WASHINGTON – Fallen Iraqi President Saddam Hussein (search) did not have stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, but left signs that he had idle programs he someday hoped to revive, the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq concludes in a draft report due out soon.
According to people familiar with the 1,500-page report, the head of the Iraq Survey Group (search), Charles Duelfer, will find that Saddam was importing banned materials, working on unmanned aerial vehicles in violation of U.N. agreements and maintaining a dual-use industrial sector that could produce weapons.
Duelfer also says Iraq only had small research and development programs for chemical and biological weapons.
As Duelfer puts the finishing touches on his report, he concludes Saddam had intentions of restarting weapons programs at some point, after suspicion and inspections from the international community waned.
After a year and a half in Iraq, however, the United States has found no weapons of mass destruction — its chief argument for going to war and overthrowing the regime.
An intelligence official said Duelfer could wrap up the report as soon as this month, but noted it may take time to declassify it. Those who discussed the report inside and outside the government did so Thursday on the condition of anonymity because it contains classified material and is not yet completed.
If the report is released publicly before the Nov. 2 elections, Democrats are likely to seize on the document as another opportunity to criticize the Bush administration's leading argument for war in Iraq and the deteriorating security situation there.
Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has criticized the president's handling of the war, but also has said he still would have voted to authorize the invasion even if he had known no weapons of mass destruction would be found there.
Duelfer's report is expected to be similar to findings reported by his predecessor, David Kay (search), who presented an interim report to Congress in October. Kay left the post in January, saying, "We were almost all wrong" about Saddam's weapons programs.
The new analysis, however, is expected to fall between the position of the Bush administration before the war — portraying Saddam as a grave threat — and the declarative statements Kay made after he resigned.
It will also add more evidence and flesh out Kay's October findings. At that time, Kay said the Iraq Survey Group had only uncovered limited evidence of secret chemical and biological weapons programs, but he found substantial evidence of an Iraqi push to boost the range of its ballistic missiles beyond prohibited ranges.
He also said there was almost no sign that a significant nuclear weapons project was under way.
Duelfer's report doesn't reach firm conclusions in all areas. For instance, U.S. officials are still investigating whether Saddam's fallen regime may have sent chemical weapons equipment and several billion dollars over the border to Syria. That has not been confirmed, but remains an area of interest to the U.S. government.
The Duelfer report will come months after the Senate Intelligence Committee released a scathing assessment of the prewar intelligence on Iraq.
After a yearlong inquiry, the Republican-led committee said in July the CIA kept key information from its own and other agencies' analysts, engaged in "group think" by failing to challenge the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and allowed President Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to make false statements.
The Iraq Survey Group has been working since the summer of 2003 to find Saddam's weapons and better understand his prohibited programs. More than a thousand civilian and military weapons specialists, translators and other experts have been devoted to the effort.