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US Official Reports Progress in Iraq Weapons Probe - 2003-07-31

The U.S. official in charge of coordinating the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is reporting progress. But David Kay, who met with lawmakers on Capitol Hill Thursday, stopped short of saying his team found any weapons.

Mr. Kay, a former U.N. arms inspector in Iraq, would not be specific about the kind of progress his team of U.S., British, and Australian experts are making in Iraq.

After briefing members of the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence Committees, MR. Kay said he is waiting to build what he called 'a solid case' before revealing what physical evidence may have been found.

"We are finding documents that relate to WMD (weapons of mass destruction) activities, we are having increasing numbers of Iraqis voluntarily stepping forward to help and assist in our effort," he said. "That is moving the operation further and faster than I would have said five weeks ago that it would be at this stage."

Mr. Kay, who just returned from a visit to Iraq, said his team is focusing initially on biological weapons and the role that Iraqi intelligence and security services played in the country's suspected weapons of mass destruction program.

He said he is learning about the lengths to which the former government of Saddam Hussein went to hide its suspected weapons program.

"We have found new evidence of how they successfully misled inspections of the U.N., and hid stuff continuously from them," he explained. "The active deception program is truly amazing once you get inside it. We have people who have participated in deceiving U.N. inspectors, now telling us how they did it."

Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction were a key reason the United States went to war in Iraq. But since coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein's government in April, none has been found.

Most Republicans, including Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, believe such weapons eventually will be found.

"I am confident that a clear case will be made about the Iraqi WMD," he said.

But Democrats, including the former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Bob Graham of Florida, accuse the administration of shifting the focus from the search for actual weapons to evidence of weapons programs.

"If we do not find weapons of mass destruction, and if we do not find that they were positioned in a way for imminent use, the credibility of the United States government abroad and the credibility of the United States government with its own people will be significantly eroded," said Mr. Graham, who is seeking the Democratic party's nomination for president next year.