A new report by U.S. arms investigators, whose findings were released Wednesday, says Iraq had no stockpiles of illicit weapons when the United States attacked Iraq in 2003. The experts say the report is having political repercussions and will further shape the debate on intelligence reform.
David Kay, who was chief U.S. weapons inspector before turning the job over Charles Duelfer last year, told VOA it is now extremely unlikely that there is anything hidden in the Iraqi desert that would bolster the assertions of massive Iraqi weapons programs. The focus, he said, should be on reforming the intelligence system that was so mistaken about Iraq's weapons programs.
"I am worrying in fact that there will be the delusion, I believe, that if we just keep looking harder we will find something," he said. "And that will only delay the process of undertaking the fundamental reforms in the intelligence community."
Boiled down to its essentials, the report by the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group says Iraq had essentially destroyed what weapons of mass destruction it had in the early 1990s. Mr. Duelfer said Saddam Hussein had the desire, but not the capability, to restart those programs because of United Nations sanctions.
The status of Iraq's WMD programs has become a hot political issue because it was a key rationale for the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in 2003. In a highly charged election campaign, the new report is more fuel for the political fires.
Stephen Hess, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a professor at George Washington University, says that, as expected, both Republican President Bush and his Democratic challenger, Senator John Kerry, are trying to use the report selectively to bolster their respective positions.
"It is very, very authoritative," he said. "Now, having said that, it was a big report, and each side in a political campaign will look for those things that they can spin, those things that seem to favor their position."
The intelligence lapses of the Iraq weapons controversy as well as those of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 have sparked calls for changes in the U.S. intelligence structure. Mr. Hess says the report is also more ammunition for quick action on that front.
"There will be reforms, and obviously, this report at the very least illustrates how bad our record of intelligence-gathering really was," he said.
The most publicized proposal is the creation of the post of National Intelligence Director to oversee all U.S. intelligence. But, Mr. Kay warns, there have to be real, substantive changes in the way the intelligence community goes about its business.
"The systematic error that you got in the case of Iraq, and we've had it, really, in other cases, tracing back at least to the fall of the Shah (of Iran) in which we've gotten it wrong, are pathological breakdowns in the system," he said. "They're not easily fixed by naming new officials or adding new layers of bureaucracy there."
Both houses of Congress have put forth differing versions of intelligence reform bills that will have to be reconciled before any changes become law.