Rumsfeld denies Iraq arms claims

Nov. 8, 2003, 8:33PM
Rumsfeld denies Iraq arms claims
Backpedals from pre-war assertions
By ERIC ROSENBERG
Hearst News Service

WASHINGTON — In the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said U.S. forces would be welcomed by the Iraqi citizenry and that Saddam Hussein had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.

Now, after both statements have been shown to be either incorrect or vastly exaggerated, Rumsfeld — with the same trademark confidence that he exuded before the war — is denying that he ever made such assertions.

In recent testy exchanges with reporters, Rumsfeld interrupted the questioners and attacked the premise of the questions if they dealt with his pre-war comments about weapons of mass destruction and Americans-as-liberators.

For example, on Feb. 20, a month before the invasion, Rumsfeld fielded a question about whether Americans would be greeted as liberators if they invaded Iraq.

“Do you expect the invasion, if it comes, to be welcomed by the majority of the civilian population of Iraq?” Jim Lehrer asked the defense secretary on PBS’ The News Hour. “There is no question but that they would be welcomed,” Rumsfeld replied, referring to American forces. “Go back to Afghanistan, the people were in the streets playing music, cheering, flying kites, and doing all the things that the Taliban and the al-Qaida would not let them do. Saddam Hussein has one of the most vicious regimes on the face of the earth. And the people know that.”

But on Sept. 25 — a particularly bloody day in which one U.S. soldier was killed in an ambush, eight Iraqi civilians died in a mortar strike and a member of the U.S-appointed governing council died after an assassination attempt five days earlier — Rumsfeld was asked about the surging resistance.

“Before the war in Iraq, you stated the case very eloquently and you said … they would welcome us with open arms,” Sinclair Broadcasting anchor Morris Jones said to Rumsfeld as the prelude to a question.

Rumsfeld quickly cut him off.

“Never said that,” he said. “Never did. You may remember it well, but you’re thinking of somebody else. You can’t find, anywhere, me saying anything like either of those two things you just said I said.”

When testifying about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction before the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18, 2002, Rumsfeld said Saddam “has amassed large clandestine stocks of biological weapons, including anthrax and botulism toxin and possibly smallpox. His regime has amassed large clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons, including VX and sarin and mustard gas.”

Last month, after U.S. weapons hunters reported to the administration and Congress that they have yet to find a single weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, Rumsfeld was asked about his earlier statements.

A reporter at a Pentagon news conference asked: “In retrospect, were you a little too far-leaning in your statement that Iraq categorically had caches of weapons, of chemical and biological weapons, given what’s been found to date? You painted a picture of extensive stocks” of Iraqi mass-killing weapons.

“Wait,” Rumsfeld interjected. “You go back and give me something that talks about extensive stocks. The U.N. reported extensive stocks. That is where that came from. I said what I believed to be the case, and I don’t — I’d be surprised if you found the word `extensive.’ ”

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