Hunt for arms 'is being hampered by lack of experienced inspectors'

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The Independent Online

Weapons of mass destruction have not been found in Iraq because the "wrong experts" are there, former United Nations weapons inspectors say.

The inspectors said yesterday that inadequate pay, and possibly a disinclination by the US to allow experts associated with the UN to take credit for any weapons finds, were at the root of the problem.

The former UN experts who worked for Unscom teams in the 1990s in Iraq are considered the leading experts in chemical, biological, nuclear weapons and missile technology.

But only now have such experienced hands begun to be sent to Iraq as part of the US-led Iraq Survey Group.

Richard Spertzel, a top American expert on germ warfare who led the Unscom biological weapons team, suggests politics are to blame. He said he was "all set to go in April. But at the 13th hour, someone decided I wasn't going".

Mr Spertzel was asked by the US authorities in February to draw up a list of former Unscom experts who could carry on the hunt for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

He named 20 people, including nine Britons and four Australians. The rest were from America. Only now have three of the British experts on the list arrived in Iraq: Hamish Killop, a specialist in weapons delivery systems, and the chemical experts Peter Hackett and Rod Godfrey.

Another former UN inspector suggested that the delays were caused by pay negotiations, and that the three Britons had obtained big pay increases on the original offer.

"They offered us all the same rate at first, and treated us as temporary middle-grade civil servants," the expert said. "They wanted to pay us half of what we were earning at the UN. I would rather work for nothing than accept those terms. There are people in Iraq who have biology and chemistry degrees. But this is not an easy job. It took us a year to get up to speed. So it doesn't surprise me if they haven't found anything."

The experts contacted by The Independent all remain convinced from their own experience of dealing with Saddam Hussein's regime that weapons of mass destruction will be found in Iraq.

Rolf Ekeus, chief UN weapons inspector, from 1991 to 1997, said the 200 to 300 "searchers" of the Iraq Survey Group seemed to be going about their work in the wrong way. "They are just looking for agents, instead of looking at the capabilities. You cannot do it without the science," he said.