuclear weapons program.
"Iraq had a weapons program," Bush told reporters during a meeting of his Cabinet. "Intelligence throughout the decade shows they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced that with time, we'll find out they did have a weapons program," Bush said.
Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan (search), top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wants a full congressional investigation. "I think that the nation's credibility is on the line, as well as [Bush's]," he said.
Asked whether American credibility is at stake, Bush pointed to the outcome of the war, not the search for weapons of mass destruction.
"The credibility of this country is based upon our strong desire to make the world more peaceful, and the world is now more peaceful after our decision," he said. Bush also insisted that Al Qaeda had a presence in Baghdad.
"History will show, history and time will prove that the United States made the absolute right decision in freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein," Bush said.
Bush stopped short of promising that banned weapons or evidence of their manufacture will be found. He has said previously that two truck trailers equipped with fermenters found in Iraq constitute proof that Iraq had a weapons program. The CIA (search) and Defense Intelligence Agency (search) said last week they concluded the vehicles probably are parts of a mobile biological weapons production facility.
No complete production system has been found, and tests showed no trace of biological agents in either trailer, and other government experts question whether they were used to make bioweapons.
There is no formal congressional investigation at moment, though there are some calls for them.
Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a congressional investigation of how intelligence was used in the run-up to the war is premature. "There's a little tad bit of politics being played here," he said. "I think it's very, very counterproductive."
But Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the committee's top Democrat, says he wants one, and he can use committee procedures to force an investigation. He has not done so yet.
Asked about a joint congressional inquiry, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: "It's appropriate for Congress to look at it."
But, he added, lawmakers have already seen much of the intelligence that led the administration to invade Iraq.
"Congress has always been part of this," Fleischer said. "Congress was provided information both in a declassified and classified manner in the months and indeed the years leading up to the war. ... There is nothing new here for members of Congress."
Bush administration officials say they are confident proof will emerge that Saddam Hussein possessed the chemical and biological weapons cited as a key reason to invade Iraq.
"We have thousands and thousands and thousands of documents that we've not yet gone through," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said Sunday. More sites need to be investigated and many more Iraqis must be interviewed about Saddam's weapons capabilities, she added.
"We will put together this whole picture, but the preponderance of evidence is that this was a regime that had the capability, that had unaccounted-for stockpiles and unaccounted-for weapons," Rice said in a television interview.
The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby (search), acknowledged last week that he had no hard evidence of Iraqi chemical weapons last fall but did believe Iraq had a program to produce them.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said parts of the DIA report were taken out of context in news reports.
"The sentence that has gotten all of the attention, in this two-page, unclassified summary, talked about not having the evidence of current facilities and current stockpiling," he told Fox News Sunday.
"The very next sentence says that it had information that weapons had been dispersed to units. Chemical weapons had been dispersed to units."
Because Iraq concealed its banned weapons so well, it will take time to find them, Powell said. But he said, "I'm sure more evidence and more proof will come forward as we go down this road."