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U.S. Inspector Says Iraq Had No Banned Weapons

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraq had no stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons and its nuclear program had decayed before last year's U.S.-led invasion, the chief U.S. weapons inspector said on Wednesday, in findings contrary to prewar assertions of the Bush administration.

President Bush had cited a growing threat from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction as one of the main reasons for overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Despite the new findings and a growing Iraqi insurgency, Bush told a campaign rally on Wednesday the war was justified.

"I still do not expect that militarily significant WMD stocks are cached in Iraq," Charles Duelfer, the CIA special adviser who led the hunt for unconventional weapons, said in testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee.

He said Iraq's nuclear weapons program had deteriorated since the 1991 Gulf War, after which U.N. weapons inspectors were in Iraq, but Saddam did not abandon nuclear ambitions.

"The analysis shows that despite Saddam's expressed desire to retain the knowledge of his nuclear team, and his attempts to retain some key parts of the program, during the course of the following 12 years (after 1991) Iraq's ability to produce a weapon decayed," Duelfer said.

Some chemical weapons were uncovered in postwar Iraq but they all predated the 1991 Gulf War, Duelfer said. His report said Iraq had destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile in 1991 and there was no evidence that it resumed production.

Iraq also appears to have destroyed its stocks of biological weapons in 1991 and 1992, but if it decided to restart that program it could have produced mustard agent in months and nerve agent in less than a year, Duelfer said.

Iraq's arms capability has been a prominent campaign issue for the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election, with Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry saying Bush rushed to war without allowing U.N. inspections enough time to investigate Iraq's armaments.

Duelfer's report "is a very significant commentary on the mistaken case for war presented by this administration," Mike McCurry, a senior Kerry adviser, told reporters in Colorado.

Bush said in a speech in Pennsylvania that the concern was that terrorists would get banned weapons from Saddam.

"There was a risk, a real risk, that Saddam Hussein would pass weapons or materials or information to terrorist networks," Bush said. "In the world after September the 11th, that was a risk we could not afford to take," he said

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