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Iraq: U.S. Senators Differ On Analysis Of Weapons Intelligence

  • Andrew Tully

The administration of U.S. President George W. Bush continues to be bedeviled by skepticism about its assertions before the war in Iraq that Saddam Hussein had a formidable arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. Now, the chairman of the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence -- who recently toured Iraq -- suggests those alleged weapons may soon be found.

Washington, 4 July 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A leading U.S. senator predicts that American forces in Iraq will soon find Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference yesterday that he could give no details because he was basing his statement on classified information he and other members of Congress received on a recent visit to Iraq.

Roberts -- who traveled to Iraq with members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on which he also sits -- said he is urging the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush to make at least some of the information public. Roberts is from Kansas and is a member of Bush's Republican Party.

Bush and his top aides have been accused of exaggerating intelligence about Hussein's weapons programs in an effort to win support for their decision to go to war in Iraq. Roberts predicted "positive breaking news in the near future" about the search in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.

Roberts said he is disturbed by what he described as the fickle attitude of some observers to intelligence gathering. He described intelligence work as "connecting dots," a process which leads analysts to reaching conclusions about national-security threats.

According to Roberts, U.S. intelligence analysts were criticized for having perhaps 10 intelligence "dots" before the terrorist attacks in the United States of 11 September 2001, but not connecting enough of them to anticipate or thwart the attacks. By contrast, he said, the same critics now are saying that intelligence analysts should have found more "dots" before reaching the conclusion that Hussein was developing chemical and biological weapons.

"Today, if you connect two or three [dots], and [the conclusion] isn't absolutely confirmed, we're in a situation where the intelligence community gets beaten up around the head and shoulders, and I don't think that's fair."

Another senator who traveled to Iraq was Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, who is the vice chairman of the Armed Services panel. He is among the members of Congress who believe the Bush administration exaggerated prewar intelligence about Iraq.

Levin said yesterday at the same news conference that he had access to the same information that Roberts saw in Iraq but that he drew different conclusions.

"Whether we find weapons or we don't find weapons, the allegations [made by the Bush administration] -- with certainty -- that there were weapons of mass destruction imminently available and [that the weapons] would be used by Saddam Hussein was based on intelligence which, it seems to me, there at least is evidence that it was exaggerated." Levin said, "Nothing I saw on this trip changed my view of the troubling nature of that evidence."

The news conference was attended by several senators on the Armed Services Committee who reported on several aspects of their visit to Iraq besides Hussein's suspected weapons programs.

The chairman of the committee, Senator John Warner, spoke of the challenges faced by the U.S. in rebuilding Iraq now that Hussein has been overthrown and of establishing a reliable security system in the country.

Warner -- a Republican from Virginia -- said that before the war, Iraq's economy was a disaster because Hussein spent the country's money on palaces and weaponry at the expense of the well-being of his people. As for civil security, he said, there was none.

"The police force was really nonexistent in Iraq. The police were [Hussein's] brutal armed forces. The policemen stayed in the [police] stations. The policemen dealt with graft [were involved in corrupt practices]." For Iraq's former police, he said, "brutality was their means of justice. And we've got to now replace this in another way that more closely aligns [with] democratic principles."

Levin agreed and said the United States needs the help of other nations to establish a security force in Iraq that will serve the people. But Levin noted a reluctance on the part of other countries to step in due to the bad feelings generated with countries such as France, Germany, and Russia over whether to go to war in the first place.

"We've got to try to overcome that reluctance, and we can do that, I believe, in a number of ways," said Levin. "First, we must end the feud with Germany and France and with the UN, and we must seek the help of those countries. We must seek the support and the participation of NATO and the UN."

Roberts said the United States also needs the cooperation of the Iraqi people themselves. He says they, too, are reluctant to help because they fear Hussein somehow may return to power. As a result, Roberts said, Hussein and his sons, Uday and Qusay, must be found and brought to justice.

"It's going to be very difficult for [Iraqis] to embrace a newfound freedom and become full partners with us until the shadow of Saddam is erased from their lives."

Roberts said Americans and other Westerners may feel certain that Hussein and his sons are gone for good. But to the Iraqis, he said, they remain tangible personifications of the fear they experienced under his three decades of rule.