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No role for UN in weapons hunt

Kamal Ahmed in London and Peter Beaumont in Baghdad
Sunday April 20, 2003
The Observer

The United Nations is to be cut out of any involvement in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction 'for the foreseeable future', after Washington made it clear it sees no role for Hans Blix or the Unmovic inspections team.

UK Government sources told The Observer the central question of verification of any finds of WMD would be left to a third country outside the coalition, such as the Netherlands. Discussions are under way to establish which country can offer the greatest expertise and is willing to take on the task of overseeing US and British operations.

It was revealed last week that a 1,000-strong Anglo-American task force was being prepared to search for WMDs at up to 150 sites across Iraq. Former UN weapons inspectors have been hired to help in the search, which has so far produced some pieces of evidence but no 'smoking gun'.

Whitehall sources told The Observer the hunt for WMD would continue and that getting the Unmovic weapons inspection team into Iraq would be too complex.

One official said it would be 'months at least' before there was any UN role agreed on WMD and that by then Blix, the head of the Unmovic team, would have retired.

'There is no way the UN can be involved in the immediate search,' the source said. 'There are the practical issues of the security situation and the longer-term issues of the role of the UN in the reconstruction. We are not committed to Unmovic returning.'

The move will be greeted with dismay by Labour MPs who have demanded 'proof' that the weapons exist. Doug Henderson, the former Defence Minister, said if there was no discovery of WMD the war would be deemed illegal.

Many backbench MPs opposed to the conflict believe the UN is the only 'honest broker' that can be trusted to provide an incontrovertible answer to whether Iraq had WMD.

Downing Street is nailing its reputation on a discovery, even though officials warn it may take months or even a year to complete the search.

A former senior analyst for the CIA, Professor Mel Goodman, told The Observer on Friday that the agency and administration 'stretched the evidence' it presented to the world on Iraq's possession of WMD as a reason to go to war.

Goodman said the basis for assuming Iraq had such weapons was part of what he called a 'shoot the messenger syndrome', whereby 'the Bush administration heard what it wanted to hear', and ensured the right information reached its ears through 'the politicisation of intelligence'.

'The credibility of the Bush administration and the intelligence community will be put at risk if weapons of mass destruction are not soon found in significant numbers,' he said.

Yesterday, American troops uncovered a massive cache of hidden money, valued at close to $650 million, in a sealed-up villa close to the Tigris river. The haul came as US forces announced Iraq's new police, who operate under their command, had arrested Saddam's former Finance Minister Hikmat Mizban Ibrahim al-Azzawi, and turned him over to US Marines.

Al-Azzawi, 70, who also served as a Deputy Prime Minister, was apprehended on Friday in Baghdad, according to a statement released by US Central Command in Doha, Qatar.

The discovery of the money came as two Army sergeants went searching for saws on Friday to clear away branches that were blocking their Humvees and instead stumbled on the villa containing the money in boxes.

The discovery of the cash confirms suspicions that Saddam Hussein - whose fate and whereabouts still remain a mystery - and senior members of his family had squirrelled away massive stashes of ready cash in sites across the country, with the acquiescence of figures such as al-Azzawi, whose job was effectively that of a private chancellor to Saddam's regime.

Al-Azzawi's arrest follows that of other senior figures on America's most-wanted list, including Saddam's top science adviser, Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi; Saddam's half brothers Watban Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti and Barzan Ibrahim Hasan al-Tikriti; and Samir Abd al-Aziz al-Najim, a senior leader of Saddam's toppled Baath party.

The latest arrest came as US Marines started pulling out of the Iraqi capital yesterday, handing over control to US Army units as the military's mission moves from combat to policing.


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