Sun, Jun 22, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Iraq's illegal WMD sites were looted, Bush now explains

REUTERS , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush, trying again to explain the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, said yesterday that suspected arms sites had been looted in the waning days of Saddam Hussein's rule.

"For more than a decade, Saddam Hussein went to great lengths to hide his weapons from the world. And in the regime's final days, documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

It is believed to be the first time Bush has cited looting to explain the inability of US forces to uncover chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, a US official said.

Bush had previously said weapons may have been destroyed before the war. The US military has been criticized for failing to prevent looting at an Iraqi nuclear facility.

Bush has been widely criticized for misleading the public by asserting that Saddam had stockpiles of unconventional weapons that menaced the world. The allegations were Bush's main justification for bypassing the UN and ordering the US-led invasion of Iraq.

"The intelligence services of many nations concluded that he had illegal weapons and the regime refused to provide evidence they had been destroyed," Bush said. "We are determined to discover the true extent of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, no matter how long it takes."

This week, Bush dismissed questions over his reasons for going to war as the work of "historical revisionists."

In his radio speech, he sought to address problems in post-war Iraq, including attacks on US troops and the slow pace of reconstruction.

The US has provided more than US$700 million in aid for Iraq, Bush said.

With its allies, it was fixing water treatment plants, boosting electricity supplies and vaccinating children.

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