The hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq has come to an end nearly two years after President Bush ordered U.S. troops to disarm Saddam Hussein. The top CIA weapons hunter is home, and analysts are back at Langley.
In interviews, officials who served with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) said the violence in Iraq, coupled with a lack of new information, led them to fold up the effort shortly before Christmas.
Four months after Charles A. Duelfer, who led the weapons hunt in 2004, submitted an interim report to Congress that contradicted nearly every prewar assertion about Iraq made by top Bush administration officials, a senior intelligence official said the findings will stand as the ISG's final conclusions and will be published this spring.
Asked if the ISG had stopped actively searching for WMD, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said today: "That's my understanding." He added, "A lot of their mission is focused elsewhere now."
Duelfer "is continuing to wrap things up at this point on an addendum to the report which will be issued sometime next month," McClellan said. "That's not going to fundamentally alter the findings of his earlier report."
President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials asserted before the U.S. invasion in March 2003 that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, had chemical and biological weapons, and maintained links to al Qaeda affiliates to whom it might give such weapons to use against the United States.
Bush has expressed disappointment that no weapons or weapons programs were found, but the White House had been reluctant to call off the hunt, holding out the possibility that weapons were moved out of Iraq before the war or are well hidden somewhere inside the country. But the intelligence official said that possibility is very small.
Duelfer is back in Washington, finishing some addenda to his September report before it is reprinted.
"There's no particular news in them, just some odds and ends," the intelligence official said. The Government Printing Office will publish it in book form, the official said.
The CIA declined to authorize any official involved in the weapons search to speak on the record for this story. The intelligence official offered an authoritative account of the status of the hunt on the condition of anonymity. The agency did confirm that Duelfer is wrapping up his work and will not be replaced in Baghdad.
The ISG, established to search for weapons but now enmeshed in counterinsurgency work, remains under Pentagon command and is being led by Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Joseph McMenamin.
Intelligence officials said there is little left for the ISG to investigate because Duelfer's last report answered as many outstanding questions as possible. The ISG has interviewed every person it could find connected to programs that ended more than 10 years ago, and every suspected site within Iraq has been fully searched, or stripped bare by insurgents and thieves, according to several people involved in the weapons hunt.
Satellite photos show that entire facilities have been dismantled, possibly by scrap dealers who sold off parts and equipment to buyers around the world.
"The September 30 report is really pretty much the picture," the intelligence official said.