| President George W. Bush with US military personnel at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar, on Thursday. (Reuters)
As Sayliyah Camp (Qatar), June 5 (Reuters): President George W. Bush vowed today to uncover the truth about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, whose failure to show up so far has embarrassed war ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
But Bush hinted it could be a long and difficult search as he wrapped up a week-long, six-nation journey with a flag-waving speech to US troops at the base in Qatar where the US military had its combat operations centre for the Iraq war.
Bush has largely escaped political trouble at home over the absence of conclusive evidence Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons, which Washington and London cited as the main reason why Saddam had to be toppled.
Bush and his top aides point to the discovery of two mobile biological weapons laboratories as proof of Saddam’s guilt and say the weapons themselves were either concealed well, destroyed or moved before the war.
“This is a man who spent decades hiding tools of mass murder,” said Bush, who later left for home. “He knew the inspectors were looking for them. You know better than me he’s got a big country in which to hide them.” “We’re on the look. We’ll reveal the truth,” Bush said.
As he headed back to the US, Bush’s Air Force One flew for an hour over Iraq, escorted by four fighter jets. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that as the jumbo jet flew over Baghdad, Bush pointed out landmarks, including the site of the first US attack on the capital on March 20, when American bombs hit a bunker where Saddam was believed to be meeting with top lieutenants.
Failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has put Bush’s closest war ally, Blair, in political hot water at home. Blair’s office has denied a BBC report it made an intelligence report “sexier” by playing up a line that Saddam could deploy such weapons at 45 minutes’ notice.
Both the US Congress and the British parliament are moving toward investigations into the validity of intelligence information about the Iraqi weapons threat.
Bush emphasised that the war liberated Iraq from a brutal dictator. “The world is now learning what many of you have seen,” he told the troops. “They’re learning about the mass graves, thousands of people just summarily executed.”
There are few US personnel at Qatar’s As Sayliyah Camp now, although US warplanes are based at the big Al Udeid Air Base nearby. Bush was briefed on the turbulent situation in post-war Iraq in morning talks with Gen. Tommy Franks, commander of the US Central Command that waged war on Iraq, and Paul Bremer, the US administrator of Iraq.
A US official, briefing reporters on board Air Force One, said the leaders gave “an upbeat assessment of the situation.”
“Tommy Franks talked quite a lot about what he sees as an increasingly stabilising situation in most of the country,” said the official.”