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Questions remain over Iraqi weapons

By BILL ADAIR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 25, 2003

WASHINGTON -- So where are the weapons of mass destruction?

Five days into the war to disarm Iraq of chemical and biological weapons, U.S. troops have yet to find any.

They have seized a plant that might contain the weapons, but by Monday afternoon, they had not confirmed the contents.

Defense analysts and U.S. officials say it is still early in the war and they are confident that weapons of mass destruction -- known as "WMD" in military shorthand -- will be found.

"I would bet my mortgage we'll find WMD," said Tom Donnelly, a defense analyst with the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.

But finding the weapons will take time, Donnelly said. "We have things that are of more immediate priority -- winning the war -- than digging up things that have been hidden."

Gen. Tommy Franks, the head of Central Command, said Monday that coalition forces have received "several handfuls of bits of information" about possible weapons sites, but have not had time to explore them all yet.

"It's a bit early for us to have an expectation of having found them," Franks said at a briefing in Doha, Qatar.

Political analysts say discovery of the weapons would help President Bush justify the controversial war.

"If the military forces uncover WMD, then Bush is vindicated," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of communication at the University of Pennsylvania. "This is an incredible gamble. We could go through this entire war and find no WMD, in which case the (opponents) are vindicated."

One scenario discussed by U.S. commanders is that the Iraqis will use the weapons on U.S. troops as they get close to Baghdad.

"There is a school of thought that says as the compression becomes tighter and tighter and tighter, the pressure will be greater and greater to use these weapons," Franks said at a briefing.

A chemical or biological attack on U.S. troops could have a dramatic impact on public opinion, said William Galston, a former adviser to President Clinton who now works as a professor of public policy at the University of Maryland.

"It will prove beyond any doubt whatsoever that the administration has been right all along and that Saddam Hussein has been lying all along," Galston said.

A new Gallup poll conducted over the weekend for USA Today and CNN found almost nine out of 10 Americans believe it is at least somewhat likely that the United States will find conclusive evidence of the weapons. The public is split about whether that is crucial: 41 percent believe it will be necessary to find such weapons for the war to be justified, while 38 percent say the war will be justified regardless of whether such weapons are found.

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