The head of the U.S. team hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq may be leaving his position. But military and intelligence officials insist the search for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons, while so far unsuccessful, still remains a top priority.
U.S. officials confirm that former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay has returned to the Washington area for the holidays. They say he is meeting intelligence authorities to discuss the next steps in the hunt for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The officials, speaking to VOA on condition of anonymity, acknowledge it is not clear whether Mr. Kay will return to Iraq, suggesting he may be leaving his job shortly.
But these officials and others insist there is still much work to be done. They say the search for Iraqi chemical and biological weapons is continuing.
Iraq's possession of such weapons was one of the main reasons cited by the Bush administration for going to war.
But U.S.-led search teams of the 1400-member strong Iraq Survey Group have so far found no clear-cut evidence of chemical or biological weapons. That has prompted some critics of the war to accuse the White House of misleading the American public and the world.
Captured senior officials of Saddam Hussein's ousted regime have also denied Iraq had an active unconventional weapons program.
In the meantime, there have been suggestions the hunt for weapons of mass destruction is now taking a back seat to the ongoing effort to break the pro-Saddam insurgency movement, targeting U.S. and other coalition forces.
A defense official quotes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as saying at a meeting closed to the news media the terrorist threat to the coalition is greater than Iraq's missing chemical and biological weapons.
This official quotes Mr. Rumsfeld as saying: "We're not getting shot at by WMD" - the acronym for weapons of mass destruction.
U.S. officials had previously confirmed some personnel assigned to the hunt were being pulled off the weapons search to assist in the military's counter-terrorism operations.
But they deny suggestions the Iraq Survey Group has been stripped of so many personnel that it can no longer carry out its primary weapons-hunting mission.