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Bush Orders Probe of Intelligence Failures in Iraq - 2004-02-02

President Bush has decided to order an independent investigation into alleged failures of U.S. intelligence after the chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq failed to find any weapons of mass destruction there. The decision amounts to a reversal for the president, who had built his case for going to war on Saddam Hussein's failure to give up chemical and biological stockpiles.

President Bush's announcement comes amid increasing calls in Congress, including from members of his own Republican party, to determine how U.S. intelligence apparently was wrong about Iraq having the kind of weapons that the White House said posed a grave threat to the world.

But the president said the scope of this investigation would go beyond Iraq to examine whether the U.S. intelligence community failed to detect key developments regarding nuclear proliferation in countries such as Iran and North Korea as well. "We also want to look at our war against proliferation and weapons of mass destruction [in a] broader context, and so I am putting together an independent, bipartisan commission to analyze where we stand, what we can do better as we fight this war against terror," he said.

It was one year ago that Secretary of State Colin Powell made the administration's most detailed case for war against Iraq at the United Nations where he gave an exhaustive list of illegal weapons and programs that he said Baghdad continued to pursue in defiance of U.N. resolutions. "There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more," he said.

But it was this acknowledgment by chief U.S. weapons hunter David Kay last week that led President Bush to order this investigation. "We were almost all wrong and I certainly include myself here," he said.

After meeting with the President Monday, David Kay told VOA he expects this investigation will produce real intelligence reform, and not lead to a political witch-hunt. "I have hopes that in fact that will contribute to the solution and not contribute to the problem," he said.

But already some in Congress are calling the planned review of intelligence shortcomings inadequate, including former Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, a Democrat who favors an overhaul of the entire U.S. intelligence community. "I am concerned that this appears to be a goal of simply avoiding political accountability and embarrassment," he said.

Tom Daschle, the top Democrat in the Senate, questions how independent a panel appointed by the White House will be. "It sounds as if the president is going to call for one where he gets to appoint each of the members and dictate the design and ultimately the circumstances under which they do their work," he said.

The investigation is expected to take more than a year to complete, meaning its findings will not be known until after November's presidential election.