Q: Were there really weapons of mass destruction in Iraq when the U.S. invaded in 2003?
A: No. The Iraq Survey Group determined that Iraq had abandoned its quest to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and that it had already destroyed all of its existing stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons.
After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration formed the Iraq Survey Group and tasked it with the job of locating WMD stockpiles in Iraq. The ISG was staffed with hundreds of intelligence analysts and military personnel from the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The group scoured Iraq, searching for deposits of weapons. But that was actually only part of the ISG’s focus.
According to the ISG final report, the search for WMDs actually began during the invasion phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A military task force was deployed to investigate suspected WMD sites on the theory that the Iraqi military might otherwise employ those weapons against coalition troops. After the invasion, the ISG was established to conduct "a more systematic collection of evidence to build an understanding of Iraqi WMD programs." In other words, the ISG did not simply look for WMDs. The group also looked at Iraq’s WMD capabilities and examined evidence relating to past WMD stockpiles.
During its investigation, the ISG reported that "[a] total of 53 munitions have been recovered, all of which appear to have been part of pre-1991 Gulf war stocks based on their physical condition and residual components." These isolated discoveries received significant media attention, and it’s likely that these overhyped reports contributed to your friends’ beliefs that Iraq really did possess WMDs. But the finds were rare, and the ISG concluded that they were not part of a significant stockpile of weapons. Indeed, after nearly two years of investigation, the ISG concluded that:
"Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program."
"While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter."
"In practical terms, with the destruction of the Al Hakam facility, Iraq abandoned its ambition to obtain advanced BW [biological warfare] weapons quickly. ISG found no direct evidence that Iraq, after 1996, had plans for a new BW program or was conducting BW-specific work for military purposes."
Experts from the three nations failed to document any existent biological or nuclear weapons and discovered only a few random chemical weapons. The ISG concluded that contrary to what most of the world had believed, Iraq had abandoned attempts to produce WMDs. In his congressional testimony, the head of the ISG, Charles Duelfer, admitted, "We were almost all wrong" on Iraq.
The ISG report was sufficient to convince the Bush administration that there were no WMDs to be found; they called off the search in 2005. If that doesn’t convince your friends, we’re not sure what else might do the trick. Anyone who believes something without any positive evidence and in the face of evidence to the contrary is no longer acting on the basis of reason.