- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

The Pentagon announced yesterday it is sending a new, expanded team of inspectors to Iraq to solve the puzzle of whether ousted strongman Saddam Hussein harbored huge stocks of banned weapons or U.S. intelligence was wrong in saying he did.

Army Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton will head the Iraq Survey Team of some 1,400 American, British and Australian specialists.

The bigger team will replace the 75th Exploitation Task Force, a unit of several hundred that has not found chemical or biological weapons in inspecting 200 suspected weapons sites on a list of 900.

“Do I think we’re going to find something?” Gen. Dayton asked himself at a Pentagon news conference. “Yeah, I kind of do.

“This is not necessarily going to be quick and easy,” the Bush administration’s new chief weapons detective added, “but it will be very thorough.”

President Bush largely based his decision to invade Iraq and oust Saddam on the CIA’s assessment that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction and that they could one day fall into the hands of murderous al Qaeda terrorists.

The allies’ failure to find such weapons seven weeks after Baghdad fell April 9 has stirred some Democrats and antiwar activists to charge that the president sent troops to war under false pretenses. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has come under similar attack at home.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and other top U.S. officials counter that the search is still young. They say Saddam oversaw a complex deception program that is proving tough to crack.

Officials also say that all top Iraqi Ba’ath Party operatives in coalition custody are sticking to Baghdad’s assertion that all banned weapons were destroyed. Officials view this as a continuation of Saddam’s deception program.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a prime administration advocate of going to war, yesterday was the target of new criticism from antiwar activists in Europe over an interview he gave May 9 to Vanity Fair magazine.

In the lengthy interview, Mr. Wolfowitz explained the three main justifications for toppling Saddam, with weapons of mass destruction being the one issue all policy-makers agreed on in the internal debates.

“The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason,” he said, according to the Pentagon’s official transcript.

In the Vanity Fair article, the quote came out different: “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on.”

Asked about the quote yesterday during a visit to Singapore, Mr. Wolfowitz urged reporters to read the Pentagon’s transcript.

In Europe, the interview stirred new charges.

Former Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen told the Associated Press, “It leaves the world with one question: What should we believe?”

In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper said, “The charge of deception is inescapable.”

At the Pentagon, officials announced an entirely new inspection regime headed by Gen. Dayton, currently director of operations at the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency.

“The Iraq Survey Group represents a significant expansion of effort in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction,” Gen. Dayton told reporters.

The group will operate an expanded intelligence collection and interrogation center in Baghdad and an analytical center in Qatar, U.S. Central Command’s forward headquarters.

The new team will seek not only to answer the question of weapons of mass destruction, but also to investigate Iraqi war crimes. The team will field about the same number of searchers — 200 to 300 — as did the 75th Exploitation Task Force. But it will add about 1,000 personnel who will try to piece scraps of intelligence information into a clearer picture.

“The goal is to put all the pieces together in what is appearing to be a very complex jigsaw puzzle,” Gen. Dayton said. “The ISG represents a major change in the search for WMD in Iraq. … This will be a deliberate process and it will be a long-term effort. … I’m optimistic we will have success.”

Gen. Dayton also announced a change in strategy. Instead of going to fixed sites identified before the war by U.S. intelligence, the team will let newly discovered evidence lead them to suspected areas.

“It may be more important to find out who the guard was and what he knows at a particular site than maybe a high-value target guy who may not want to tell us anything,” the two-star officer said.

Asked why sites identified before the war turned up empty of banned weapons, Gen. Dayton said: “Things could have been either taken and buried. They could have been transported, or they could have been destroyed. It doesn’t mean they weren’t there when we thought they were there.”

Earlier yesterday, the top Marine Corps officer in Iraq, Lt. Gen. James Conway, said he was “real surprised” that Iraqi Republican Guard units did not unleash chemical weapons.

Gen. Conway’s 1st Marine Expeditionary Force drove from Kuwait to Baghdad on the eastern front, crossing the Tigris River and entering Baghdad, where a Marine tank-recovery vehicle pulled down a statue of Saddam. He said the U.S. assumption that Iraqis would use the weapons “were simply wrong.”

Gen. Conway’s Marines now are keeping the peace in cities south of Baghdad. The predominately Shi’ite populations generally welcome them, the general said.

“We go about that tasking in a no-nonsense manner,” he told Pentagon reporters via a video teleconference from Iraq. “What we tell the Iraqis is that we’re here to do a job. Don’t get in our way, and nobody will get hurt. You will like the results. Interfere with our efforts or threaten our forces in any way, and there will be consequences.”

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