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Weapons hunter quits, says Iraq had no WMDs
by nz
Friday Jan 23rd, 2004 4:05 PM
WASHINGTON: David Kay stepped down as leader of the American hunt for banned weapons in Iraq today, and fired a parting shot at the Bush administration, while pressure mounted on the United States to hold early direct elections in Iraq.
In a direct challenge to the Bush administration, which says its invasion of Iraq was justified by the presence of illicit arms, Kay said in a telephone interview he had concluded there were no Iraqi stockpiles to be found.

"I don't think they existed," Kay said. "What everyone was talking about is stockpiles produced after the end of the last (1991) Gulf War, and I don't think there was a large-scale production programme in the nineties," he said.

Kay's departure had been expected but the manner of his going was not. The CIA announced earlier that former UN weapons inspector Charles Duelfer, who has previously expressed doubts that unconventional weapons would be found, would succeed Kay as the US's chief arms hunter.

Kay's statement is certain to keep the debate about what the US knew before the war at high intensity throughout this year's US presidential campaign.

The comments were also a setback for British Prime Minister Tony Blair, President George W Bush's chief military ally, who had insisted weapons of mass destruction would be found.

Meanwhile, US plans to hand sovereignty back to Iraqis by July 1 remained clouded.

Ahmad Chalabi, a member of Iraq's Governing Council generally seen as close to the US, said it would be possible to hold elections before the midyear deadline,

The US has insisted there is not enough time to arrange elections by then. It wants regional caucuses to appoint a transitional government, with elections in 2005.

"Direct elections are possible," Chalabi told a think tank conference in Washington. "Seek to make them possible and they will be possible."

Iraq's Shi'ites, who make up 60 per cent of the population, have mounted big demonstrations across Iraq in the past week, peacefully supporting their leading cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who says direct elections are essential.

At Friday prayers in Iraq's holy Shi'ite city of Kerbala, a leading Shi'ite cleric who says he is an adviser to Sistani told worshipers to be patient and wait to see what discussions between the United Nations and the Governing Council led to.

Kay said he believes most of what was going to be found in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has been found and that the hunt would become more difficult once America returned control of the country to the Iraqis.

The US went to war against Baghdad last year citing a threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. To date, no banned arms have been found.

In his annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Bush insisted that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had actively pursued dangerous programmes right up to the start of the US attack in March.

Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Kay's resignation and his statement to Reuters implicitly contradicted Bush and vice-president Dick Cheney.

"Kay is a very careful man who chooses his words with great precision. He is trying to set the record straight and be true to his profession," he said.,2106,2793312a10,00.html
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Saddam's WMD never existed, says chief American arms inspectorindepFriday Jan 23rd, 2004 4:50 PM
US chief Iraq arms expert quitsbeebFriday Jan 23rd, 2004 4:48 PM
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