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Backlash on Bush as arms elude hunters
George W. Bush

Washington, Oct. 3 (Reuters): The US-led team hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has not found any stockpile of biological or chemical weapons, but will keep searching the country, CIA adviser David Kay said today.

But President George W. Bush defended his decision to attack Iraq, brushing off doubts from Americans and citing what he said was preliminary evidence from Kay that Baghdad had been developing unconventional weapons. “I can’t think of any people who think the world would be a safe place with Saddam Hussein in power,” Bush said.

Democrats cried foul, saying the report on the search for weapons of mass destruction showed there had been no immediate threat to the US from Iraq and the war appeared to have been fought under false pretenses.

Bush awoke to headlines the US team found no biological or chemical weapons in Iraq and that a CBS-New York Times poll showed a drop in American confidence in the President’s skill in handling crises. The poll released yesterday found that most Americans — 53 per cent — believed the Iraq war was not worth it and that Bush’s approval ratings were near a record low for his presidency.

Bush said he did not make decisions based on polls.

“Sometimes the American people like the decisions I make, sometimes they don’t. But they need to know I make tough decisions, based on what I think is right, given the intelligence I know, in order to do my job, which is to secure this country and to bring peace.”

Kay, heading the search for chemical and biological weapons as well as evidence of any effort to develop nuclear weapons, presented a classified interim report to US lawmakers behind closed doors.

“We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone,” Kay said.

The team has also not found any evidence to confirm pre-war reporting that Iraqi military was prepared to use chemical warfare against US-led forces.

Much evidence has been “irretrievably lost,” Kay said. “It is far too early to reach any definitive conclusions,” he said.

“Despite evidence of Saddam’s continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, to date we have not uncovered evidence that Iraq undertook significant post-1998 steps to actually build nuclear weapons or produce fissile material,” Kay said. “However, Iraq did take steps to preserve some technological capability from the pre-1991 nuclear weapons programme,” he said.

Kay cited several factors making it difficult to determine with confidence what happened to Iraq’s banned weapons, including possible deliberate dispersal and destruction of material and documents.

Any actual biological or chemical weapons or material was likely to be small, with the bulkiest items able to fit in the space of a two-car garage, he said. The team has discovered dozens of WMD-related activities and significant amounts of equipment Iraq concealed from the UN during inspections in late 2002, Kay said.

Bush used this disclosure in his defence. “Specifically Dr. Kay’s team discovered what the report calls, and I quote, dozens of WMD-related program activities, and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the UN during the inspections that began in late 2002.”

Democrats saw it differently.

California Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the House of Representatives said after meeting Kay: “I have concluded that there was no imminent threat.” She said there was a “big difference” between having weapons of mass destruction programmes, which are aspirations to having such weapons, and actually having those weapons on hand.

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