The United States has ended its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, after a fruitless effort of more than a year and a half. Administration officials blame faulty intelligence for their mistaken view of Saddam Hussein's weapons program, and say the invasion that toppled his regime was justified on other grounds anyway.
Officials confirm the news first reported in Wednesday's Washington Post newspaper, that the search for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq ended in December. The Post quotes members of the U.S. inspection team as saying they suspended their effort because they were not finding any new information, and because of the continuing danger of working in Iraq.
The head of the team, Charles Duelfer, issued an interim report to the U.S. Congress several months ago, in which he said Iraq possessed none of the dangerous weapons the Bush administration had claimed in justifying the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Other nations, including some major U.S. allies, disputed the U.S. claims and refused to join the coalition that invaded Iraq.
On Wednesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed that the major work of Mr. Duelfer's Iraq Survey Group is done, and that no significant new information is expected in his final report, which is due next month.
"At this point, the members of the Iraq Survey Group who are still there in Iraq, obviously if they hear additional reports about anything, they will follow up on those reports,” he said. “But I think Charles Duelfer has made it pretty clear, and it is my understanding, that the comprehensive report he issued last year is essentially the completion of his work."
Mr. McClellan also said President Bush stands by his decision to invade Iraq, saying the removal of Saddam Hussein made the world a safer place, and is contributing to the U.S. effort to spread stability and democracy in the Middle East.
Officials say remaining members of the Iraq Survey Group are now mainly involved in efforts to fight the anti-U.S. insurgency, but are available to deal with weapons issues if any new information emerges. In addition, a team of translators and analysts based in Qatar is working its way through thousands of pages of documents and computer files confiscated from Iraq's former government in search of information on its activities.