White House - Hunt for Iraqi WMD ends

Thursday, January 13, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The White House acknowledged Wednesday that its hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction -- a two-year search costing millions of dollars -- has closed down without finding the stockpiles that President Bush cited as a justification for overthrowing Saddam Hussein.

Bush's spokesman said the president had no regrets about invading Iraq.

"Based on what we know today, the president would have taken the same action because this is about protecting the American people," said press secretary Scott McClellan.

The Iraq Survey Group -- made up of as many as 1,500 military and intelligence specialists and support staff -- is ending its search of military installations, factories and laboratories where it was thought that equipment and products might be converted to making weapons.

McClellan said the active search had virtually ended. "There may be a couple, a few people that are focused on that," he said, adding that they would handle any future reports that might come in.

At a meeting last month, McClellan said Bush thanked the chief U.S. weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, for his work. A special adviser to the CIA director, Duelfer will deliver a final edition of a report on Iraq's weapons next month. McClellan said it is not expected to fundamentally differ from the findings of a report last fall.

Duelfer said then that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had not made any since 1991. However, he said the government harbored intentions of recreating its weapons programs and had gone to great lengths to manipulate the U.N. oil-for-food program.

In an interview Wednesday with Barbara Walters of ABC News, Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq.

"I felt like we'd find weapons of mass destruction -- like many here in the United States, many around the world," Bush said in the interview, to be broadcast Friday night. "We need to find out what went wrong in the intelligence gathering. ... Saddam was dangerous and the world is safer without him in power."

In a statement, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California said Bush "needs to explain to the American people why he was so wrong, for so long, about the reasons for war."

The end of the weapons hunt comes as the Bush administration struggles with a dangerous security situation in Iraq leading up to Jan. 30 elections.

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