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Tuesday, July 15

Key lawmakers predict Saddam's arsenal will be found

By John Yaukey and Larry Wheeler | GNS

WASHINGTON - Evidence of Saddam Hussein's programs to make weapons of mass destruction will eventually be found, key House members just back from Iraq predicted Tuesday.

Reps. Porter Goss, R-Fla., and Jane Harman, D-Calif., leading members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, warned that the findings might not be what Americans expect.

Harman said the weapons programs were probably smaller than originally thought and highly decentralized, which will make them difficult to find in a desert nation the size of California.

"We had in mind a different model - a Soviet-style model where we would find fields of tanks,'' Harman said. "It's not like that. The evidence points to programs, but not large stockpiles.''

Finding evidence of banned weapons in Iraq would go a long way in defusing the pressure on the administration to back claims by President Bush that Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction represented an imminent threat to the United States.

One of those claims made in Bush's Jan. 28 State of the Union address - that Saddam was seeking to acquire uranium ore from Africa - turned out to be based on unsubstantiated intelligence from Britain. It has forced CIA Director George Tenet to admit that he should have made sure the statement never appeared in the speech and has bolstered troubling questions about whether the Bush administration manipulated intelligence on Iraq.

"Are we using or abusing intelligence?'' Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., asked Tuesday.

Goss and Harman, who met with coalition officials July 10 in Baghdad, stressed that Saddam's regime had years to develop an elaborate strategy to hide its banned weapons.

"We all know there were weapons of mass destruction,'' Goss said. "Where are they? That is a question that demands an urgent response.''

Iraq's infamous al-Hakam agricultural products plant southwest of Baghdad is an often-cited case study in how difficult and time-consuming it can be to find biological weapons.

In the early 1990s, United Nations weapons inspectors suspected the massive facility was being used to make biowarfare agents. But it took several teams of inspectors more than a year to make the determination largely because the facility could also be used to make legal agricultural products.