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Debate Over WMDs Adds to Iraqi Suspicions on Reasons for War - 2004-02-10

The United States and Britain are launching separate, independent inquiries into their pre-war intelligence assessments that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. London and Washington used the weapons argument as the main reason for going to war, but to date no such weapons have been found, and the former lead U.S. weapons inspector says he doesn't believe they exist. VOA's Sonja Pace looked at the issue from Baghdad.

For many Iraqis, the lack of evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction only adds to the already widespread suspicion of why the United States invaded Iraq. Turki al-Jaburi is a Baghdad merchant.

"I would like to meet President Bush and tell him 'you claimed that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, and this is the evidence you occupied this country for this reason. So, what's your evidence now? Did you find the weapons of mass destruction?' No, it's occupation, colonialism," he said.

Iraqi scientist Khaled Francis, who worked for several years developing chemical weapons for Saddam Hussein, takes a more dispassionate view, but his conclusions are the same.

"You know, all these matters have been exaggerated," he said. He indicated the U.S. and Britain wanted a reason and they found one.

The United States and Britain said Saddam Hussein's weapons arsenal posed an imminent threat to world security. U.N. weapons inspectors went back into Iraq in 2002, but could not find them. Neither have U.S. teams, which have been searching since shortly after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government.

Last month, the chief American inspector, David Kay, resigned from his position, and testified before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that pre-war intelligence had simply been wrong about the weapons threat.

"It turns out we were all wrong, probably, in my judgment. And, that is most disturbing," Mr. Kay said.

Mr. Kay was asked, by Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat from the state of Michigan, about existing stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Levin: In your opinion, Iraq did not have large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in 2002, is that correct?

Kay: That's correct Senator.

Levin: Do you have any evidence that they had any stockpiles, large or small in 2002?

Kay: Simply have no evidence.

David Kay's conclusions sent shockwaves through the political and intelligence communities in both Washington and London.

But, in Baghdad, researcher Khaled Francis says he is not surprised at David Kay's assessment. He says the reason the inspectors found no weapons is because they do not exist. He maintains they were destroyed over a decade ago - at least, he says, the chemical weapons stockpile, which is what he would know about.

"After the Gulf War, they disconnected the whole program," he said. "They changed the program to pesticides and herbicides and other products. As I know, they destroyed all the weapons they had."

But, how does he know that they really destroyed everything?

"Because most of the people working on the destruction of these weapons are my friends, my colleagues and we discuss about it," he said. "I was working in the research center. This is the most important center in the whole office, and we know what's going on outside."

Khaled Francis worked in the chemical research lab from 1987 to 1997. For several years, until the early 1990s, he says, he was in charge of quality control for such lethal substances as mustard gas, sarin gas and the VX nerve agent.

Mr. Francis told VOA he knows of no attempt by the Iraqi government to restart its chemical weapons program, although he says it could easily have done so within a matter of several months, if it had wanted to.

When asked if he thought there was ever another attempt by the government to start the weapons program up again, Mr. Francis replied "If they wanted to do it, they could, because the most important [element] is the people who are working in this field, and it needs very simple tools. No need for complicated instruments or anything. But, as I know, there was not any idea to re-start the program again."

Mr. Francis said that, after the chemical weapons stockpiles were destroyed in the early 1990s, he was sent to a factory to produce chlorine for use in detergents and other industrial applications. He left the lab in 1997, and now does odd jobs. Khaled Francis says he has no plans to work in the chemical field again.