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Kay: Questions about Iraqi WMD will linger

By CHRISTIAN BOURGE, UPI Congressional and Policy Correspondent

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- The former chief U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq told a Senate committee Wednesday that while no evidence has been found showing that Saddam Hussein had recent stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, questions will always linger about his weapons programs.

David Kay said that the failure to establish security in Iraq following the end of the invasion allowed Saddam's loyalists to cover some of the tracks of his weapons activities.

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This, along with the destruction of evidence during looting by everyday Iraqis, will serve to leave lasting questions about the Saddam's weapons programs even after the U.S. investigation is completed.

"There will always be unresolved ambiguity here," Kay told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Kay resigned from his post Friday, citing the shift of resources away from the search for weapons as the reason.

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His testimony underscores the efforts of both the GOP leadership in Congress to support President Bush on the issue and of Democrats to assail the Bush and his advisers for repeatedly saying before the war that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the region and U.S. interests.

The Bush White House's rhetoric on the issue has generally softened in the aftermath of the invasion and includes that now-infamous reference to "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities" in the president's State of the Union address last week.

But Vice President Dick Cheney said in a speech last week that conclusive evidence has been found that Saddam had a program to produce weapons of mass destruction, including two weapons production trailer that Kay says were actually made to produce hydrogen for weather balloons or rocket fuel.

On Tuesday, Bush declined to repeat his previous claims that evidence of Saddam's weapons would eventually be found, instead returning to the often-repeated theme that the invasion was still justified because of the "grave and gathering" threat posed by Saddam to the United States and world at large.

Nevertheless, Bush added that years of intelligence gathering by the United States and its allies showed that Saddam "had weapons."

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When senators from both sides of the aisle pressed Kay on the issue of where the stockpiles -- which clearly once existed -- were, he stressed that with 85 percent of the major elements of the Iraqi program known no evidence of what he, the Bush administration and most others thought Saddam had has been found.

"We were almost all wrong," said Kay.

He added that there is evidence of ongoing weapons production efforts that violated a U.N. resolution requiring Iraq's full cooperation with weapons inspectors.

Kay also noted that Saddam and his sons had repeatedly asked Iraqi weapons scientists when weapons would be ready and may have been given overly optimistic projections.

There is evidence that the Iraqis destroyed some of Iraq stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, both intentionally and not, during the 1990s.

One example cited by Kay is a story that some of the Saddam regime's anthrax stockpile was destroyed in a traffic accident following the 1991 Gulf War when a vehicle transporting the material back from deployment along the Kuwaiti boarder caught fire.

Despite the finding, he agreed with committee Chairman Sen. John Warner, R-Va., that the invasion was justified because, the world is safer with Saddam out of power.

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However, he did not display any party allegiance, agreeing with Senate Democrats that a wider, independent investigation of the intelligence failures was needed.

The ranking Democratic member on the Armed Services Committee, Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, repeatedly raised "serious questions" about the "numerous, vivid and unqualified statements" made by Bush administration officials about the state of Iraq programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.

He also criticized the GOP leadership in the Senate for refusing to have a broader investigation into the intelligence failures, adding that the minority party in the Senate will continue to press for an outside commission to "get the whole story."

Kay said the fact he and most others believed Saddam had significant weapons programs was a fundamental failure that underscores problems with U.S. intelligence capabilities and shows the inability to gather good intelligence in closed societies that do not allow weapons inspectors.

He noted that these problems are also reflected in the fact that advanced-state Iran nuclear weapons programs were a surprise to U.S. officials.

Citing conversations with analysts, he also denied suggestions by Democrats and other critics that U.S. intelligence analysts were pressured by the Bush administration to come to conclusions other that where the available intelligence pointed.

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He lamented this, noting that such a problem could more easily rectified than the kinds of systemic problems that probably lead to the faulty conclusions made.

"It's quite clear we need capabilities that we do not have with regard to intelligence," Kay told reporters before the hearing.

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