WASHINGTON – The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.
“We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons,” Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.
Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: “Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.”
He added that the report warns about the hazards that the chemical weapons could still pose to coalition troops in Iraq.
“The purity of the agents inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal,” Santorum read from the document.
“This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions.
Hoekstra said the report, completed in April but only declassified now, shows that “there is still a lot about Iraq that we don’t fully understand.”
Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn’t advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.
Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.
“This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991,” the official said, adding the munitions “are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.”
The official said the findings did raise questions about the years of weapons inspections that had not resulted in locating the fairly sizeable stash of chemical weapons. And he noted that it may say something about Hussein’s intent and desire. The report does suggest that some of the weapons were likely put on the black market and may have been used outside Iraq.
He also said that the Defense Department statement shortly after the March 2003 invasion saying that “we had all known weapons facilities secured,” has proven itself to be untrue.
“It turned out the whole country was an ammo dump,” he said, adding that on more than one occasion, a conventional weapons site has been uncovered and chemical weapons have been discovered mixed within them.
Hoekstra and Santorum lamented that Americans were given the impression after a 16-month search conducted by the Iraq Survey Group that the evidence of continuing research and development of weapons of mass destruction was insignificant. But the National Ground Intelligence Center took up where the ISG left off when it completed its report in November 2004, and in the process of collecting intelligence for the purpose of force protection for soldiers and sailors still on the ground in Iraq, has shown that the weapons inspections were incomplete, they and others have said.
“We know it was there, in place, it just wasn’t operative when inspectors got there after the war, but we know what the inspectors found from talking with the scientists in Iraq that it could have been cranked up immediately, and that’s what Saddam had planned to do if the sanctions against Iraq had halted and they were certainly headed in that direction,” said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard and a FOX News contributor.
“It is significant. Perhaps, the administration just, they think they weathered the debate over WMD being found there immediately and don’t want to return to it again because things are otherwise going better for them, and then, I think, there’s mindless resistance to releasing any classified documents from Iraq,” Barnes said.
The release of the declassified materials comes as the Senate debates Democratic proposals to create a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. The debate has had the effect of creating disunity among Democrats, a majority of whom shrunk Wednesday from an amendment proposed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to have troops to be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next year.
At the same time, congressional Republicans have stayed highly united, rallying around a White House that has seen successes in the last couple weeks, first with the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the completion of the formation of Iraq’s Cabinet and then the announcement Tuesday that another key Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, “religious emir” Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, was also killed in a U.S. airstrike.
Santorum pointed out that during Wednesday’s debate, several Senate Democrats said that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, a claim, he said, that the declassified document proves is untrue.
“This is an incredibly — in my mind — significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false,” he said.
As a result of this new information, under the aegis of his chairmanship, Hoekstra said he is going to ask for more reporting by the various intelligence agencies about weapons of mass destruction.
“We are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war,” Hoekstra said.
— FOX News’ Jim Angle and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.