WASHINGTON — Saddam Hussein did not produce or possess any weapons of mass destruction for more than a decade before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year, according to a comprehensive CIA report released Wednesday.
Hussein intended to someday reconstitute his illicit programs and rebuild at least some of his weapons if United Nations sanctions were eased and he had the opportunity, the report concluded. But the Iraqi regime had no formal, written strategy to revive the banned programs after sanctions, and no staff or infrastructure in place to do so, the investigators found.
The report said that Hussein's illicit-weapons capability was "essentially destroyed" after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and was never rebuilt. It said Hussein considered the U.N. sanctions "an economic stranglehold" that in effect curbed his ability to build or develop weapons in the ensuing 12 years.
The only known attempts to produce illicit weapons came a year after the 2003 invasion, the report said in a new disclosure. In March of this year, investigators found that insurgents in Baghdad were trying to recruit former weapons scientists to develop nerve gases and ricin, a biological toxin, to attack U.S. forces. The discovery led to a series of raids.
The 1,000-page report by Charles A. Duelfer, head of the CIA's Iraq Survey Group weapons-hunting teams, is the most definitive account yet of Iraq's long-defunct weapons programs and comes as the presidential campaign increasingly is focused on President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq primarily to disarm Hussein of suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
More than 1,000 U.S. troops have been killed, and thousands more have been wounded.
Based on 16 months' work, the report vastly expands on previous efforts by U.N. inspectors and Duelfer's predecessor, David Kay.
In his report, and in testimony Wednesday to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Duelfer refuted many of the Bush administration's most dramatic claims before the war, basing his findings in part on extensive information gleaned from interrogations of Hussein and some of his top aides.
Duelfer said, for example, there was no evidence that Hussein sought to import uranium from Africa, as Bush claimed in his 2003 State of the Union speech. Duelfer said investigators also found no evidence that Hussein had passed illicit weapons material to Al Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, or had any intent to do so.
Bush, who delivered a national security campaign speech in Pennsylvania on Wednesday, did not mention the weapons report, but White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters aboard Air Force One that it showed that Hussein "was a threat we needed to take seriously." He said Hussein "retained the intent and capability to produce weapons of mass destruction" and was "working to undermine sanctions."
Democrats seized Wednesday on the dense, three-volume report as proof that Hussein did not pose a threat to the United States before the war, as the White House continues to argue.
"In short, we invaded a country, thousands of people have died, and Iraq never posed a grave or growing danger," said Sen. John D. "Jay" Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said: "The Duelfer report is yet another example that there really are two Americas. There's the one that exists in the Bush fantasy world, and then there's the real America."
Among the report's highlights:
* The Iraqi president had abandoned his nascent nuclear program and had destroyed his stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons by December 1991. No infrastructure or other evidence was found showing that the illicit weapons programs were revived before the 2003 war.
* Hussein knew he had no banned weapons before the war and believed Washington ultimately would make peace with his secular regime to counter the growing power and nuclear threat of what he considered his main enemy: neighboring Iran's Islamic government.
* Hundreds of individuals and companies from around the world, and government agencies and officials in Syria and Yemen, helped funnel conventional weapons and other goods to Iraq in violation of U.N. sanctions and are named in the report.
* Widespread kickbacks and other corruption in the U.N.'s "oil-for-food" program "rescued Baghdad's economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions" and helped subsidize the Iraqi regime. Overall, Hussein amassed more than $11 billion from oil smuggling and other illicit programs.
Duelfer spoke to the Senate Intelligence Committee in closed session Wednesday morning, and then in public to the Senate Armed Services Committee.