Washington, in the tense months before war
in Iraq, Charles Duelfer was confident. "Of
course he is developing his weapons of mass
destruction," the American arms expert wrote
of Saddam Hussein.
Baghdad, however, Hans Blix was much less
convinced. The U.N. weapons inspector, on
the eve of the conflict, remarked sadly on
the likelihood that armies would be "waging
the war at a tremendous cost, and in the end
find there was very little."
the end, as a hurricane distracted Americans,
as terrorist car bombings and U.S. air strikes
bloodied Iraq, the findings of a Duelfer-led
investigation were quietly leaked in Washington.
And after 16 months of trying, what his teams
have found is less than little.
fact, the only unconventional weapon turned
up in Iraq wasn't turned up by the Americans
at all, but by the other side, Iraq's shadowy
resistance. In May, in an incident causing
no serious injuries, insurgent fighters in
Baghdad rigged an old artillery shell as a
roadside bomb, apparently unaware it was loaded
with sarin nerve agent.
two or three stray shells have been discovered
with traces of degraded agent -- far short
of the 100-500 tons of usable chemical weapons
that Colin Powell warned of on Feb. 5, 2003,
as he sought a U.N. blessing for the U.S.-British
Saddam Hussein in possession of weapons of
mass destruction for a few more months or
years is not an option," the U.S. secretary
of state declared that day to the U.N. Security
Bush's rationale for war -- that Iraq's alleged
doomsday arms posed an imminent threat --
faded steadily in the months after the March
2003 invasion, as official U.S. rhetoric switched
from "stockpiles" of weapons to "programs"
to make them.
Thursday, as Duelfer's upcoming report was
broadly outlined to reporters in Washington,
the focus had switched again, to Iraqi "intent"
before the invasion -- to what were described
as hopes among Iraqi leaders during the Saddam
regime of someday reviving Iraqi weapons-making.
Iraq Survey Group, some 1,200 military and
intelligence specialists and support staff,
had focused much of its effort on Iraq's "dual-use"
chemical and biological industries -- factories
and laboratories whose equipment and products
might be converted quickly to making weapons.
March, in an interim report to U.S. senators,
Duelfer gave an example: An agricultural center
south of Baghdad that was researching bacteria
potentially useful in developing anthrax weapons.
But he offered no evidence of plans to use
the material for anything but its standard
commercial purpose, as a pesticide.
for chemical weapons, every industrial nation,
rich or developing, has plants producing chlorine,
phenol and other compounds with myriad commercial
uses that also could help make sulfur mustard,
sarin or other poison gases.
international watchdog agency, the Organization
for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, counts
4,000-5,000 such dual-use plants in scores
of countries. Again, no evidence has emerged
that the Iraqis planned to make weapons in
if they did, it would not have been easy.
2002, official U.S. statements have consistently
obscured the fact that the Iraqis would have
remained under close, on-scene monitoring
for years to come, if Blix's U.N. inspection
regime had not been short-circuited by the
U.N. inspectors certified that Baghdad's weapons
work had ceased, U.N. economic sanctions against
Iraq would have been lifted. But then the
Security Council would have imposed an open-ended
verification regime, whose free-ranging inspectors
would have kept watch on Iraq's military-industrial
complex, aided by air and water sampling technology,
satellite and aerial surveillance, and monitoring
war did intervene, and now it is Duelfer's
work that looks open-ended.
U.S. group's final report originally had been
expected last March. On Thursday, reporters
were told that even this new 1,500-word document
may not be final, and there is no guarantee
it will be released in much detail before
the Nov. 2 presidential election.
700 inspections across Iraq, beginning in
November 2002, Blix's U.N. experts also had
turned up nothing. He hoped their work might
stave off a costly war. In the end, in official
American eyes, it counted for little.
was a very consistent creation of a virtual
reality," he now says of the U.S. attitude.
"And eventually it collided with our old-fashioned,
NOTE -- Charles J. Hanley has covered the
hunt for weapons and the Iraq crisis since