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WMD sceptic will head search team

A former senior member of the United Nations weapons inspection team has been appointed by the US government to lead more than 1,000 scientists combing Iraq for evidence that Saddam Hussein produced illegal weapons.

The choice of Charles Duelfer, reported last night by ABC television, appears surprising. Earlier this month, he asserted that the claims about weapons of mass destruction used to justify the war in Iraq would never be substantiated. "I think it's pretty clear right now that they're not going to find existing weapons in Iraq of either a biological or chemical nature," he said.

Mr Duelfer, 51, was picked by George Tenet, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He will replace David Kay as head of the Iraq Survey Group, charged with finding evidence of such weapons. Mr Kay had already indicated that he intended giving up the position in February.

The Vice-President Dick Cheney said two days ago that he still believed some evidence would be found. "It's going to take some additional considerable period of time in order to look in all of the cubby holes and ammo dumps in Iraq, where you might expect to find something like that," he commented.

* Guerrillas killed two American soldiers and critically wounded a third when they fired mortar shells into a US camp outside Baquba, north-east of Baghdad, yesterday. In another attack near Fallujah, gunmen in a car threw a grenade and fired shots at a police checkpoint, killing two policemen and a civilian and wounding five other policemen. On another road out of Fallujah, near the US base at Habbaniyah, gunmen fired at a bus carrying women who work as cleaners and cooks inside the US camp. Four were killed and six injured.