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The National Security Archive at George Washington University

CONSORTIUM NEWS - Edited by Robert Parry


May 31, 2003

Top Marine General: Admin 'Simply Wrong' About Iraq Chem Weapons

'US Intel "Simply Wrong" on Chemical Attack - General' (5/30/03 - Reuters)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. intelligence was "simply wrong" in leading military commanders to believe their troops were likely to be attacked with chemical weapons in the Iraq war, the top U.S. Marine general there said on Friday.

But Lt. Gen. James Conway said in a teleconference with reporters at the Pentagon that it was too early to say whether the United States also was wrong in charging that Iraq had chemical and biological arms when the invasion began 2-1/2 months ago.

"We were simply wrong," he said of the assessment that chemical shells or other weapons were ready in southern Iraq and likely to be used against invaders by deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces.

"Whether or not we are wrong at the national level I think still very much remains to be seen. ... 'Intelligence failure,' I think, is still too strong a word to use at this point," added the commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force who was speaking from Hilla, 62 miles south of Baghdad.

U.S. forces have been scouring Iraq -- thus far unsuccessfully -- for chemical and biological weapons. The United States cited the need to rid Iraq of such weapons of mass destruction as a key reason for the war.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials have expressed confidence that such arms will be found, although Rumsfeld this week conceded that Iraq may have decided to destroy them ahead of the invasion.

Conway said he was convinced when U.S. and British troops swept into Iraq from Kuwait that they would come under chemical or biological attack before they reached Baghdad.

But such shells have not been found even in ammunition storage sites, he told reporters.

"It was a surprise to me then. It remains a surprise to me now that we have not uncovered weapons ... in some of the forward dispersal sites," said Conway.

"Believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been through virtually every ammunition supply site between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad. But they're simply not there."

U.S. and British troops carried chemical masks and protective outfits into Iraq during the invasion and donned them frequently early in the war in anticipation of possible attack.

"What the regime was intending to do ... in terms of its use of weapons we thought we understood," the general said.

"We certainly had our best guess -- our most dangerous, our most likely courses of action -- that the intelligence folks were giving us."

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