WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush said yesterday that Iraq
undoubtedly posed a threat to America last year and the U.S.-led
invasion was justified, despite his outgoing arms inspector’s
conclusion that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass
destruction.

Laura Wong
Bush answers questions on evidence of weapons of mass destruction and states he has “great confidence” in the intelligence community yesterday in the Oval Office of the White House. (AP PHOTO)

But Bush and his aides backed away from oft-stated predictions
that such weapons will eventually be found in Iraq. And the
president deflected questions about the discrepancies between his
dire warnings on Iraq and Kay’s findings.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein was a
grave and gathering threat to America and the world,” Bush
said. “And I say that based upon intelligence that I saw
prior to the decision to go into Iraq and I say that based upon
what I know today. And the world is better off without
him.”

Kay believes his team’s failure to find banned weapons in
Iraq points to problems in the intelligence suggesting they were
there, and he said over the weekend that the CIA owes Bush an
explanation.

Bush, during a meeting with Polish President Aleksander
Kwasniewski, said he had “great confidence in our
intelligence community,” and he displayed no interest in such
an accounting from the CIA.

The president said he wanted to let American weapons inspectors
complete their search in Iraq before drawing conclusions. That work
is 85 percent complete, Kay has said.

Last year, the president made Iraq’s alleged weapons cache
a central rationale for the Iraq invasion.

On Jan. 22, 2003, Bush told an audience in St. Louis, “The
dictator of Iraq has got weapons of mass destruction.” On the
eve of the war in March, he said, “Intelligence gathered by
this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime
continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons
ever devised.”

Sunday, after nine months of searching, Kay said, “I
don’t think they exist.” Kay quit his post on
Friday.

Bush cited other reasons yesterday behind his decision to go to
war, and he tried to direct Americans’ attention to the
future of Iraq, not his own past assertions.

“America is more secure, the world is safer, and the
people of Iraq are free,” Bush said.

“We’re now at the business of making sure Iraq is
free and democratic,” Bush said. “That’s
important, as well, for long-term stability and peace in the world,
and we’re making good progress toward that goal.”

Bush made no mention of twin roadside bombings west of Baghdad
that killed three American soldiers yesterday.

The Polish leader offered his own defense of Bush, saying many
experts believed before the war that Iraq had built banned weapons.
Kwasniewski said a top U.N. weapons inspector had told him several
months before the invasion that “Saddam has these weapons or
is ready to produce these weapons.”

Senate minority leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) demanded a new
investigation by an independent commission, or a broadened probe by
the Senate Intelligence Committee, into the
“administration’s role in the intelligence failures
leading up to the war with Iraq.” The Republican-controlled
Senate Intelligence Committee is currently looking into what the
CIA knew before the war, but the scope doesn’t include the
Bush administration’s role. Bush ignored a reporter’s
question about whether he would support or resist a new probe.

Daschle’s request for a new inquiry led to a testy
exchange in the Cabinet Room yesterday afternoon. Bush met with
congressional leaders of both parties, and Daschle told him it was
important to get to the bottom of whether intelligence was
misused.

Bush denied his administration had manipulated intelligence to
bolster the case for war, and told lawmakers Kay’s search had
been worthwhile, according to a participant in the meeting. Bush
said he had not given up on the weapons hunt.

Daschle replied that it is crucial such an apparent intelligence
failure does not happen again, noting that many lawmakers had based
their votes on authorizing force on the intelligence.

Democratic presidential contenders grabbed hold of Kay’s
conclusion on the absence of banned weapons as they made 11th-hour
appeals to New Hampshire voters.

“The administration did cook the books,” Howard Dean
told reporters. “I think that’s pretty
serious.”

Bush broke a pledge to go to war “legitimately, as a last
resort,” Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said on ABC’s
“Good Morning America.”

American voters “want a foreign policy that’s based
on truth and that actually makes America stronger, doesn’t
put it at greater risk,” Kerry said.

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