The president said he is “absolutely convinced” evidence will be produced.

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Bush insisted Monday that Iraq had a weapons program, and the White House asked for patience during a search for evidence to prove it.

As lawmakers considered an investigation into the handling of intelligence that led to war, the White House said it would not resist such an inquiry.

Two months after mobs toppled a statue of President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, military experts have not validated the administration’s portrayal of Iraq’s cache of weapons of mass destruction. Alleged stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons have not been discovered, nor has significant evidence of a nuclear weapons program.

The senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services committee warned that American credibility is on the line, but Bush said: “History and time will prove that the United States made the absolute right decision in freeing the people of Iraq from the clutches of Saddam Hussein.”

“Iraq had a weapons program,” Bush said. “Intelligence throughout the decade (of the 1990s) showed they had a weapons program. I am absolutely convinced with time we’ll find out they did have a weapons program.”

Bush did not use the phrase “weapons of mass destruction.” Nor did he promise any remnants of any “weapons program” will be found.

Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he wants a full congressional investigation into prewar intelligence. “I think that the nation’s credibility is on the line, as well as (Bush’s),” he said.

Even Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke of a possible credibility gap but agreed with Bush that it should not exist. Speaking during the weekend on “Fox News Sunday,” Powell spoke of the care with which his pre-invasion justification to the U.N. Security Council was drafted and said:

“We spent four days and nights out at the CIA, making sure that whatever I said was supported by our intelligence holdings. Because it wasn’t the president’s credibility and my credibility on the line; it was the credibility of the United States of America.”

Bush sidestepped a reporter’s question Monday on a link between American credibility and weapons he said Iraq had.

“The credibility of this country is based upon our strong desire to make the world more peaceful, and the world is now more peaceful after our decision,” Bush said.

Also Monday, the Pentagon’s intelligence agency declassified and released a section of a September 2002 paper in response to news media reports that it said it had found no evidence that Iraq had prohibited chemical weapons. Officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency said lines in the paper were taken out of context.

The paper, provided as a study for war planners at U.S. Central Command, generally conveys the DIA’s position that Saddam’s regime was capable of producing chemical weapons and “probably possesses CW agent in chemical munitions” and “probably possesses bulk chemical stockpiles.”

Still, the paper acknowledges, “There is no reliable information on whether Iraq is producing and stockpiling chemical weapons.” Instead, it said Iraq has equipment, expertise and chemicals that can be used for a weapons program along with experience in using such weapons on the battlefield.

It also noted “unusual munitions transfer activity in mid-2002” that suggested Iraq was distributing chemical weapons to military units in the field to fight the expected American invasion. No chemical weapons have been found in the wreckage of Iraq’s military.

No formal congressional investigation is under way, although several lawmakers have suggested them.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a congressional investigation of how intelligence was used in the run-up to the war is premature. “There’s a little tad bit of politics being played here,” he said. “I think it’s very, very counterproductive.”

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the committee’s top Democrat, says he wants one, and he can use committee procedures to force an investigation. He has not done so yet.

Asked about a joint congressional inquiry, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said: “It’s appropriate for Congress to look at it.”

But, he added, lawmakers have already seen much of the intelligence that led the administration to invade Iraq.

“Congress has always been part of this,” Fleischer said. “Congress was provided information both in a declassified and classified manner in the months and indeed the years leading up to the war. … There is nothing new here for members of Congress.”

Fleischer said most Americans feel safer because of the Iraq invasion and are willing to allow more time to the search for banned weapons.

“I think there’s an interesting lesson here on patience,” Fleischer said. “The president has it. He will continue to have it.”

AP-ES-06-09-03 1837EDT

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