Liberals on Capitol Hill and in the media are screaming, "Where are the weapons?" Since the White House had argued that disarming Saddam was the main reason for going to war, not finding his forbidden weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) all lined up like prizes at a seaside shooting gallery has excited the president's political enemies to cry foul.
Ewan Buchanan, spokesman for chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, assures INSIGHT that "it's far too early to tell" whether forbidden weapons remain in Iraq or where they might be. "It doesn't surprise me that U.S. forces haven't found anything yet. The main job of the troops so far has been security, not looking for weapons," he says.
So far, coalition forces have found large quantities of chemical-weapons defensive gear, scattered chemicals and a variety of suspicious-looking sealed storage sites whose contents still are being examined. At one point, soldiers stumbled on a series of large buried containers that military analysts initially believed resembled the "mobile biological-production labs" Secretary of State Colin Powell described to the United Nations during his briefing in February. Once examined in more detail they turned out to contain documents, potentially promising, and equipment for a conventional-ammunition loading line. "It looked at first like it was [chemical weapons]-related," a defense official tells INSIGHT, "but in the end, it wasn't."
And while these sites and others whose contents have not yet been made public indeed could house portions of Saddam's suspected arsenal of illegal weapons, Pentagon and White House officials acknowledge that they haven't yet found anything like the suspected 100 to 500 tons of chemical-weapons agents or precursors Powell mentioned before the war, let alone biological-weapons material, secret nuclear-production labs or telltale documents. Indeed, at a press briefing in Doha, Qatar, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) spokesman Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks acknowledged the obvious. "We've not found any weaponized chemicals, biological agents or any nuclear devices at this point," he told reporters, who promptly headlined CENTCOM's failure. Lost in the media spin was Brooks' more telling statement: "That work is ongoing, as I've mentioned. And we'll be patient about it, and we'll remain very deliberate about how we do our work."
One reason for the patience and the dogged determination is the wealth of detailed information, much of it already in the public domain, about Saddam's quest to build chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. Information on Saddam's foreign suppliers repeatedly has leaked to the press, both from the U.N. inspectors and from various allied governments. For years, the Iraqi National Congress (INC) has spirited out defectors from Iraqi weapons programs who have provided details from inside Saddam's secret maze of weapons plants. The hard job now is getting up-to-the-minute intelligence. "What you think is good intelligence turns out to be not so good when you get up close," a top U.N. intelligence analyst who worked on the Iraqi programs tells INSIGHT. "They [the Iraqis] were very skilled at cleaning up after their defectors so that, when we went to inspect, what they had told us about was already gone."
The United States now is analyzing samples of chemical agents taken from dozens of locations and combing through computer hard drives and documents seized in government offices and from secret stashes discovered behind freshly cemented walls throughout Iraq. The search will be long, complex and riddled with ambiguity, not least because Iraq's known weapons facilities were cleared well before the U.N. inspectors returned to Iraq last fall.
U.S. and U.N. officials tell INSIGHT that the Iraqis most likely have hidden vital equipment and material in underground tunnels or behind fake walls in hospitals and private homes, in the desert and in mountains and even in rivers, where U. …