United Nations inspectors have disputed a Bush administration contention that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had developed drones capable of delivering chemical or biological weapons. The inspectors conclusions are expected to fuel the debate about Iraq's pre-war military capabilities.
The U.N. commission monitoring Iraq's weapons programs says it has found no evidence that Saddam Hussein's government violated Security Council restrictions on his development of military drones.
That conclusion was contained in a report presented by the commission's acting director Dmitris Perricos Wednesday at a closed-door Security Council session.
The Bush administration had pointed to the remote-control drones as part of its justification for going to war in Iraq.
After presenting his report, Mr. Perricos noted that his group has been hampered by lack of access to Iraq since the war. He said his group is awaiting a similar report on Iraq's weapons by U.S. inspectors, who are on the ground in Iraq.
But U.N. commission spokesman Ewen Buchanan said the best information available to his group indicated the drones did not violate U.N. restrictions.
"The information available to us doesn't indicate Iraq had these drones for the delivery of chemical or biological weapons agents, nor had they gone beyond the 150-kilometer range, but we're open to new information and looking forward to the Iraq Survey Group's findings," he said.
The report also criticized the move by officials of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi administration to ship thousand of tons of scrap metal out of the country. The scrap included 43 engines taken from prohibited missiles, as well as equipment that could have been used in making weapons of mass destruction.
Ewen Buchanan said the looting of scrap metal has made it impossible to account for Saddam Hussein's weapons stockpiles.
"We had good knowledge of Iraq's capabilities in the WMD field, and with the looting after the war and scrapping of sites since then it has impacted our ability to keep abreast of Iraq's weapons capabilities, and that's the thrust of the report," he added.
The upcoming report by U.S. inspectors will address the same issues as that of the U.N. group, but is likely to reach different conclusions. The head of the U.S. Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, reported to Congress earlier this year that one Iraqi drone had traveled far beyond the allowable limit.
U.N. officials note that they do not have access to the same information as their U.S. counterparts. The two groups have similar mandates, but do not work together.