DAVENPORT | Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Joni Ernst said Friday that she has reason to believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, a comment that Democrats immediately jumped on with criticism.

Ernst, a state senator from Red Oak, is one of five Republicans seeking the GOP nomination to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Tom Harkin, a Democrat.

In an interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board on Friday, Ernst said: “We don't know that there were weapons on the ground when we went in. However, I do have reason to believe there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That was the intelligence that was operated on. I have reason to believe there was weapons of mass destruction."

Excerpts of the interview were posted on the newspaper's website.

Ernst, who is a member of the Iowa National Guard and served in Iraq during the war there, has frequently talked about her military service during the Senate campaign.

Democrats said it was a troubling remark.

"Iowans should be gravely concerned that Joni Ernst continues to perpetuate a myth that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have said was untrue," said Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Scott Brennan. He added, "This is a debate that was settled many years ago" and her "denial of the facts is very troubling."

The Bush administration, as well as its allies and many members of Congress, said before the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

However, none could be found during or after the war. In 2005 a commission created by President Bush, called the episode one of most public and damaging intelligence failures in U.S. history.

The Ernst campaign issued a statement Friday night that said: "Her point was that we know for a fact that Iraq had chemical weapons in the past and had even used them. We also know that none were found while troops were on the ground, despite the intelligence at the time. What happened to those weapons she doesn't know."