U.S. under the gun, starts new hunt for Iraq's WMD

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The Bush administration has been stung by accusations that it falsely accused Baghdad of harboring weapons of mass destruction and has launched a new, intensified search for Iraq's biological and chemical weapons.

U.S. officials said the Defense Department has organized an operation that will focus on the search for WMD in Iraq. They said the operation would concentrate authority for the mission in a group that would include up to 1,400 personnel and supported by military units from the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

The newly-established Iraq Survey Group will take over for the 75th Exploitation Task Force for the search of WMD in Iraq, officials said.

The 75th Exploitation Task Force has been searching for WMD based on a list of 900 suspected sites in Iraq, Middle East Newsline reported. Officials said the list, drafted by U.S. intelligence agencies in January and February, is no longer deemed as credible.

The officials said the ISG will begin operations on Saturday bolstered by intensified coordination with U.S. intelligence agencies.

"We said all along that we will never get to the bottom of the Iraqi WMD program simply by going and searching specific sites," Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said, "that you'd have to be able to get people who know about the programs to talk to you."

"The ISG represents a major change in the search for WMD in Iraq," Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton, director at the Defense Intelligence Agency, said. "It builds on the work already done, but with its robust analytical capability [deployed] forward, and consolidation of the various intelligence disciplines operating now under one national-level headquarters [deployed] forward in Iraq, the ISG is well-positioned to achieve some real synergy here as we continue the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and delve into other areas of national interest."

[On Monday, the Washington Post quoted a White House document that reported that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had decentralized his WMD programs and concealed production equipment within commercial faciilties. The White House document was based on an interrogation of an Iraqi scientist.]

Dayton said the new group represents "a significant expansion" of the ongoing work in the search for Iraqi WMD. In a briefing on Friday, he said the ISG will ensure an augmented force to search for Iraqi biological and chemical weapons as well as the consolidation of a range of intelligence-gathering operations with headquarters in Baghdad.

"Moreover, the ISG will have a powerful intelligence analytical element forward-deployed in the region, with virtual connectivity to an interagency intelligence community fusion center here in the [Washington] D.C. area," Dayton said.

The ISG, Dayton said, will collect documents as well as open-source material that concern terrorism and information on war crimes, prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. He said the group will have between 1,300 to 1,400 personnel and recruit from both Australian and British forces. This includes former United Nations weapons inspectors.

"It will interrogate and debrief individuals, both hostile and friendly, and it will exploit captured materiel," Dayton said.

Officials said the ISG will contain an interrogation/debriefing center; materiel exploitation center, chemical and biological intelligence support teams and operation center. They said operations will also be directed from Qatar, where U.S. Central Command maintains an advanced command and control system.

"This is going to be a deliberate process [and] a long-term process as well," Dayton said. "This is not necessarily going to be quick and easy, but it will be very thorough."

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