Washington, Feb. 7 (Reuters): Under strong political pressure, President George W. Bush yesterday established a bipartisan commission to investigate failures in intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and gave it until well after the November election to submit its conclusions.
Bush picked as the chairmen of the commission former Virginia governor and senator Charles Robb, a Democrat, and appeals court judge Laurence Silberman, a Republican.
In a hastily arranged appearance in the White House press briefing room, Bush said the commission will “look at American intelligence capabilities, especially our intelligence about weapons of mass destruction.”
Bush noted that former chief US weapons hunter David Kay has not been able to confirm prewar intelligence that Iraq possessed stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. “We are determined to figure out why,” Bush said.
“We’re also determined to make sure that American intelligence is as accurate as possible for every challenge in the future,” he added. Bush gave the commission until March 31, 2005, to report back, meaning the results of the investigation would not be known until after the November election. Democrats want the report sooner.
Bush is scrambling to limit the political fallout from Kay’s revelations that almost all the pre-war intelligence about Iraq’s alleged unconventional weapons was wrong.
Claims that Iraq had stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction were the main reason cited by Bush for the Iraq war. Bush’s job approval ratings have been fading due to a number of factors, including the weapons issue and the fact that Democratic presidential candidates have been hammering away at him. He will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press for an hour tomorrow in an attempt to fight back.
Bush also announced as members of the group Arizona Republican Senator John McCain; Lloyd Cutler, who was White House counsel for former Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter; Yale president Richard Levin; Admiral William Studeman, former deputy director of the CIA, and former appeals court judge Pat Wald.
A UN team arrived in Iraq today to assess whether it will be possible to hold elections before the US hands sovereignty back to Iraqis mid-year, as Iraq’s majority Shias have demanded.
“I hope the work of this team will help resolve the impasse over the transitional political process leading to the establishment of a provisional government for Iraq,” Annan said.