The White House acknowledged Wednesday that its two-year hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had ended without finding the stockpiles that President Bush cited as a justification for war against Saddam Hussein.
The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group, made up of as many as 1,500 military and intelligence specialists and support staff, called off its search of military installations, factories and laboratories.
Chief U.S. weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer said in a report in October that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had not made any since 1991. However, he said the government harbored intentions of re-creating its weapons programs and had manipulated the United Nations “oil-for-food” program.
Defense officials said some review of documents and interviews about possible weapons would continue.
Before the war, on Nov. 3, 2002, Bush said, “Saddam Hussein is a man who told the world he wouldn’t have weapons of mass destruction, but he’s got them.”
In an interview Wednesday with Barbara Walters of ABC News, scheduled for broadcast Friday, Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq.
“I felt like we’d find weapons of mass destruction -- like many here in the United States, many around the world,” Bush said. “We need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering.... Saddam was dangerous and the world is safer without him in power.”
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said, “Based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people.”
According to Pentagon statistics, more than 1,350 U.S. service members have died since the war began in March 2003 and more than 10,000 have been wounded. The war’s cost has been placed at more than $4 billion a month.
“Citing the continuing search by the Iraq Survey Group, President Bush has refused to concede what has been obvious for months: the primary justification for the invasion of Iraq was not supported by fact,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement.
“Now that the search is finished, President Bush needs to explain to the American people why he was so wrong, for so long, about the reasons for war.”
David Kay, who headed the Iraq Survey Group until stepping down last January, said he was not surprised that the group was concluding its efforts without finding any major weapons stockpiles.
“It is like dropping a shoe a little late. Quite frankly, I don’t think anyone who follows it very closely has suspected anything else over the last year,” Kay said. “It was a matter of when the obvious would be done.”