While many analysts say it is just a matter of time before American searchers uncover unconventional arms in Iraq, a few experts consider that unlikely. Before the war, they argued that Iraq probably had no weapons of mass destruction; that is why, they say now, the search has ended so far in failure.
Some of the doubters say they feel vindicated by the fact that the government of President Saddam Hussein did not use chemical, biological or nuclear arms during the war and that no sign of these arms has turned up so far. Others express sadness at what they see as the false rationale for the invasion.
One of the most vocal skeptics is Scott Ritter, a former Marine Corps major who worked as a United Nations inspector in Iraq for seven years. Mr. Ritter became deeply skeptical of American charges that the Baghdad government had weapons of mass destruction.
"If we find something, great," Mr. Ritter said of search efforts now under way. "But professionally, I don't see how these weapons could exist. They defy the laws of industry, the laws of science and technology."
Mr. Ritter, author of "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" (Context Books, 2002), argues that Iraq once possessed many unconventional arms but they have either been destroyed or degraded.
The Bush Administration asserts that Iraq never accounted for many of the weapons it said it had destroyed, suggesting they may be cached somewhere. But even if they are, Mr. Ritter maintains, by now they would be worthless.
"They have no shelf life," he said.
He said no evidence has come to light suggesting that Iraq ever rebuilt its manufacturing base for weapons of mass destruction.
Another skeptic is Glenn Rangwala, a lecturer on Middle East politics at Cambridge University.
Before the war began, Dr. Rangwala described evidence that Iraq continues to hold unconventional weapons as "shaky at best."
In an interview, Dr. Rangwala said he was not surprised that there had been no attacks with unconventional weapons or spectacular finds afterward. "Maybe they'll find technology, which could have been used in the future for making weapons, but not substantial stocks," he said.
Another skeptic, Matthew S. Meselson, had tended until now to keep his doubts to himself. But Dr. Meselson, a Harvard professor and expert on biological weapons, said in an interview that logic suggested that searchers scouring Iraq for unconventional arms would come up empty-handed. For instance, he said, if Washington had had any hard evidence of such arms it would have presented it to the United Nations.
In fact, he said, if weapons are found, there are many who will conclude that the United States planted them. "The real problem will be now to convince people," he said, adding that independent confirmation of any reported findings would help persuade doubters that the war was justified.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company