United States President George Bush and his top policymakers exaggerated Saddam Hussein’s links to terrorism and ignored doubts among intelligence agencies about Iraq’s arms programnes as they made their case for war, a Senate committee reported on Thursday.
The Senate intelligence committee said in a study that major Bush administration statements that Iraq had a partnership with al-Qaeda and provided it with weapons training were unsupported by intelligence, and sometimes contradicted it.
It also said statements on Iraq’s weapons before the March 2003 US-led invasion were substantiated in most cases by available US intelligence, but that they failed to reflect internal debate over those findings.
The long-delayed Senate study supported previous reports and findings that the administration’s main case for war — that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction — was inaccurate and deeply flawed.
”The president and his advisors undertook a relentless public campaign in the aftermath of the [September 11 2001) attacks to use the war against al-Qaeda as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein,” intelligence committee chairperson John Rockefeller said in written commentary on the report.
”Representing to the American people that the two had an operational partnership and posed a single, indistinguishable threat was fundamentally misleading and led the nation to war on false pretenses.”
The report also cited at least one statement — by then-Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that the Iraqi government operated underground weapons of mass destruction facilities — that was not backed up by intelligence information.
The committee voted 10-five to approve the report, with two Republican lawmakers supporting it. Senator Christopher Bond and three other Republican panel members denounced the study in an attached dissent as a ”partisan exercise”.
White House spokesperson Dana Perino cited Republican objections to the report, but said the issue of inaccurate intelligence had been previously aired.
”We had the intelligence that we had, fully vetted, but it was wrong. We certainly regret that and we’ve taken measures to fix it,” Perino said.
US public opinion, supportive of the war at the start, has soured on the war in the last few years, contributing to a dive in Bush’s popularity.
The conflict is likely to be a key issue in the November presidential election between Republican John McCain, who supports the war, and Democrat Barack Obama, who opposed the war from the start and says he would aim to pull US troops out within 16 months of taking office in January 2009.
Rockefeller has previously announced his support for Obama.
A second report by the committee faulted the administration’s handling of December 2001 Rome meetings between defence officials and Iranian informants, which dealt with the Iranian issue and not Iraq.
It said Department of Defence officials collected potentially useful intelligence information at the meeting that they failed to share with other intelligence agencies.
Rockefeller said the committee’s report on the defence department ”paints a disturbing picture of Pentagon policy officials” who gathered intelligence on their own and kept others in the dark.
He said the department ”demonstrated a fundamental disdain for the intelligence community’s role in vetting sensitive sources”. – Reuters 2008