It will take more than David Kay saying it ain't so. But for some, it will be enough.
The head of postwar weapons inspections for Iraq used his Jan. 23 resignation as opportunity to air a pent-up grievance: Mr. Kay said of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, "I don't think they exist."
"I'm personally convinced that there were not large stockpiles of newly produced weapons of mass destruction," Mr. Kay said. "We don't find the people, the documents, or the physical plants that you would expect to find if the production was going on."
During interviews with The New York Times, The Sunday Telegraph, Reuters, and others after his resignation, Mr. Kay said that Iraq "gradually reduced stockpiles" of potential weapons of mass destruction and that by the mid-1990s most stockpiles were eliminated. He blamed U.S. intelligence for creating a false impression of Iraq's WMD capability.
If true, that assessment gives Democratic presidential candidates their own arsenal against President Bush, who based the invasion of Iraq last year in significant part on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction threat. And what better way to nuke the president's reelection plans than using the words of his own mass weapons czar. Expect Mr. Kay's comments to recycle through the presidential debate season like cardboard ducks on a midway shooting range.
But while war opponents believe Mr. Kay's statements are a clear indication that Mr. Bush misled Americans in the lead-up to war, key Iraq experts-including a former UN weapons inspector-say more questions are raised than answered by Mr. Kay's post-mortem.
Critics have already pointed out that Mr. Kay's statements to reporters contradict more in-depth analysis he provided in an October 2002 interim report of the Iraq Survey Group. In it he said that, in spite of many obstacles to the WMD search, his Iraq Survey Group, or ISG, already had discovered "dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002." He said the ISG found suspected WMD documents in a pile of warm ash in a prison in July 2003, and vials of botulinum in the home of an Iraqi scientist. The most recent assertion by Mr. Kay that Iraqi WMD do not "exist" also goes against his statements suggesting Iraq may have moved WMD to Syria.
Mr. Kay's statements also contradict earlier findings of UN inspections teams without directly refuting them. Although the work of UN inspectors going back nearly a decade was hampered by Saddam Hussein and thwarted even by the Security Council, it produced volumes of evidence of extensive programs in unconventional warfare. The two agencies, UNSCOM and its predecessor, UNMOVIC, failed to halt the buildup of chemical, biological, and nuclear capabilities but did document its worrying existence.
"He is trying to say that six months of work under Iraq Survey Group is as legitimate as nine years under UNSCOM," said Laurie Mylroie, a consultant on Iraq in both the Clinton and Bush administrations and author of Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror.
A key former weapons inspector in Iraq, retired Army Col. Richard O. Spertzel, told WORLD: "If Dr. Kay says there are currently no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, he may be right. But the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence."
Col. Spertzel joined UNSCOM in 1994 after a 28-year military career where he honed his expertise in bioweapons. As a condition of surrender at the end of the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was to give up all weapons of mass destruction within 15 days. Those conditions were never met, and successive international teams would try to force his compliance. Col. Spertzel served as a weapons inspector and head of UNSCOM's biological weapons team for four years, making more than 40 trips to Baghdad, where he oversaw all inspections of bioweapons facilities and met with top-level officials, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.
He discovered ample evidence that Saddam was directing a campaign to build and use unconventional weapons. He was part of a four-member team that discovered Iraq was using 18 metric tons of growing medium to produce anthrax and botulinum toxin-out of scale with any legitimate civilian purposes. They also discovered viral programs underway to develop camel pox, rotaviruses, and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis. In 2002 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee, Col. Spertzel described "a well-planned broadly encompassing program" that included a "terrorist component." Col. Spertzel said then, "There is no doubt in my mind that Iraq has a much stronger BW [biological weapons] program today than it had in 1990."
More importantly, Col. Spertzel believes many of those programs continued up until the war. In a Jan. 27 interview Col. Spertzel told WORLD that, despite Mr. Kay's recent statements, he has seen nothing in the work of the Iraq Survey Group-or from his own sources-to render his 2002 assessment obsolete: "There is ample evidence of continuing programs and no reason to believe that they would instantly disappear."
Since the war, Col. Spertzel said he has been told by an unnamed Iraqi source "with 100 percent reliability" that the regime's bioweapons program was sent to Syria then transferred to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, an area under control of the Syrian Army and known to be a training ground for the Hezbollah terror group.
Other Iraqi contacts have told him other WMD programs were either destroyed in the weeks leading up to the war after President Bush issued an ultimatum to Saddam, or they were buried in desert sand. "You are not moving munitions, you are moving agents. That doesn't take much to do," he said.
To find such stashes will take the cooperation of Syrian authorities and Iraqi informants. But while the Iraq Survey Group employs more than 1,200 personnel-drawn from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other military posts-it has employed few, if any, former inspectors. Hamish Killip, a British inspector under UNSCOM and former colonel in the Royal Engineers, is the only Iraq Survey Group adviser WORLD could confirm with prewar Iraq weapons inspection experience.