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U.N. Inspectors Found No Evidence of Banned Weapons in Iraq

U.N. Inspectors Found No Evidence of Banned Weapons in Iraq

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- U.N. inspectors found no evidence Iraq had weapons of mass destruction but had many questions and leads to pursue when their searches were suspended just before the U.S.-led invasion, chief inspector Hans Blix said in his final report Monday.

But the United States and Britain have barred U.N. inspectors from returning to Iraq. Instead, Washington and London have deployed their own teams and Blix said they have not requested any information or assistance from U.N. inspectors.

In the report to the Security Council, Blix said U.N. inspectors "did not find evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction or significant quantities of proscribed items."

But, he said, the inspectors had many questions about its chemical and biological programs when they left shortly before the March 20 invasion.

Inspectors also didn't have time to follow up on some late information provided by the Saddam Hussein government -- including interviewing a list of Iraqis who helped destroy anthrax after the 1991 Gulf War, he said.

The United States and Britain used the claim that Iraq had illegal weapons programs as a major reason for the war that toppled Saddam Hussein's regime. The failure of U.S. and British teams to find any nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the 11 weeks since combat ended has become a major issue in Washington, London and other international capitals.

President Bush said this weekend that weapons had been found. As evidence, however, he pointed to two two suspected mobile biological laboratories, which both the Pentagon and American weapons hunters have said do not constitute arms.

Blix said in his 40-page report that Iraq denied any such units existed and had provided U.N. inspectors "with pictures of legitimate vehicles, which, they suggested, could have led to the information."

He noted, however, that "none of the vehicles in these pictures look like the trucks recently described and depicted" by the U.S.-led teams hunting for weapons.

Blix is retiring after his contract as executive chairman of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, ends on June 30.

His report detailed the efforts of his inspectors, who were only allowed back in late November after a four-year absence. Their searches for banned weapons were suspended on March 18.

U.N. inspections uncovered "a small number of undeclared empty chemical warheads which appear to have been produced prior to 1990," he said.

These were destroyed along with a few other proscribed items and some 70 Al Samoud 2 missiles with a range beyond the 92-mile limit allowed under U.N. resolutions.

While Iraq's cooperation with U.N. inspectors started improving in late January and inspectors got "a better understanding of past weapons programs," Blix said, "little progress was made in the solution" of outstanding disarmament issues.

Extensive excavations by the Iraqis, which were witnessed by U.N. inspectors, showed that Iraq had destroyed a large number of R400 bombs containing a biological agent, as it had claimed. But the excavations couldn't verify the amount of agent produced or destroyed, he said.

Similarly, an Iraqi chemical analysis of soil samples from the site where anthrax was declared to have been dumped in 1991 showed it had been dumped there.

Blix said U.N. inspectors also didn't have time to complete their investigation on whether pilotless Iraqi drones were designed to disperse chemical or biological weapons, or had a range beyond the 92-mile limit.

He said UNMOVIC inspectors are ready to resume work, to confirm any findings since their departure, and to continue monitoring Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programs.

The council is expected to discuss Blix's report on Thursday.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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