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Pentagon Considers Moving Assets from Iraqi WMD Hunt to Counter-Terror Efforts - 2003-10-29

A senior defense official says consideration is being given to pulling intelligence assets off the hunt in Iraq for weapons of mass destruction and assigning them to counter-terrorism efforts.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita insists the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction remains a priority and he says the mission of the WMD-hunting, 1,400 member strong Iraq Survey Group will not be changed.

But in an exchange with reporters at the Defense Department, Mr. DiRita acknowledges there has been high-level talk of possibly taking intelligence assets from the group and applying them to counter-terrorism efforts in Iraq.

He says this could involve translators, interrogators or others. But he stresses any assets diverted from the hunt for chemical or biological weapons in Iraq will only be on an as-needed basis and only if it does not interfere with the weapons hunt.

That hunt has so far been unsuccessful in turning up evidence of actual weapons of mass destruction, while, at the same time, terrorist attacks in Iraq have escalated.

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has been pressing for more resources to deal with the increasingly sophisticated attacks, including suicide car bombs and rockets.

Mr. DiRita says more resources have been shifted to the counter-terrorism task in recent weeks, both from military units already in Iraq and from others elsewhere.

He says the development of high-tech surveillance equipment that could aid in the hunt for terrorists is also being accelerated in an effort to speed it to Iraq.

In addition, Pentagon officials says more Iraqis are helping coalition forces by providing intelligence on terrorist activities.