The man leading the US hunt for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in Iraq is to resign, according to reports. The loss of David Kay is being interpreted by many analysts as signalling the end of the major effort to discover any hidden weapons.
A number of observers now believe it is unlikely that any weapons of mass destruction (WMD) existed. However, officials from the US administration maintain that if Kay does leave, it would have no impact on the ongoing work of the Iraq Study Group he heads.
According to The Washington Post, Kay has told administration officials that he plans to leave before the completion of the ISG’s final report, expected in autumn 2004. He may even leave before the next interim report in February.
Kay has cited personal reasons for resigning, the paper says. But in recent weeks he has softened his line on the probability of finding banned WMD. He is said to be frustrated that some of the ISG’s 1400 staff were reallocated to counter-insurgency duties in Iraq in October.
Paul Rogers, at the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University, UK, thinks Kay’s planned departure is significant: “My reading is that it’s a serious part of downgrading the whole procedure. I think it’s highly unlikely that anything will be found.”
Rogers believes the Bush administration is shifting its stance, and no longer sees finding the WMD as a priority. Instead, he says, officials are focusing on the atrocities carried out by Saddam Hussein as the key reason for going to war.
"They've made a transition with the truth and my guess is they're pretty well convinced there's nothing serious to be found," he told New Scientist. "While that may be totally different to what we were told eight months ago, that is the new line."
During a recent interview with ABC News, President George Bush dismissed questions about the failure of the ongoing search. "What difference does it make? If [Saddam Hussein] were to acquire weapons, he would be the danger."
Since the end of the conflict, ISG staff have taken soil samples, inspected hundreds of factories and laboratories and interviewed many Iraqi scientists in their hunt for the weapons, but found almost nothing.
ISG "mobile exploitation teams" are armed with an array of scientific equipment including Chemical Agent Monitors, designed to quickly find chemical weapons, Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopes for identifying radioactive materials in sealed containers and a handheld instrument that can spot the DNA of biological weapons.
Only a single vial of botulinum toxin, an extremely poisonous substance, has been found, in the house of an Iraqi scientist.
Courtesy Josh Kirby