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Republicans, Democrats Clash Over Absence of Iraq WMD - 2004-10-10

High-ranking Republican and Democratic leaders are expressing differing views about a lengthy CIA report issued last week, that concluded there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, before the U.S.-led invasion.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice defended the Bush Administration's decision to wage war on Iraq. She said chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer's report to Congress Wednesday did indicate that Saddam Hussein was trying to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program.

"Saddam Hussein had an insatiable appetite for weapons of mass destruction. He had an unflinching hatred for the United States. He had every reason to cooperate with our enemies. This was a gathering and growing threat, and it was time to take care of it," she said.

Ms. Rice repeated the Bush Administration's concern that Saddam Hussein could transfer weapons technology to terrorists - pointing to the presence in Iraq of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has suspected links to the al-Qaida terrorism network.

"Well, Saddam Hussein did have contacts going back a long way, with al Qaida, and he was a harborer of terrorists. That's why [Saddam Hussein] ended up on the state sponsors of terrorism list of the United States. This was not someone who was unknown to terrorists or where terrorists didn't operate. For instance, Zarqawi operated in Baghdad, and we know that," she said.

In his report to Congress, Mr. Duelfer said there is no indication that Saddam planned to pass weapons material to al-Qaida terrorists.

The report says that although Saddam intended to reconstitute some weapons programs if U.N. sanctions against Iraq were eased, there were no systems in place to do so. It also concludes that Iraq's illicit weapons programs were essentially destroyed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and were never rebuilt.

Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate John Edwards told CNN's Late Edition the report's conclusions make him question President Bush's decision to invade Iraq. "The point of all this is Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. They didn't even have an ongoing system to create weapons of mass destruction," he said. "So, the Bush Administration's explanation is we invaded a country because at some point in the future, they might get weapons of mass destruction?"

Senator Edwards added that in his opinion, the possibility of terrorist groups like al-Qaida getting weapons of mass destruction is not enough to justify going to war. "Al Qaida is now in 60 different countries," he said. "So, how many of those countries are we going to invade? Iran and North Korea clearly have significantly more capability than Iraq had at the time of the invasion. What are we going to do about Iran and North Korea?"

On Capitol Hill, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts said he still supports the administration and the decision to remove Saddam Hussein. Committee co-chairman, Senator Jay Rockefeller, disagreed, saying what he knows now negates his previous approval. "I think, based on the intelligence at that time, but what Senator Pat Roberts and I have come to know since then, and every other senator - I said it was a wrong vote on my part," he said.

For his part, Senator Roberts criticized the intelligence for being wrong. "That's why it's so important to quit looking in the rear-view mirror, with 20-20 hind-sight, and get on with the business of intelligence reform, which we are trying to do," he said.

Senator Roberts acknowledged that although the CIA is the lead intelligence agency in the world, the U.S. agency was not alone in thinking that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. He called the faulty conclusions a global intelligence failure, and leveled blame especially at the French, Germans and British.