Senate Intelligence Panel to Hold Iraq WMD Assessment

The Senate Intelligence Committee (search) will investigate whether intelligence assessments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program -- used in part to justify the war -- were accurate, committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Wednesday.

Closed-door hearings will begin next week.

"While I am chairman, the committee will handle this review in a responsible manner untainted by politics and in a bipartisan manner," Roberts, flanked by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla., and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., told reporters.

Some Democrats and other critics of the war have suggested that intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs was inaccurate or manipulated to make the case for war. No Democratic members of the committee were present at Roberts' announcement.

Roberts said the committee will gather and evaluate intelligence and analytical assessments about Iraq's weapons program; determine whether the assessments were reasonable based on the quantity and quality of data available; and evaluate its accuracy compared with the ongoing search in Iraq.

The White House, which has urged patience in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, said it is happy to oblige with the inquiry.

"This is an important part of Congress' oversight and we welcome it," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.

"We always work together with Congress in dealing with the threat of Iraqi possession of WMD. And we'll continue to work with Congress on the facts that led previous administrations, Democrats and Republicans alike, to know [Saddam] had WMD," Fleischer said. 

The committee is expected to review thousands of pages of documents the CIA (search) and other intelligence groups are submitting to Congress detailing intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs. Roberts has said he doesn't want the inquiry to impede the work of a new Pentagon team that will take over the weapons search.

Many Republicans and some Democrats have no doubts that Saddam Hussein (search) had chemical or biological weapons, based on his government's failure to satisfy U.N. demands for proof that the weapons it once admitted to having had been destroyed.

Those seeking an investigation say the issue goes beyond the failure to find weapons. Some of the administration's evidence of Iraqi weapons programs has proven false, they say. Documents indicating Iraq imported uranium from Niger were forgeries. Aluminum tubes described as intended for nuclear weapons were likely meant for conventional artillery rockets.

After Roberts' announcement, Intelligence Committee ranking member Jay Rockefeller (search), D-W.Va., responded that he's not sure whether Roberts is interested in the truth.

"What they appear to be doing is entirely inadequate and slow paced and potentially kind of sleepwalking through history," he said.

Roberts said that although some of the criticism leveled on the intelligence community has been understandable and, at times, constructive, some of the attacks have been for political gain.

"Let me point out the joint inquiry by an independent staff into the 9/11 tragedy strongly criticized intelligence officials for not connecting the dots and for being risk averse, for failing to put together a picture that seemed all too obvious after the fact. Now, there seems a campaign by some to criticize the intelligence community and the president for connecting the dots, for putting together a picture that seemed all too obvious before the fact," Roberts said.

"I will not allow the committee to be politicized or to be used as an unwitting tool for any political strategist," he added.

Democrats insist that they lack political motives in the inquiry, but the stakes could be high ahead of next year's election if President Bush's primary reason for going to war continues to be called into question.

Goss said his panel will conduct a routine review of how intelligence was collected and analyzed, but he said the committee will not try to correlate the intelligence to administration claims about Iraqi weapons systems. The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of California, said she and her staff will carefully examine the CIA documents before deciding how they want to proceed.

"The war was premised on the notion that there was a clear and present danger to American interests and we need to understand whether all of those claims were appropriate," she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.