Zarqawi attack on inspector cut short the hunt for WMD

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The American who led the hunt for Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction has revealed that the investigation was cut short after he was targeted by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the militant leader in an attack that left two people dead. The head of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, has reported that his investigation into the possible transfer of WMD to Syria had been wound up because of the "declining security situation".

The American who led the hunt for Iraq's missing weapons of mass destruction has revealed that the investigation was cut short after he was targeted by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the militant leader in an attack that left two people dead. The head of the Iraq Survey Group, Charles Duelfer, has reported that his investigation into the possible transfer of WMD to Syria had been wound up because of the "declining security situation".

But, in an interview with The Independent, Mr Duelfer said that Zarqawi had claimed responsibility for the car-bomb attack on his convoy on 6 November 2004. "A car-bomb tried to get me and my follow car," Mr Duelfer said. "Two of my guards were killed and one was badly wounded. My hearing's not been right since."

Mr Duelfer, in an addendum to the final report which runs to thousands of pages, concluded that there was no evidence that WMD had been moved to Syria by Saddam Hussein. The report contradicted assertions by Donald Rumsfeld, the US Secretary of Defence, who claimed after the war that the lack of WMD in Iraq might be explained this way.

Mr Duelfer reported just before the US presidential election last November that his 1,500-strong group had found "no evidence" that Saddam had possessed chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. His dossier demolished claims by the British government and Bush administration issued before the Iraq war that Saddam's weapons were a threat to the US and Britain.

Mr Duelfer denied suggestions - including from an Australian colleague, the weapons inspector Rod Barton - that he had been subjected to political pressure by the US or British authorities. He confirmed that John Scarlett, the head of MI6, had mentioned some "nuggets" that could be put into his interim report, issued in March last year. "I looked at them, and didn't include them," he said.

But he added that he did not construe such suggestions to be political pressure. "I got a lot of suggestions from governments with big intelligence operations. It would be foolish of me not to look at them.

"There was political interest, but that's not the same as political pressure," he said. "There was a desire on the part of capitals to find WMD. It would have made everyone's life much easier. But the view was: let the chips fall where they may."

Asked what he had achieved in his 18 months in Iraq, Mr Duelfer said he had built up a comprehensive picture of Saddam's strategic intent. He believes that given the opportunity, which would have come with the lifting of UN sanctions, the Iraqi dictator was poised to resume his banned weapons activities. "I think there's a decent set of data on the table." After hours of debriefing more than 100 Iraqi scientists and experts, "I think I understand the motivation of the regime."

He explained that his attempt to comprehend the workings of Saddam's regime had led him to the oil-for-food scandal. In his report, he contended that Saddam's government siphoned more than $2bn (£1.05bn) in illicit bribes and kickbacks from companies that traded with Iraq through the UN's humanitarian oil-for-food scheme. Six investigations are now under way into the scandal.

Mr Duelfer, who backed the invasion of Iraq, said his team had drawn up a timeline of international events in order to understand the mindset of the isolated Iraqi leader. "We wanted to know what was he looking at when he made this or that decision, for example, going to war with Iran," he said.

Asked why he had not gone to such trouble to understand the mindset of the Iraqi dictator in the 1990s, when he was deputy head of the UN inspection agency Unscom, Mr Duelfer argued that Iraq's obstruction of the arms monitors had not been conducive to such an approach.

"The patterns of behaviour reinforced assumptions," he said. He also recognised that because of the lack of relations between America and Iraq in the 1990s, the lack of direct intelligence from the ground was also an impediment.

"There was a systemic problem in the intelligence community," he noted. "What I think I missed was how high Saddam's priority was to get out of sanctions. From 1991, it was the number one priority."

Mr Duelfer has retired as a weapons inspector but will write an account of his time in Iraq. His next project is as consultant to a mission planning to resume manned flights to the Moon.

* Gunmen have assassinated Lamia Abed Kha- dawi, a member of Iraq's National Assembly. Ms Khadawi, who belonged to the caretaker Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's party, was shot dead outside her house in eastern Baghdad. She is the first person in the 275-seat assembly to be killed.

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