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New Information Expected on Iraq Weapons, say Lawmakers

U.S. senators who have just returned from a visit to Iraq say there may be new information soon about weapons of mass destruction developed under the Saddam Hussein regime. They spoke at a news conference dominated by the weapons question, as well as efforts to locate the ousted Iraqi dictator, and the issue of continuing attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq.

Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, says there is new information in the hands of U.S. intelligence agencies and the Bush administration regarding Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Senator Roberts appeared at a Capitol Hill news conference after returning from a congressional delegation visit to Iraq. "My judgment is that there is going to be breaking, positive news on that front in the very near term," he said.

Earlier, in a separate telephone news conference, Senator Roberts said he is urging the administration and intelligence agencies to make public key parts of what is now known.

Senator John Warner, the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says the new information should leave no doubt about Saddam Hussein's pre-war weapons efforts.

"Facts will be given, publicly soon, which in my judgment, any fair-minded individual will reach the conclusion one, that Saddam Hussein had a substantial infrastructure to produce weapons of mass destruction, that he very skillfully either disposed or concealed them," he said. "We are beginning to locate those things. And that there was the potential for Saddam Hussein and his administration to use them and perhaps, export them."

All of the senators said that amid continuing attacks on U.S. and coalition forces, it is now more crucial than ever to locate the ousted Iraqi leader.

Susan Collins, a Republican senator from Maine, refers to a "pervasive climate of fear" she says is impeding the efforts of the coalition, particularly in central and southern Iraq.

"There is a fear that he will return, that he will come back. And that fear prevents us from making progress as rapidly as we otherwise would. And that fear emboldens those who would attack our troops," she said.

Senator Carl Levin, a key Democratic critic of the administration on the question of pre-war intelligence information, says it is essential that the United States is not intimidated by remnants of Iraq's Baathist regime. However, Mr. Levin says Washington needs help.

"First, we must end the feud, with Germany, France and the United Nations. And we must seek the help of those countries, we must seek the support and participation of NATO and the U.N. Our troops are stretched very thin. We need the participation of other countries for that reason along," he said.

Amid the recent upsurge in attacks, U.S. officials have revised previous statements downplaying the amount of organization that may be behind them. Senator Warner says the violence does not mean the ex-Iraqi leader is still wielding great power, but he agrees a Saddam Hussein still-on-the-loose is a problem.

"This guy is not ten feet tall anymore. This guy is not, to the best [knowledge] of all those who have facts, trying to coordinate any of these attacks," he said. "This guy is slinking around, each day hiding and running, some say in a crude disguise, some say manifesting the effects of having been wounded. We will get him. But the specter of his past brutality does hang over this entire operation, and does to some extent impede the progress by which other civilian Iraqis would feel free to come ahead."

Lawmakers say President Bush needs to be completely honest with the American people about the likelihood of a prolonged U. S. stay in Iraq, and more casualties.

When lawmakers resume work next week, Senate and House committees will be holding more closed hearings on Iraq, particularly on the weapons and intelligence information issue, with public hearings to follow later this month.