Iraqi nuclear scientist says he hid material from UN

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The Independent Online

The former head of an Iraqi scheme to build centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear bombshas surrendered papers and parts that were buried in his garden for 12 years, American officials said yesterday.

Mahdi Shukur Obeidi admitted that the material dated from the 1990s when UN inspectors dismantled Iraq's nuclear programmes.

He said he was told to safeguard the parts and documents until sanctions against Iraq were lifted.

A US official said: "These documents and components were deliberately hidden at the direction of Iraq's senior leadership with the aim of preserving the regime's capacity to resume construction of a centrifuge that at some point could be used to enrich uranium for a nuclear device."

The find does not give Washington the hard evidence or "smoking gun" to back its claimthat Iraq was holding weapons of mass destruction.

But the scientist, who has been relocated outside Iraq with his family, failed to mention the materials when interviewed by UN inspectors last year.

Ari Fleischer, President George Bush's spokesman, said what he had had given up "represented a complete set of what would be needed to rebuild a centrifuge uranium enrichment programme".

* Two American soldiers were killed and two others feared abducted in Iraq yesterday, bringing to at least 60 the number of US troops killed in Iraq since Mr Bush declared the war over.

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