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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S.: Weapons May Already Be Gone

NEW YORK -- U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested publicly for the first time Tuesday that Iraq might have destroyed chemical and biological weapons before the war there, a possibility that senior U.S. officers in Iraq have raised in recent weeks.

Rumsfeld has repeatedly said it is just a matter of time and of interviewing enough senior Iraqi scientists and former government officials before military teams uncover the illicit arms that U.S. President George W. Bush cited as a major reason for attacking Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein's rule.

While Rumsfeld repeated that assertion Tuesday, he added, "It is also possible that they decided that they would destroy them prior to a conflict."

Senior defense aides insisted that Rumsfeld's response to a question after his speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Tuesday broke no new ground, and that it was consistent with his past explanations.

He said the speed of the campaign might have prevented Iraq from using unconventional weapons. He added that military investigators had been searching in earnest for only seven weeks, that Iraqi weapons might be buried in one of several hundred uninspected sites and that leads may come from Iraqi officials who have only recently been captured.

But the fact that Rumsfeld even raised the possibility that Iraq might have destroyed unconventional weapons before the war prompts new questions about the intelligence that Bush and his senior advisers relied on to go to war, and on the credibility of the United States, defense analysts said.

"They don't have a good explanation, and therefore are trying to come up with as long a list as possible," said Joseph Cirincione, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It's impossible to destroy or hide the quantities the administration said they had without our noticing it."

Bush acknowledged last month that "there's going to be skepticism until people find out there was, in fact, a weapons of mass destruction program."

In his prepared remarks Tuesday, Rumsfeld made no reference to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Instead, he sought to counter critics who have accused the administration of bungling the postwar phase of the military campaign in Iraq, and to appeal for patience for a reconstruction effort that will be difficult and bumpy at times.

Rumsfeld's remarks seemed part of a public relations campaign of sorts. His speech echoed many of themes he outlined in an article published Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal.

Immediate goals include asserting the coalition's authority and providing security, along with increased military patrols in Baghdad to restore order.

The allies will promote a market economy for Iraq, one that will be more diversified than the country's Hussein-era economy, which relied heavily on oil, he said. That effort was boosted Tuesday when the U.S. Treasury Department said it was lifting most of the remaining economic sanctions against Iraq.

Rumsfeld said the coalition would welcome aid from Iraq's neighbors, but he reaffirmed Washington's warnings to Iran against meddling in Iraq. "Iran should be on notice that efforts to try to remake Iraq in Iran's image will be aggressively put down," he said.