Iraqis offer tips on Scud missiles, anthrax
Chief US weapons hunter says search tied to local sources
WASHINGTON -- Weapons hunters in Iraq are pursuing tips that point to the possible presence of anthrax and Scud missiles still hidden in the country, the chief investigator said yesterday.
David Kay told Congress last week that his survey team had not found nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons so far. But he argued against drawing conclusions, saying he expects to provide a full picture on Iraq's weapons programs in six to nine months.
While lacking physical evidence for the presence anthrax or Scuds, Kay said tips from Iraqis are motivating the search for them.
Critics, including many in Congress, say Kay's findings do not support most of the Bush administration's prewar assertions that the United States faced an imminent, serious threat from Saddam Hussein, Iraq's ousted leader, because of widespread and advanced Iraqi weapons programs.
President Bush has said the US-led war on Iraq was justified despite the failure to find weapons.
Kay reported that searchers found a vial of live botulinum bacteria that had been stored since 1993 in an Iraqi scientist's refrigerator.
The bacteria make botulinum toxin, which can be used as a biological weapon, but Kay has offered no evidence that the bacteria had been used in a weapons program.
The live bacteria were among a collection of "reference strains" of biological organisms that could not be used to produce biological warfare agents.
Kay said yesterday the same scientist told investigators that he was asked to hide another much larger cache of strains, but "after a couple of days he turned them back in because he said they were too dangerous. He has small children in the house."
Kay said the cache "contains anthrax and that's one reason we're actively interested in getting it." Kay, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," did not say whether the anthrax was live or a strain used only for anthrax research.
Before the war, Iraqis said they had destroyed their anthrax supply. Inspectors haven't found any, and Iraqis haven't been able to provide evidence to satisfy investigators that they did destroy it. Specialists note that old supplies of anthrax would have degraded by now.
While the Bush administration argued before going to war that Iraq's arsenal posed an imminent threat, much of what Kay discovered is that Iraq had interest in such weapons and was researching some agents.
Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, said Kay's report shows Hussein's clear intent to develop chemical and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. However, Lieberman said, the Bush administration didn't tell the public the whole truth. "There is some evidence that the Bush administration exaggerated unnecessarily," he told "Fox News Sunday." Lieberman, a presidential candidate, said the exaggeration "did discredit to what was otherwise a very just cause of fighting tyranny and terrorism."
Searches have been unsuccessful for the kind of long-range Scud missiles the Iraqis fired at Saudi Arabia and Israel in 1991. Many were destroyed during and after the Persian Gulf War, but the Bush administration had accused Iraq of continuing to hide Scuds.
Kay said there are indications there may still be Scuds even though Iraq declared it got rid of them in the early 1990s.
"We have Iraqis now telling us that they continued until 2001, early 2002, to be capable of mixing and preparing Scud missile fuel. Scud missile fuel is only useful in Scud missiles," he said. "Why would you continue to produce Scud missile fuel if you didn't have Scuds? We're looking for the Scuds."
Kay's report to Congress said the information on fuel production came from Iraqi sources and has not been confirmed with documents or physical evidence.
Weapons hunters still are looking for chemical weapons at scores of large ammunition storage sites throughout Iraq. Because of the size of the depots, searchers have examined only 10 of 130 sites so far, Kay said.