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Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. While he certainly harbored ambitions to get them, the Iraqi programs to build them had decayed to become mere wisps of what they once were. That is the conclusion of the final report, released last week, of the chief U.S. weapons hunter, Mr. Charles Duelfer.

His conclusions are a powerful indictment against the U.S. case for invading Iraq, although Bush administration officials and supporters continue to insist that the U.S.-led war was both necessary and beneficial. Mr. Duelfer’s report also provides comfort for supporters of the United Nations: U.N. sanctions helped dismantle Iraq’s WMD programs, and the U.N. inspection regime also gave an accurate assessment of those programs.

Mr. Duelfer heads the Iraq Survey Group, which was put together after the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 to provide a complete and accurate assessment of Iraq’s WMD programs. It comprised more than 1,000 intelligence, military and support personnel, and has had access to senior Iraqi officials (including Hussein himself) and former Iraqi scientists, 40 million pages of documents and classified intelligence.

“We were almost all wrong” on Iraq, Mr. Duelfer told the U.S. Senate last week. Baghdad’s nuclear weapons program was destroyed after the 1991 Persian Gulf War and never restarted. Stocks of chemical and biological weapons also were destroyed under U.N. pressure, and production never resumed. The biological program was abandoned in 1995. Only the long-range missile program continued, but it was hobbled by the U.N. inspections regime. Moreover, Mr. Duelfer said, Hussein “had no formal written strategy or plan to revive WMD” after sanctions were lifted.

Mr. Duelfer concludes that the U.S. also failed to read the intentions of Hussein. The former dictator wanted WMD not to attack the U.S. or to link up with terrorists, but to deter enemies closer to home, such as Iran and Israel, and to build up his image in the region. The report says Hussein felt that WMD stocks had saved his regime several times. He apparently still harbored dreams of resuming his previous relationship with the U.S. — when Washington and Baghdad worked together to combat Islamic radicalism in the Middle East.

Mr. Duelfer’s report says there was no evidence that Iraq had sought to buy uranium abroad after 1991, that the aluminum tubes seized in 2001 and presented as evidence of a clandestine nuclear program were instead intended for missiles, and that Baghdad never produced the mobile biological labs that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell highlighted in his presentation to the U.N. to justify the war.

Despite this avalanche of revelations, U.S. President George W. Bush continues to insist the war was justified. Speaking after the release of the report, Mr. Bush told campaign supporters, “There was a risk, a real risk, that Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks. In the world after Sept. 11, that was a risk we could not afford to take.”

Japan’s government agrees. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Tokyo was not backing off its earlier support for the war. Iraq posed a threat: It had been developing WMD previously and whether it had abandoned those programs was not clear. Mr. Hosoda blamed Iraq for not complying with calls from the international community to provide proof that it had no WMD.

Mr. Duelfer does provide a damning indictment of the U.N. oil-for-food program, arguing that Hussein manipulated the program to avoid sanctions, to reward friends and allies, and to lay the groundwork for votes that would eventually dismantle the program. Allegations of bribes could be explosive and have the potential to further poison international sentiment, making international cooperation even more difficult.

As the report makes clear, international cooperation is essential. There is no escaping the conclusion that, for all its limitations, the U.N. inspection program did its job. Despite the lack of cooperation with the U.S., U.N. sanctions scared Iraq to the extent that it felt obliged to dismantle and abandon WMD programs. And Baghdad was not able to resume them. Nor should we forget that the U.N. assessment of Iraq’s WMD program was on target.

Hussein may have been a threat, but it is increasingly clear that he was not the “imminent danger” that justified a preemptive invasion and war. The Duelfer report is now the definitive judgment on the Iraq WMD programs, although finger-pointing will continue, especially amid the U.S. presidential campaign. Far more important is to ensure that these mistakes don’t happen again, that the U.N. is strengthened and that the international community regains the ability to do as it did before the Iraq war — work together to combat a real danger.

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