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President Bush raised the possibility on Thursday that Saddam Hussain's government destroyed the prohibited chemical and biological weapons that were the justification for the United States invasion of Iraq. (Getty Images)...

 

 

 

 

 


Saddam may have destroyed WMDs - Bush 

Lima, Ohio |By Dana Milbank 

President Bush raised the possibility on Thursday that Saddam Hussain's government destroyed the prohibited chemical and biological weapons that were the justification for the United States invasion of Iraq.

The president made the suggestion at a celebratory event at the plant here that makes Abrams tanks, 900 of which have been used in the Iraq war. Addressing concerns about anarchy in Iraq and the absence so far of forbidden weapons, he urged patience on both counts while the U.S. troops try to disarm and stabilise the country of 23 million.

"It's going to take time to find them," Bush said of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Speaking before hundreds of cheering workers, an enormous U.S. flag and five tanks with guns pointed skyward, he added: "But we know he had them. And whether he destroyed them, moved them, or hid them, we're going to find out the truth."

It was the first hint by Bush that U.S. troops and others hunting for weapons might fail to find chemical and biological arms. The administration had laid out in painstaking detail what it called an irrefutable case that Iraq possessed such weapons.

Failure to find significant quantities of the weapons would be a major embarrassment for the U.S. position. Bush also said it would take time to rebuild the country.

"Iraq is recovering not just from weeks of conflict, but from decades of totalitarian rule," he said. "Statues of the man have been pulled down, but the fear and suspicion he instilled in the people will take longer to pass away."

The president noted that the man overseeing Iraqi rebuilding - retired Gen. Jay Garner -"arrived in Baghdad just this week. You see, it wasn't all that long ago that our tanks were in Baghdad. It may seem like a lot of time - there's a lot on our TV screens - but it wasn't all that long ago that the people got the first whiff of freedom."

On the subject of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction," administration officials have regularly expressed confidence that Saddam's weapons would be found, and many expected them to be found quickly.

Bush's remarks Thursday were more pessimistic. He noted that Iraqis with knowledge of the programmes "have come forward recently, some voluntarily, others not," to "let us know what the facts were on the ground."

While expressing no certainty about Iraq's weapons, Bush said that "one thing is for certain: Saddam Hussain no longer threatens America with weapons of mass destruction."

Launching the war, Bush told the nation that "the people of the United States and our friends and allies will not live at the mercy of an outlaw regime that threatens the peace with weapons of mass murder.''

In the months before the war, the administration said that Iraq had not accounted for 25,000 litres of anthrax; 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin; 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent; and 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents.

The administration was also highly critical of UN weapons inspectors for failing to find the evidence. But in the war and its aftermath, U.S. troops and weapons hunters have failed to make a confirmed finding of forbidden weapons, even as they have uncovered tantalising clues.

The official purpose of Bush's visit to Ohio Thursday was to build support for a tax cut of at least $550 billion and to put pressure on Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a Republican holdout.

But Bush's Thursday afternoon event here in western Ohio became something of a celebration of the yet-undeclared victory in Iraq. He boasted that the "deck of cards," on which the Pentagon featured Iraq's most-wanted former leaders, "seems to be getting complete over time." Bush at one point stood on two of the tanks in the factory.

"We're witnessing historic days in the cause of freedom," Bush almost shouted to the boisterous crowd. Describing the swift ouster of Saddam's government, he said: "The tanks built right here in Lima, Ohio, charged through elements of the dictator's Republican Guards, led the forces of a liberation into the heart of Iraq, and rolled all the way into downtown Baghdad."

Bush reminded that "our forces still face danger in Iraq," but he put the anti-American protests in Iraq in a favourable light. "Today, in Iraq, there's discussion, debate, protest, all the hallmarks of liberty," he said.

Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service


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