WMD Backgrounder

GEORGE BUSH, US PRESIDENT: With nuclear arms, there are a full arsenal of chemical and biological weapons Saddam Hussein could.

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As America tried to sell its war on Iraq to the world, the constant mantra from George Bush and his defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, was that Iraq possessed massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction and was developing more, including nuclear weapons.

GEORGE BUSH: The Iraqi regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised.

Iraq’s weapons supposedly posed a clear and present danger to the world, even more so because of Iraq’s alleged links to al-Qa’ida and other terrorist groups. US and British intelligence was constantly referred to buttress the argument, but the details were never revealed. The world was asked to take a leap of faith on the basis of secret intelligence offered from both sides of the Atlantic.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PM: The threat from Saddam Hussein and weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological, potentially nuclear weapons capability – that threat is real.

The case for war was essentially replicated in Australia by PM John Howard and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer with unseen intelligence referred to back up the case.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, FOREIGN MINISTER; Australian intelligence agencies report Iraq’s continuing attempts to procure equipment, material and technologies that could assist its weapons of mass destruction program.

After more than two months on the ground in Iraq, allied troops have found virtually no chemical, biological or nuclear material or missiles. Virtually all references to an al-Qa’ida presence in Iraq have ceased and on the question of illegal weapons, it now appears there may have been little or nothing to disarm in the first place. In a remarkable statement last week, Donald Rumsfeld announced that there may be no weapons to discover.

DONALD RUMSFELD, US DEFENCE SECRETARY: It is also possible that they decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict and I don’t know the answer and I suspect we’ll find out a lot more information as we go along and keep interrogating people.

Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, made an even more candid assessment. According to Wolfowitz, weapons of mass destruction were never America’s primary concern but were chosen, he says, for bureaucratic reasons because it was one issue that everyone could agree on. It was a devastating admission for those countries who’d followed the US into Iraq supposedly to disarm and destroy the weapons of mass destruction. For the past three days, Tony Blair has been under intense attack for misrepresenting intelligence and for lying to parliament. A parliamentary inquiry has just been announced.

TONY BLAIR: The idea that we doctored such intelligence is completely and totally false.

His chief critics were formerly his closest allies. Two cabinet ministers have resigned in protest over the war, including Robin Cook, who now accuses Blair of misrepresenting the available intelligence about Iraq to the British people and parliament. The misuse and politicisation of intelligence has prompted numerous leaks and some resignations from intelligence agencies, advisers and other officials in Britain, the US and Australia. Andrew Wilkie resigned from one of Australia’s peak intelligence organisations, the Office of National Assessments, in March, claiming that intelligence was being manipulated to make the case for war. The ONA is the main gateway between Australia’s intelligence agencies to the Cabinet and Prime Minister.