You'd think that after the numerous revelations of faulty prewar intelligence and the failure to find the dangerous weapons cache allegedly stockpiled by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration would be shouting from the rooftops about finding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Instead, in a hastily called news conference on Wednesday, a pair of Republican lawmakers told reporters that it turns out we did find those WMDs after all, even though the White House and the intelligence community have admitted that no such weapons caches had been discovered.
According to The Washington Post, Representative Peter Hoekstra, chairman of the House intelligence committee, and Senator Rick Santorum made the announcement, based on an unclassified summary from a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center regarding 500 chemical munitions shells that had been buried near the Iranian border.
"We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Santorum said. Reading from the report, Santorum added, "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."
Of course, most of those weapons were buried by Iraqi troops during their eight-year war with Iran — which ended in 1988 — and were long forgotten.
The military announced in 2004 that several crates of the old shells containing a blister agent that was no longer active had been discovered, but the military, White House and CIA didn't consider the shells evidence of what was alleged by the Bush administration to be a current Iraqi program to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, the Post reported. Wednesday night, intelligence officials reaffirmed that the shells were not the suspected WMDs sought in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and were, for the most part, not in useable condition.
According to Fox News, Santorum said the report warns about the hazards that the chemical weapons could still pose to coalition troops in Iraq as the chemicals inside them degrade as well as the danger of them falling into insurgent hands or being shipped to other terrorists outside Iraq.
"This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq," added Hoekstra. Though the report was declassified in April, Hoekstra was at a loss to explain why the Bush administration didn't seize on the information as proof that its rationale for war was in fact justified. According to Fox News, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has instead been looking forward and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.
As the Senate debates a Democratic push to set a timetable for bringing troops home from Iraq, Santorum pointed to the declassified document about the long-buried, largely unusable weapons as proof that his colleagues are not telling the truth. "This is an incredibly — in my mind — significant finding," Santorum said. "The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false."
Because of the new information, Hoekstra vowed to ask intelligence agencies for further reporting on what weapons existed in Iraq before the war. A 2004 report by the multinational Iraq Survey Group found evidence of WMD-related activities, but no actual WMD stockpiles.