Union Tribune

July 16, 2003

Rep. Harman questions justification for Iraq war

By Toby Eckert

WASHINGTON Returning from a fact-finding trip to Iraq, Rep. Jane Harman yesterday said stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons might not be found there and U.S. intelligence "relied more than it should have on circumstantial indicators of Iraq's (weapons) programs rather than solid facts."

"The emerging evidence in Iraq does point to WMD (weapons of mass destruction) programs but does not point to the existence of large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons," the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said. The representative from Los Angeles County stopped short of ruling out weapons would be found.

"The question remains: Was the threat to the United States posed by Iraq sufficiently imminent to justify . . . military action?" said Harman, who represents the south coastal suburbs of Los Angeles and supported the war.

Nonetheless, she said, "I do think the action to prevent Saddam Hussein from proliferating weapons of mass destruction was a just action."

Some other committee members who accompanied Harman on the three-day trip to Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Italy were less critical in their assessments of prewar intelligence. The members spent a day in Iraq.

"We all know there were weapons of mass destruction. What happened to them? That really is the pressing question," said Committee Chairman Porter Goss, R-Fla. "Are they buried in the desert and harmless? Are they in some other country? Are they in the back of a van somewhere? Are they in terrorist possession? That's a question that demands an urgent response."

As questions mount about intelligence the Bush administration used to justify the war against Iraq, Harman said U.S. intelligence officials failed to adequately explain the nature of Iraq's weapons program, particularly the amount of deception it relied upon. The officials left the impression the United States would find a highly visible, Soviet-style arsenal, she said.

Goss and other committee members agreed.

"I think that the intelligence community underestimated the amount of trashing and looting, denial and deception," while it overestimated how much the Iraqi public would welcome U.S. troops as liberators, he said.

The committee members said capturing Hussein and his two sons, Uday and Qusay, or confirming their deaths would significantly aid efforts to stabilize Iraq and answer questions surrounding the regime's weapons programs. U.S. officials in Iraq are translating and reviewing "71/2 miles of captured documents" that may relate to weapons programs, the members said.

The Intelligence Committee is reviewing wide-ranging prewar intelligence, including a claim Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa, and it plans to hold a public hearing on the matter next week.

Pressure on the Bush administration has intensified since the White House acknowledged Bush shouldn't have made the uranium claim in his State of the Union address because it was based on faulty intelligence.

Harman said CIA Director George Tenet was right to take responsibility for allowing the claim to remain in Bush's speech. But, she added:

"I'm certainly interested . . . in knowing what happened next. And I do think that the buck ultimately stops on the president's desk, that he has responsibility for the statements he makes."

At a news conference with the other committee members who traveled to Iraq, Harman delivered a critique of prewar intelligence she called "tentative conclusions" based on the trip and the committee's review.

She said the intelligence provided to Congress "did not adequately highlight the gaps and uncertainties" and the administration "consistently omitted the caveats and qualifiers that the intelligence community generally attached to its assessments of Iraq's (weapons) programs and ties to terrorists."

Efforts to rebuild Iraq and locate weapons "got off to a slow start through inadequate planning and insufficient use of available expertise on recent nation-building efforts," she added.

The weapons search has been hampered by extensive looting "some of which appears to be systematic and targeted," she said.

"The intelligence community did not adequately warn about the prospects for looting, which probably could have been prevented by operations on the ground during and after the conflict."

Based on what she knows now, Harman said she would still have supported the congressional resolution authorizing the Iraq war, but might have pressed for more time for U.N. weapons inspections.