WASHINGTON—A new, partially declassified intelligence report provides no new evidence that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction on the eve of the U.S.-led invasion, as President Bush alleged in making the case for war, U.S. intelligence officials said Thursday.
The report, made public in the midst of a partisan debate in Congress, says that about 500 munitions containing degraded chemical weapons, including mustard gas and sarin nerve agent, have been found in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion.
But the intelligence officials said the munitions dated from before the 1991 Persian Gulf War and were for the most part badly deteriorated. "They are not in a condition where they could be used as designed," one intelligence official said.
"There is not new news from the coalition point of view," one official said, noting that chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer predicted in a March 2005 report that such vintage weapons would continue to be found.
The officials from three agencies briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitive intelligence data involved.
Rep. Jane Harman of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, charged Thursday that Republicans' release of the report was a last-ditch effort to justify the war.
"Rolling out some old fairly toxic stuff sounds to me like a desperate claim by those who wish that we could find some new way to rationalize the ongoing devastation in Iraq," she said.
The report was written by the National Ground Intelligence Center, an Army unit, and its key points were declassified at the request of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich. He and Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., released it during Senate debate this week over the U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
Santorum and Hoekstra didn't return calls requesting comment Thursday in response to the intelligence officials.
"This is an incredibly—in my mind—significant finding," Santorum told a news conference Wednesday. "It is important for the American public to understand that these weapons did in fact exist, were present in the country and were in fact and continue to be a threat to us."
The intelligence officials offered a less alarming view.
They said the old munitions had been found in groups of one and two, indicating that they'd been discarded, not that they were part of an organized program to stockpile banned weapons.
One of the declassified key points says the munitions—apparently dating from Iraq's 1980-88 war with Iran—could be sold on the black market.
But one intelligence official said there was "no evidence that any element of the insurgency in Iraq is in possession of these kinds of munitions."
Duelfer's report said that while the old munitions might be effective as terrorist weapons they didn't pose a "militarily significant threat" and couldn't cause mass casualties.
No evidence has surfaced to support the Bush administration's prewar contention that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs.
Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay, said in January 2004 that "we were almost all wrong" in thinking that Iraq had such weapons. Duelfer reported that Saddam was planning to reconstitute his programs once U.N. sanctions were lifted, but hadn't done so.
(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.