Saturday, March 11, 2006

Iraq Seen Likely To Still Seek WMDs

By Timothy M. Phelps, Washington Bureau Chief
Long Island Newsday
March 10, 2006

WASHINGTON - A former top CIA official said yesterday that despite the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is likely to be looking for weapons of mass destruction within the next five to 10 years.

Paul Pillar, who until last year was in charge of intelligence assessments for the Middle East, said the CIA warned the Bush administration before the Iraq invasion in 2003 that a change of regimes would not necessarily solve any WMD problem.

In a speech at the Middle East Institute here, Pillar said Iraqis live in "a dangerous neighborhood," with rival countries pursuing weapons of mass destruction. So the CIA had warned that a future Iraqi government would be likely to want the very weapons Hussein was (wrongly) suspected of hiding, including nuclear weapons, he said.

"Iraq may turn once again to ... a WMD program," Pillar, who is retired from the CIA, said yesterday. "And wouldn't that be ironic?"

Pillar recently published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine that for the first time fully laid out the CIA's side of the battle with the Bush administration over Iraq intelligence.

Pillar charges that the administration never sought strategic assessments from the CIA about Iraq. He said in his article that the Bush administration made its decision to go to war and then "cherry-picked" items from intelligence assessments in an effort to justify the decision to the public.

The biggest discrepancy between the CIA's intelligence and the administration's line on Iraq was the claim by Bush that there was a relationship between Hussein and al-Qaida, Pillar wrote. There was no intelligence supporting that theory, Pillar said, but the administration wanted to capitalize on "the country's militant post-9/11 mood," he wrote.

Pillar wrote that the intelligence community, on its own initiative, warned the administration before the war that there was a significant chance of violent conflict in Iraq and that the war would probably boost radical Islam throughout the Middle East.

In his speech, Pillar said Iraq is serving the same purpose that Afghanistan once did, as an inspiration and a base for radical Islam.

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