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Iraq Weapons' Claims Raising New Questions for White House

The White House is facing renewed criticism about its pre-war claims about Iraq's alleged efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The administration now admits statements President Bush made two months before the war about Baghdad's alleged efforts to acquire uranium in Africa should not have been included in his State of the Union address.

With U.S. troops yet to find any banned weapons in Iraq, the issue is raising more questions about what the administration knew about Baghdad's weapons program and how it interpreted that intelligence.

The White House now acknowledges President Bush misspoke when he told the nation in January that Iraq had attempted to acquire uranium, which could be used in building a nuclear bomb, from the African nation of Niger.

"The British government has learned Saddam Hussein has recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," he said.

Somehow that claim made it into the president's State of the Union address even though months earlier, former American diplomat Joe Wilson traveled to Niger to look into the matter and returned to tell administration officials that information could not be substantiated.

"When they were referring to uranium sales from Africa to Iraq, that information was erroneous and they knew about it well ahead of both the publication of the British white paper and the president's state of the union address," he said on NBC'S Meet the Press.

Asked about the matter by reporters traveling with him in Africa, President Bush didn't answer directly but made clear the issue doesn't change his view that the overall intelligence supported his decision to invade Iraq.

"There's absolutely no doubt in my mind," the president said. "I am confident that Saddam Hussein had a weapons of mass destruction program."

In fact, there is no question Iraq had the weapons in the past. The United Nations found them during the early 1990s and Iraq used them on its own people and in its eight-year war against Iran. But three months to the day after the fall of Baghdad, what is in question is whether Iraq's alleged weapons continued to pose the threat to the world that both the U.S. and British governments maintained it did, enough so to justify going to war.

Greg Thielmann is a former State Department intelligence official who believes the administration overstated the threat.

"As of March, 2003, when we began military operations, Iraq posed no imminent threat to either its neighbors or the United States," he said. "Its nuclear weapons program, largely dismantled by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s, was dormant. Its chemical and biological weapons programs while illegal and potentially dangerous were apparently directed at contingent rapid production capabilities rather than maintaining ready stockpiles."

But a new interpretation of how the Bush administration viewed the Iraqi threat was offered Wednesday by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in testimony to Congress.

"The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder," he said. "We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light through the prism of our experience on September 11th."

The date two years ago of the worst terrorist attack on the United States ever.

That statement, coming on the heels of the White House admission that some of its intelligence was faulty, is now prompting Democrats in Congress to demand more answers about what the administration actually knew for certain about Iraq's weapons programs, given that none have been found by coalition troops so far.