As Sayliya Camp (Qatar), April 13 (Reuters): US forces have yet to find conclusive proof that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, but thousands of sites remain to be searched, the US war commander said today.
“I have not found any that I have absolutely satisfied myself are weapon of mass destruction materials,” General Tommy Franks told CNN in an interview at Central Command war headquarters in Qatar.
“But you're talking about 2,000, 3,000 perhaps, places in this country where we know we’re going to go and investigate each one of them. We may have somewhere between five and 10 and 15 site exploitations ongoing in a 24-hour period of time.”
In some of these cases the testing may take as long as the US-led war Iraq has been going on, he said.
The US and Britain invaded Iraq on March 20, saying Saddam Hussein had failed to declare banned weapons. But there has been no chemical or biological attack against invading troops, and no confirmed discovery of banned weapons has been reported.
Saddam’s top scientific adviser, General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, handed himself in to the new military authorities yesterday. US intelligence officials believe he could be the key to unlocking secrets about Iraq’s weapons programmes, but Saadi insisted Iraq had no banned chemical or biological arms.
Military planners say they are convinced Iraq planned to use chemical weapons against the invaders but its command and control was so overwhelmed by the speed and ferocity of the US advance towards Baghdad that the order never went out.
The Iraqi army was based on a Soviet model in which officers wait for the orders from superiors and rarely take initiatives. Planners say this could explain why many the bridges rigged for destruction weren’t blown up: the divisional commanders just weren’t there or weren’t contactable to give the orders.
However, officials believe the Iraqis may also have balked at using chemical weapons because of severe warnings against it from a deluge of leaflets dropped from the air by US forces. Franks said that some suspected weapons of mass destruction had turned out to be “false positives” but work was continuing on other weapons which had been discovered.
Seeking to play down the failure so far to discover any banned weapons, he said there was a need for a “clear sense of expectation” from the military campaign. “The first thing that we wanted to do was fight this war and I think we’re reasonably well satisfied with where we see that right now,” he said.