Sunday, October 10, 2004

We interrupt this report that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction to bring you this bulletin: His terrorist regime was secretly planning to reproduce them as soon as it was feasible.

The dominant national news media single-mindedly focused last week on U.S. weapons inspector Charles Duelfer’s conclusion he found little or no evidence of WMD production (nothing new here, the previous U.S. weapons inspector said the same thing). But another key finding in Mr. Duelfer’s report did not get the same high-visibility treatment from most media, at least as of this writing. This aspect has so far been buried just as deeply as Saddam has probably buried the evidence of WMDs in Iraq’s deserts. (Remember the buried Russian jets Saddam’s henchmen buried, discovered last year in remote regions of Iraq?)

But if you peer deeply into the 1,000-page report released last Wednesday, you’ll read this: “Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capacity — which was essentially destroyed in 1991 — after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities.”

Indeed, Mr. Duelfer went even further in public testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee Wednesday, saying “Saddam sought to sustain the requisite knowledge base to restart the program eventually.”

Mr. Duelfer, who interviewed Saddam and his chief lieutenants, also added the Butcher of Baghdad hoped to safeguard his “inherent capability to produce such weapons as circumstances permitted in the future.”

Among his other deadly long-term intentions, the weapons inspections chief said Saddam particularly hoped to restart his chemical weapons program after U.N. sanctions were lifted.

Everywhere you look in this report there are deadly details of Saddam’s evil, war-making intentions as soon as the civilized world dropped our guard. Take, for example, his plans to develop long-range missiles.

U.N. weapons inspectors had already uncovered efforts to develop a much more powerful missile just weeks before President Bush decided to topple Saddam’s regime. Since then, U.S. inspectors found new evidence Saddam planned to reconfigure Iraq’s Al-Samoud 2 missile and other types of missiles to hit targets far beyond his borders.

The United Nations had imposed a 93-mile limit on Iraq’s defensive missiles, but Mr. Duelfer’s team uncovered plans and blueprints for missiles that had the ability to hit targets 10 times that distance. Inspectors said they “uncovered Iraqi plans or designs for three long-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 400 to 1,000 kilometers (250 to 621 miles), and for a 1,000-km-range cruise missile,” the report said.

Mr. Duelfer’s report concluded Saddam “clearly intended to reconstitute long-range delivery systems.” If those missiles were built, they could have been used to deliver nuclear, biological and chemical warheads, the report said.

Similar WMD warnings are sprinkled throughout the report. While it maintains Iraq’s nuclear program had “progressively decayed,” Saddam kept his nuclear scientists at work in their labs and inspectors found nuclear-related documents and other technology connected to his uranium enrichment program.

In another report section, inspectors said “Saddam never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical weapons effort when sanctions were lifted.” Mr. Duelfer’s Iraq Survey Group said there had been a “stream of reports about hidden WMD locations.” One of them contained a “partially filled nerve agent container from a 122-mm rocket.”

It is no surprise that of the 30 Iraqi scientists (out of 130 who worked on Saddam’s chemical weapons programs) who were interviewed by the weapons inspectors, “None of those interviewed had any knowledge of chemical weapons programs” or could name anyone who did.

Fear of revenge from Saddam loyalists and terrorists, who have already murdered a number of Iraqi scientists since the war, still grips this scientific community.

Most of the national news media in this town thinks and no doubt hopes this report will further undermine Mr. Bush’s justification for going to war in Iraq. It is more than just a coincidence Mr. Duelfer decided to release his report just three weeks before the election.

But Mr. Bush went to war with many justifications, not the least of which was that Saddam’s regime was a dangerous, destabilizing force that harbored, financed and encouraged terrorism in the region, and that he was part and parcel in the war on terrorism, a conclusion a majority of Americans believe, too, according to the polls.

Many of the underreported details in Mr. Duelfer’s lengthy document remind us of Saddam’s fanatical warmaking intentions and his evil WMD plans for the future. Perhaps more importantly, the telling of it underscores the wisdom of Mr. Bush’s pre-emptive doctrine to eliminate this dangerous threat before he was capable of striking again.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent of The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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