Was Iraq a 'Gathering Danger'?

Congress ought to vote soon on whether to give more money for the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq - and, of equal concern, whether there was a capability to produce them quickly.

Since the wisdom of the Iraq war will probably remain a hot issue in the 2004 election, lawmakers must decide whether the American people need to know more than they've learned so far abut the prewar threat.

Last year, President Bush claimed Iraq was a "gathering danger" - not only in its ability to attack other nations, but in possibly supplying dangerous weapons to Al Qaeda and other terrorists at any time that Saddam Hussein pleased.

Given Mr. Hussein's track record in twice invading other nations and gassing enemies, the American people as well as Congress accepted Mr. Bush's estimate of the threat - backed up by intelligence from several US allies - in the post-9/11 environment.

Last week, his words were put to an initial test when the CIA's Iraqi Survey Group, led by the respected David Kay, issued an interim report based on only three months' work. The results so far reveal that Iraq had the intent and the labs to produce WMD.

But actual large stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons have yet to found.

"Yet" is the operative word for Congress as it decides whether to give Mr. Kay the money for another six to nine months of investigation.

The report shows United Nations inspectors were clearly deceived and that Iraq had violated UN resolutions on its WMD programs. Most notable was the discovery of Hussein's efforts to develop missiles that could reach many Middle Eastern capitals. That casts doubt on whether such inspections could have contained Iraq.

The discovery most at odds with statements by the Bush administration was that Iraq was just starting to rebuild its nuclear capability and was not even close to building a nuclear weapon. That alone should compel Congress to ask how the Bush team or CIA was misled, and to ensure better intelligence.

Some small quantities of chemical and biological agents were found. That points to a need to find any other such dangerous materials.

The credibility and the safety of the US depend on completing this investigation. Playing politics with incomplete information would be a disservice to Americans who want to know the truth. Patience - and money - are needed to determine if this key plank of Bush's war rationale was sound.

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