The Blog

Are We There Yet?

War critics are now complaining that we haven't yet found Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. But the "smoking gun" may come sooner, rather than later.

7:50 PM, Apr 6, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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MUCH HAS BEEN MADE in recent days of the fact that coalition forces have not yet found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The BBC, among many other media outlets, has been positively obsessed with this failure--running nonstop packages that juxtapose comments made by Tony Blair and Dick Cheney about the certainly of Saddam Hussein's possession of WMD with reporting on the ground that no such weapons have been found.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, Howard Witt explored the curiosity and presented a worst-case scenario: "Much of the political, diplomatic and legal justification for the U.S.-led war rests on the assertion that Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction and has defied repeated United Nations demands to surrender them. If that proves not to be true, the Bush administration's diplomatic credibility would be shaken, the Muslim world would be reinforced in its belief that Washington is waging war against Islam and U.S. leaders might even be vulnerable to legal challenges in international courts."

It's a fair, if somewhat premature, point. The Bush administration and its coalition partners made Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, together with the likelihood that he would work with terrorist networks to use them, the focal point of their arguments for war.

The terrorist links have been established. Al Qaeda terrorists fought against coalition troops in southern Iraq. Foreign nationals--Egyptians, Jordanians, Saudis, Syrians and Yemenis--were captured Sunday and led U.S. soldiers to their training grounds at Salman Pak. And, most convincing, raids of the Ansar al-Islam camps in northern Iraq revealed extensive al Qaeda ties for this group believed to have extensive, high-ranking connections with the Iraqi regime. (New Yorker writer Jeffrey Goldberg reported last year that Abu Wael, a leader of Ansar al-Islam, also worked for the Mukhabarat, Iraqi intelligence.

So what about the weapons of mass destruction? Brigadier General Vincent Brooks was asked about them directly during Sunday's CENTCOM briefing. He answered:

Weapons of mass destruction are something that remain a focus of the operation. It is not the primary focus. We're still conducting combat operations focused on the regime. That's first order of business. However, there are some places that we have now accessed to areas that we do searches for weapons of mass destruction either based on our anticipated or our knowledge of forehand that there may have been weapons of mass destruction stored there, developed there, over time. So, in some cases it may be years ago that we had the information. As we get access to the locations, we'll search often with the assistance of people who were working there, and as we get closer to Baghdad, we have more places that are like that. I think we can certainly be sure that this regime has been skillful at hiding the things they have. There are a number of items that we have already encountered on the battlefield that they said they didn't have, yet we find them, whether it's mines that float up or missiles that go beyond 150 kilometers, any number of other things are out there. So, while we cannot say where they may have moved to, we certainly anticipate that there have been deliberate efforts to bury, hide, move or disperse all of these efforts that were part of the denial and deception campaign. As time goes on and we get more access to the people who really know what was happening inside of the regime that are not supportive of the regime, after the regime is gone, we believe we'll be able to do the deliberate work necessary to find more of it.

"More of it?" It's possible that Brooks was speaking broadly about the proscribed weapons. It's also possible that the comment was a slip of the tongue--an indication that we may already have found chemical and biological agents and are waiting for further confirmation before making those findings public.

Certainly the circumstantial evidence of such weapons is widespread--including thousands of bio-chemical weapons suits and Atropine antidotes found in Iraqi army outposts. With U.S. troops in and around Baghdad, where most of these banned weapons would likely be hidden, and with the inevitable annihilation of the regime, scores of Iraqis with knowledge of WMD production and concealment will be interrogated by coalition forces in the coming days.

In an interesting side note, an under-discussed article posted April 4, on MSNBC.com reports that "terror toxins" were found at the Ansar al-Islam camp in northern Iraq: