Key Congressional Republicans are vowing to conduct a review of U.S. intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but some Democrats are demanding a formal investigation into whether such intelligence was manipulated to justify the U.S.-led war in Iraq. The Bush administration cited Iraq's weapons program as a main reason for going to war, but evidence of such weapons has yet to be found.
Senator Robert Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat and vocal critic of President Bush's policy toward Iraq, has questioned whether the administration manipulated U.S. intelligence to make the case for war with Iraq.
"Iraq's weapons of mass destruction remain a mystery, an enigma, a conundrum," he said. "What are they? Where are they? How dangerous are they? Were they a manufactured excuse by an administration eager to seize a country?"
Senator Byrd's fellow West Virginian, Senator Jay Rockefeller, is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and is calling on the panel to hold a formal investigation into U.S. intelligence on Iraq's weapons program and links between Iraq and terrorist groups.
"We have not found any weapons of mass destruction," said Senator Rockefeller. "The al-Qaida-Iraq connection has not been found to be very real."
Senator Rockefeller wants both public and closed hearings, as well as interviews with intelligence and administration officials.
But key Republicans argue there is no evidence of wrongdoing and see no need yet for an investigation that goes beyond routine oversight.
Senator John Warner of Virginia is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which has already begun closed-door hearings into the issue.
"The evidence that I have examined does not rise to give the presumption that anyone in this administration has hyped or cooked or embellished such evidence to a particular purpose," he said. "I regret that those allegations have been made."
The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, suggested Democrats' appeals for a formal probe were politically motivated.
"In my view, some of the attacks have been simply politics, and for political gain," he said. "I will not allow the committee to be politicized, or to be used as an unwitting tool for any political strategist. That is not good for the [intelligence] community, that is not good for the committee, and that is not good for our national security."
Senator Roberts said the criticism is causing divisiveness among intelligence agencies.
He feared that such agencies would return to what he called 'the days of risk aversion', which he said was the primary cause of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. A congressional probe into the attacks concluded that agencies were weakened by a culture that discouraged employees from taking risks out of concern that they would be criticized.
Senator Roberts said his committee will begin closed-door hearings next week. He said committee staff is already reviewing documents submitted by the Central Intelligence Agency.
Congressman Porter Goss, a Florida Republican, said similar hearings will be conducted in the House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, White House spokesman Ari Fleisher says the administration "welcomes the review."