Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were an illusion.

They were an illusion, created inside Iraq to deter enemies, impress allies and, perhaps, to forestall the rage of a brutal dictator.

Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman last week documented the evidence so far concerning Iraq’s weapons programs. The gist of the story is in the headline, which sums up the country’s arsenal for at least the last 10 years: “Iraq’s Arsenal Was Only on Paper.”

Through hours of personal interviews with Iraqi weapons scientists and U.S. investigators, Gellman discovered that Saddam Hussein wanted advanced weapons and had hidden the country’s research from United Nations. But Gellman found that there is no credible evidence that Iraq had large stockpiles of prohibited weapons – including biological, chemical or nuclear weapons and long-range missiles – or was anywhere close to actually building new ones.

The weapons did not exist, except maybe as a dream. Sanctions and an aggressive inspection program had been effective in denying Hussein the illicit weapons he wanted.

Documents found in Iraq and the testimony of scientists who were involved suggest that all the country’s biological weapons might have been destroyed as early as 1991.

Saddam Hussein, it now appears, turned Iraq into a paper tiger. He wanted the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction and may have believed himself that his scientists were much closer than they actually were.

As if to validate the futile nature of the weapons search, the New York Times reported on Thursday that the United States has withdrawn a 400-member military team that was looking for military equipment.

Former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, speaking Sunday night on “60 Minutes,” painted an unflattering portrait of the Bush administration in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. To hear O’Neill tell it, the president and his top advisers were in search of an excuse to go after Hussein. They had a plan, they just needed a reason they could sell to the American people.

Congress is scheduled to begin limited hearings this month. That investigation should be expanded to include an explanation of how an invasion that was sold as a matter of self-defense has turned into a costly, dangerous and deadly exercise in nation building.

Improved access

Emergency contraception can play an important role in improving women’s health and reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies in Maine.

The Legislature is considering a bill that would improve access to the drugs by establishing collaborative practices between pharmacists and doctors. Pharmacists, after training and with the authorization of participating doctors, would be allowed to provide emergency contraception. Five states have similar laws on the books. Maine should join them.

Emergency contraception is safe – so safe the Food and Drug Administration was advised by its science committee to make it available over the counter – and effective. The drugs, which are a high dosage of the hormones found in birth control pills, can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

By approving this bill, lawmakers can improve timely access to legitimate birth control for women who can’t afford a visit to the doctor or who live in remote areas where drug stores are the first line of medical protection.

The legislation should be supported during committee meetings scheduled for this week and when it comes to floor.

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