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CIA plays down hopes of finding Saddam's WMD *LINK*

Posted By: wtnf
Date: 24, September 03, at 11:29 p.m.

By George Jones, Political Editor, and Alec Russell in Washington
(Filed: 25/09/2003)

In its first public comments on the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the CIA conceded last night that a long-awaited report on the hunt would reach "no firm conclusions".

The comments appeared to underline diminishing hopes in Washington and Whitehall that WMD would be found.

After several months in Iraq following the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, David Kay, a former United Nations weapons inspector and the civilian head of the 1,400-strong Iraq Survey Group, is expected to submit his interim report next week.

With President George W Bush and his officials sounding less confident about the search for WMD in recent weeks, and talking more of weapons programmes than working systems, the CIA statement appeared to be an attempt to reduce expectations before the report's publication.

"Dr Kay is still receiving information from the field. It will be just the first progress report and we expect that it will reach no firm conclusions, nor will it rule anything in or out," a CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, said.

In London the BBC quoted an anonymous source in the US administration saying the inspectors' report would conclude that the group had found no evidence of WMD.

Andrew Neil, the presenter of BBC television's Daily Politics, said the report would say the group's inspectors had not unearthed even minute amounts of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons material. But the report would publish computer programmes, files, pictures and paperwork showing that Saddam's regime was attempting to develop a WMD programme. It would also claim that Saddam mounted a huge programme to deceive the UN weapons inspectors and hinder their work in the run up to the conflict.

That accords with what Dr Kay told the US Congress in July, when he also promised "surprises" for those who doubted the existence of Saddam's weapons programmes.

A No 10 spokesman said: "People should wait. The reports today are speculation about an unfinished draft of an interim report that has not even been presented yet. And when it comes it will be an interim report, the ISG's work will go on.

"The UK has played a significant role in the work of the ISG, including providing its deputy director, and our clear expectation is that this interim report will not reach firm conclusions about Iraq's possession of WMD."

But the emergence of the claim, a year to the day after the publication of the Government's dossier outlining the case for war, underlines the Prime Minister's continuing inability to shake off the issue.

Neil admitted that he had not seen the draft report, and was reporting what a "single source" had said its findings were likely to be.

The report was still to be finalised and could undergo some changes. But the "source" had been told the content of some key passages.

Failure to find a chemical or biological weapons in Iraq would be an embarrassing setback for Tony Blair, who argued that the war was necessary to disarm Saddam of an armoury of chemical and biological weapons, some of which could be deployed at 45 minutes notice.

It would also be inconvenient for Mr Bush, but the American public appears more accepting of the idea that the overthrow of Saddam was beneficial in itself, irrespective of the WMD debate.

Immediately after Saddam was toppled Mr Blair said he was confident that the weapons would be found. Since then the Government's line has softened, and Mr Blair has said he believes that "evidence" will be produced that Saddam was developing WMD programmes and tried to conceal them.

In July, Mr Blair urged his critics to wait until the survey group had produced its report. "There has always been something bizarre about the notion that Saddam never had any weapons of mass destruction," he said.

According to the BBC, the report will allege that Saddam's programme of deception involved fake facilities and infrastructure to deceive and hinder the UN weapons inspectors.

The group may well conclude that Iraq had an elaborate and secret effort to maintain elements of its weapons programmes in suspended animation ready to be revived once the opportunity came.

But the Tories used the reports to launch a fresh assault on Mr Blair.

Michael Ancram, the Tory foreign affairs spokesman, said that if the BBC report was accurate, it would be a damaging blow to the Prime Minister's credibility.

Original Article

Messages In This Thread

CIA plays down hopes of finding Saddam's WMD *LINK*
wtnf -- 24, September 03, at 11:29 p.m.
WMD evidence will be found: Austrilian PM *LINK*
wtnf -- 25, September 03, at 6:57 a.m.
Bush: Absolutely convinced Iraqi WMD will be found *LINK*
wtnf -- 25, September 03, at 6:59 a.m.
PM Tony Blair insists WMD evidence will be found *LINK*
wtnf -- 25, September 03, at 7:01 a.m.

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