WASHINGTON – The final report of the chief U.S. arms inspector for Iraq was expected to undercut a principal Bush administration rationale for removingSaddam Hussein (search), that Saddam's Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction (search).
In drafts, weapons hunter Charles Duelfer (search) concluded Saddam's Iraq had no stockpiles of the banned weapons but said he found signs of idle programs that Saddam could have revived once international attention waned.
Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, was providing his findings Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee. His team has compiled a 1,500-page report; it is unclear how much will be made public. Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, who quit last December, also found no evidence of weapons stockpiles.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Tuesday the report will conclude "that Saddam Hussein had the intent and the capability, that he was pursuing an aggressive strategy to bring down the sanctions, the international sanctions, imposed by the United Nations through illegal financing procurement schemes."
Saddam was importing banned materials, working on unmanned aerial vehicles in violation of U.N. agreements and maintaining industrial capability that could be converted to produce weapons, officials have said. Duelfer also describes Saddam's Iraq as having had limited research efforts into chemical and biological weapons.
Saddam's government fell in early April 2003 after a lightning U.S.-led invasion in mid-March. He was captured in December.
Duelfer's report will come on a week that the White House has been put on the defensive in a number of Iraq issues.
Remarks this week by L. Paul Bremer, former U.S. administrator in occupied Iraq, suggested he argued for more troops in the immediate aftermath of the invasion, when looting was rampant. A spokesman for Bush's re-election campaign said Bremer indeed differed with military commanders.
President Bush's election rival, Democrat John Kerry, pounced on Bremer's statements that the United States "paid a big price" for having insufficient troop levels. On weapons, however, the Massachusetts senator has said he still would have voted to authorize the invasion even if he had known none would be found.
The White House maintained Duelfer's report will support its view on Iraq's prewar threat.
"The report will continue to show that he was a gathering threat that needed to be taken seriously, that it was a matter of time before he was going to begin pursuing those weapons of mass destruction," McClellan said.
Compare that to the words of Vice President Dick Cheney, in a speech on Aug. 26, 2002, 6 1/2 months before the invasion:
"Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," he said. "There is no doubt he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies and against us."
The president made similar charges, laying out in an Oct. 7, 2002, speech what he described as Iraq's threat:
_"It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons."
_"We've also discovered through intelligence that Iraq has a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles that could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas."
_"Iraq possesses ballistic missiles with a likely range of hundreds of miles — far enough to strike Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey and other nations — in a region where more than 135,000 American civilians and service members live and work. "
What U.S. forces found:
_A single artillery shell filled with two chemicals that, when mixed while the shell was in flight, would have created sarin. U.S. forces learned of it only when insurgents, apparently believing it was filled with conventional explosives, tried to detonate it as a roadside bomb in May in Baghdad. Two U.S. soldiers suffered from symptoms of low-level exposure to the nerve agent. The shell was from Saddam's pre-1991 stockpile.
_Another old artillery shell, also rigged as a bomb and found in May, showed signs it once contained mustard agent.
_Two small rocket warheads, turned over to Polish troops by an informer, that showed signs they once were filled with sarin.
_Centrifuge parts buried in a former nuclear scientist's garden in Baghdad. These were part of Saddam's pre-1991 nuclear program, which was dismantled after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The scientist also had centrifuge design documents.
_A vial of live botulinum toxin, which can be used as a biological weapon, in another scientist's refrigerator. The scientist said it had been there since 1993.
_Evidence of advanced design work on a liquid-propellant missile with ranges of up to 620 miles. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq had been prohibited from having missiles with ranges longer than 93 miles.
The Iraq Survey Group did not deal with whether Saddam's government had contacts with members of the Al Qaeda network, a matter that remains subject to wide debate.