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Report: Weapons Team To Leave Iraq

Members of a mobile exploitation team examine a suspected mobile biological weapons facility that was recovered by U.S. Forces in northern Iraq in late April, 2003.
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The group of scientists, computer experts and special forces troops leading the search for proof of outlawed weapons is preparing to go home empty handed, the Washington Post reported today.

The weapons may still be in the hands of Iraqi special units and could still be used against coalition forces there, the top U.S. military officer said Sunday.

Members of the 75th Exploitation Task Force found sites identified by Washington to be inaccurate, destroyed by looters, or both, the Post reports. The group is expected to leave next month.

The Bush administration cited the suspected presence of hundreds of tons of biological and chemical agents and evidence of an ongoing nuclear weapons program as the prime reason for launching the war against Iraq.

Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. authorities "are asking ourselves" whether banned weapons may still be in the hands of Iraqi Special Republican Guard units that eluded capture when Saddam Hussein's regime collapsed last month.

"We try to interrogate (prisoners) with that (question) in mind," Myers told reporters during a visit to Qatar. "Were they full-deployed and could they have been brought to bear on us or are they still perhaps out there somewhere in some sort of bunker and could have been used? We are trying to run that one to the ground."

Many of Saddam's elite units failed to mount a credible resistance, leading to suspicions that some of them may be trying to reorganize

In other developments:

  • The leader of Iraq's largest Shiite Muslim group denounced the U.S.-led occupation forces Sunday and demanded they pull out and allow the Iraqi people to establish their own government. Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, who returned to his homeland Saturday after spending more than two decades in exile in neighboring Iran, made the call in the predominantly Shiite city Nasiriyah despite the presence of a squad of U.S. Marines who were protecting him. "We don't fear these (U.S. and British) forces. This nation wants to preserve its independence and the coalition forces must leave this country," al-Hakim said to about 4,000 supporters. A U.S. officer said the Marines were there to protect al-Hakim, leader of the Iran-backed Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution of Iraq.
  • The U.S. official overseeing Baghdad is leaving her position today after less than a month on the job, in the midst of an apparent shakeup of the civilian reconstruction force. In addition, the top U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, retired Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, is expected to leave soon to make way for the appointment of L. Paul Bremer, a longtime U.S. State Department official. Some Iraqis have complained bitterly of the slow pace of U.S. reconstruction efforts, and say that basic services such as electricity and running water remain widely unrepaired a month after Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
  • The general who commanded the Iraq war issued a statement Sunday saying Saddam Hussein's Baath Party "is dissolved," ordering the political organization that ruled the country for 35 years to cease existence. The message from Gen. Tommy Frank was read over the U.S.-controlled Information Radio.
  • Iraqi oil experts, reassessing damage to their industry from postwar looting, have scaled back projections by one-third and expect to produce only 1 million barrels a day in June, the acting oil minister Thamir Ghadban said Sunday. In one sign of the energy shortfall in this oil-rich nation, Baghdad expects within two weeks to begin importing gasoline from neighboring Kuwait to help motorists who now line up for hours to buy scant supplies at city gas stations.
  • American authorities have promised rewards to Iraqis for information leading to discovery of covert weapons programs, Information Radio announced Saturday. The lengthy spot on the Arabic-language radio was part of a growing U.S. government campaign to find Iraqi sources potentially knowledgeable about prohibited arms programs.

    From November to March, U.N. weapons teams conducted more than 700 surprise inspections at hundreds of Iraqi sites, and did not report finding any weapons-making programs. A U.S. military unit of experts in unconventional arms that followed invading U.S. troops into Iraq in March, has surveyed 75 of 90 high-priority sites, and thus far also has not reported conclusive evidence of such programs.

    The difficulty in finding any banned weapons now threatens U.S. and British plans to end U.N. sanctions against Iraq. Russian diplomats have said they need to see conclusive evidence that such programs have been eliminated before approving the lifting of the 13-year sanctions regime, and President Vladimir Putin has even raised the possibility that Saddam Hussein could still be alive and in possession of the deadly weapons.

    High-ranking Iraqis in U.S. custody have uniformly denied that their government, ousted last month by the invasion force, had any weapons of mass destruction, U.S. officials say.

    The deposed government maintained it destroyed its chemical and biological weapons by the early 1990s. It never succeeded in building a nuclear weapon.

    Meanwhile, in the second such find this month, U.S. troops found a trailer they suspect could be a mobile biological weapons laboratory near the northern city of Mosul, a New York Times correspondent with the troops reported.

    The trailer, stripped by looters, was located just outside the entrance of al-Kindi, Iraq's largest missile research and testing complex, according to the report posted Saturday on the Times' Web site. The trailer contained an air compressor, refrigerator, fermenter and dryer, items associated with a biological weapons lab, Maj. Paul Handelman of the 101st Airborne Division's chemical weapons team told the paper.

    U.S. troops found a similar trailer in northern Iraq earlier this month, but the military has said it still has not confirmed whether it was used for biological weapons.