March 9th, 2010
06:33 PM ET

Karl Rove hunts for Iraq's WMDs

Karl Rove, former President George W. Bush's top political adviser, is out with a  memoir defending the Bush administration's case for the  2003 invasion of Iraq, among other things.  

In the chapter "Bush Was Right on Iraq," Rove writes the major argument that underpinned the U.S.-led invasion - concerns that Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein's government was concealing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and a nuclear bomb program - was based on "an overwhelming international and domestic consensus" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  

Though the president and other top administration officials stated the presence of those stockpiles as a certainty while making the case for the invasion, none were found once U.S. troops toppled Hussein in April 2003. U.S. inspectors did find evidence that Iraq was concealing research from the United Nations that could have been used to restart its 1980s weapons programs, but no existing stocks of poison gas or germs were found. 

So where'd they go? One possibility Rove offers is that they somehow could have been moved to Syria before American troops invaded Iraq - a story that has persisted among some die-hard supporters of the invasion for years.  

Fact Check: Is there evidence that Iraq snuck weapons into Syria?  

 - The Iraq Survey Group, the CIA-led task force set up to account for Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction, strongly discounted the possibility. Its final report, issued in 2005, states that "no information from debriefing of Iraqis in custody supports this possibility."  

 - The group's report found some "unofficial movement of limited  WMD-related materials" was possible. But it added, "ISG found no senior policy,  rogram, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD," the report states. "Indeed, they uniformly denied any nowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria."  

– While concluding that some leads were "sufficiently credible to merit further investigation," the group had been forced to suspend its operations due to security concerns. But it added, "Based on the evidence available at present, ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place."  

– Rove cites James Clapper, the head of a Pentagon satellite-imaging agency, who told The New York Times that satellite imagery showed "a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria" before the invasion. But Clapper called his remarks a "personal assessment," and they were made in October 2003, more than a year and a half before the ISG's final report.  

– Rove also cites a former Iraqi air force general, Georges Sada, who told Fox News in 2006 that other Iraqi pilots reported having flown the weapons to Syria aboard commercial cargo jets. The allegation was included in a 2006 book by Sada, "Saddam's Secrets," but has never been corroborated.  

Bottom Line:  

Rove's suggestion found little support from the exhaustive investigation of Iraq's weapons programs conducted after Hussein's overthrow. One of his other suggestions - that Hussein "may also have destroyed most of his stockpiles" while under U.N. sanctions in the 1990s - is ultimately the conclusion reached by the ISG.  

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