The 918-page report by Charles Duelfer, presented to the U.S. Congress yesterday, is the most comprehensive investigation to date on the former Iraqi regime and its military capabilities.
Duelfer's principal conclusion -- that Saddam Hussein, at the time of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 did not possess chemical or biological weapons and was not trying to reconstitute his nuclear program -- directly undercuts the U.S. administration's main rationale for the war.
Duelfer told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday that he cannot exclude the slim possibility that there might still be hidden leftover weapons stocks from the first Gulf War or that some materials could have been transferred to other countries, but he said this is unlikely.
"We cannot yet definitively say whether or not WMD [weapons of mass destruction] materials were transferred out of Iraq before the war. Neither can we definitively answer some questions about possible retained stocks. Though, as I say, it's my judgment that retained stocks do not exist," Duelfer said.
Duelfer said that, in reality, Iraq ended its nuclear program in 1991 following the first Gulf War and that inspectors had found "no evidence" the program had ever been restarted. He said the country's last biological weapons-production facility, Al-Hakam, was destroyed by the United Nations in 1996 and that this program, as well, was never restarted.
Duelfer did say he believes Hussein probably intended to restart his weapons program if UN sanctions were ever lifted, although he said his inspectors had found "no formal written strategy or plan" for such a revival.
One interesting discovery made by the inspectors is the fact that until late 2002, many senior Iraqi military officers were themselves unsure about whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Duelfer's inspectors found that Hussein pursued a strategy of deliberate ambiguity on the subject, whose main aim was to deter Iran, not threaten the United States.
After Duelfer's testimony, the top Democrat on the Senate Committee, Senator John D. Rockefeller, called the report "devastating." Rockefeller said the United States had "invaded a country, thousands of people have died, and Iraq never posed a grave or growing danger."
But President George W. Bush, speaking in Pennsylvania, reiterated that after the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, his administration had a duty to anticipate threats. "After 11 September, America had to assess every potential threat in a new light. Our nation awakened to an even greater danger -- the prospect that terrorists who killed thousands with hijacked airplanes would kill many more with weapons of mass murder," he said. "We had to take a hard look at every place where terrorists might get those weapons. One regime stood out: The dictatorship of Saddam Hussein."
The Duelfer report also will prove embarrassing to Russia and France, who opposed the invasion from the start. The report found that Hussein's regime issued millions of dollars in lucrative oil export vouchers to leading French and Russian politicians as part of a campaign to get UN sanctions lifted. Among the recipients named in Iraqi documents is former French Interior Minister Charles Pasqua. According to Iraqi intelligence documents, Baghdad also paid $1 million to the French Socialist Party in 1988, handing the money over directly to then French Defense Minister Pierre Joxe.
Money and oil vouchers were also given to representatives of Russia's Gazprom, LUKoil, and Yukos companies. Ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovskii, who made several well-publicized trips to Baghdad, was also named as a recipient of funds.
(compiled from agency and staff reports)For the latest news on Iraq, see RFE/RL's webpage on "The New Iraq".