FOX News managing editor and chief Washington correspondent Brit Hume claimed on July 6 that coalition forces in Iraq "have found further weapons of mass destruction" (WMD); Hume also accused the news agency Agence France-Presse (AFP) of brazenly denying the existence of WMD in Iraq. He failed to note that U.S. officials admitted on July 2 that the warheads in question were actually conventional artillery shells and did not contain chemical weapons as originally thought.
From the July 6 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: Coalition forces meanwhile, have found further weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But at least one news organization seems unable to accept it, even in a story that reports that such weapons have been found. Agence French Press [Agence France-Presse], after saying, quote, "Terrorist groups were seeking to acquire the warheads containing mustard or sarin gas, which Polish troops recently discovered in Iraq," reports several paragraphs later, quote, that "No weapons of mass destruction have yet been found in Iraq, seriously undermining," says the quote, "what was the central argument for going to war."
Late on July 1 and early on July 2, AFP issued at least two reports (here, for example) -- including the report Hume quoted -- that Polish troops in Iraq had found "more than a dozen warheads containing sarin or mustard gas." But AFP's Iraq roundup from later that same day (July 2) reported that the warheads in question did not contain poison after all.
Here's the AFP report from early July 2, which Hume quoted:
"Terrorist" groups were seeking to acquire the warheads containing mustard or sarin gas which Polish troops recently discovered in Iraq, the head of Poland's military intelligence service said on Friday [July 2].
Washington announced on Thursday that Polish troops had discovered more than a dozen warheads containing mustard or sarin gas in Iraq, a report later confirmed by Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski.
But here's what a later AFP report, dated "July 2, 7:40 PM," said about the same warheads:
Meanwhile, a dozen warheads that Polish forces said on Thursday contained mustard gas or sarin contained neither, according to US forces, who tested the 122mm munitions.
As for the apparent contradiction within the one article Hume quoted, AFP's unwillingness to treat the newly discovered warheads as evidence of Iraq's having possessed WMD before the U.S.-led invasion, as the Bush administration claimed, is probably based on the expert consensus regarding a previous discovery of similar shells in mid-May: On May 18, the Associated Press reported that American experts were not interpreting the discovery of an artillery shell with traces of sarin -- which exploded in Baghdad the previous weekend -- as evidence that deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had been hording stockpiles of banned weapons prior to the war in Iraq:
The discovery of an artillery shell apparently filled with a deadly nerve agent has raised fears among U.S. officials that insurgents may have more -- and will learn how to use them to greater effect.
But officials stopped short of claiming the munition was definite evidence of a large weapons stockpile in prewar Iraq or evidence of recent production by Saddam's regime -- the Bush administration's chief stated reason for invasion.
David Kay, the former top U.S. weapons hunter in Iraq, said it's possible the sarin shell was an old one, overlooked when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein said he had destroyed such weapons in the mid-1990s.
Kay, in a telephone interview with The Associated Press, said he doubted the shell or the nerve agent came from a surviving hidden stockpile, but didn't rule out that possibility.
"It is hard to know if this is one that just was overlooked -- and there were always some that were overlooked, we knew that -- or if this was one that came from a hidden stockpile," Kay said. "I rather doubt that because it appears the insurgents didn't even know they had a chemical round."
The 155-millimeter artillery shell, which was converted into a roadside bomb, bore no special markings indicating it contained a chemical agent, so officials speculate that the bombers may have believed they were using a conventional artillery round.
A similar interpretation of the sarin shells discovered in May is probably what led British Prime Minister Tony Blair to concede on July 6 that coalition forces have yet to uncover WMD in Iraq: "I have to accept that we have not found them [Iraqi WMD], that we may not find them," Blair said before the House of Commons Liaison Committee.