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US Official Downplays  WMD Issue as Reason for Iraq War - 2003-05-30

The U.S. forces have not yet found weapons of mass destruction which is sparking controversy. In a magazine interview, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has played down Iraq's weapons programs as a key justification for going to war. Meanwhile, the Defense Department has formed a new team to hunt for the weapons.

In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says "bureaucratic reasons" caused the Bush administration to focus on weapons of mass destruction as justification for the war. Mr. Wolfowitz is quoted as saying that Saddam Hussein's arsenal of weapons was the one issue on which everyone could agree upon as a reason for attacking Iraq.

Mr. Wolfowitz's comments heightened controversy in European capitals as debate grows over Iraq's possession of mass destruction weapons.

In the lead-up to the war, U.S. officials insisted that Saddam Hussein had stockpiled chemical and biological weapons and was attempting to build nuclear bombs, all in defiance of calls at the United Nations that Iraq disarm.

But so far, U.S. and British occupying forces have not found any such stockpiles. On Friday, the commander of U.S. Marines in Iraq expressed surprise that the weapons have not been discovered. U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials have suggested that the weapons were destroyed before or during the war.

U.S. forces have found two equipment-filled trailers in northern Iraq, which administration officials cite as proof that Iraq did have clandestine germ warfare programs.

Some critics have charged that the Bush administration exaggerated the threat. Others have suggested that the intelligence that pointed to the weapons' existence was flawed.

On Friday, defense officials announced the formation of a new multinational unit, called the "Iraq Survey Group," whose primary task will be to search for the weapons.

The group's leader, Major General Keith Dayton, said he believes the intelligence was accurate, but adds it is not certain what the group will turn up.

"I'm one of those who thought that intelligence was pretty credible. I still do," he stressed. "And I think that we may get lucky. We may not. We may find out three months from now there was a very elaborate deception program going on that resulted in destruction of the stuff. I have no idea. That's what I'm going out there to find out."

The Iraq Survey Group will be comprised of some 1,400 experts from the United States, Britain, and Australia. Rather than focus on previously suspected sites, General Dayton said the group will expand its search to include prisoner interrogation and document analysis.

The group will also investigate possible war crimes by Iraqis and alleged links between Iraq and al-Qaida or other terrorist networks.