A Senate panel's probe into the WMD claims, which President George Bush had used as a pretext to invade Iraq, was stopped six weeks ago amid a partisan row.

Over nine months after the US-led invasion which toppled Saddam Hussein, President Bush and his allies have yet to uncover any WMDs.

"I think we will have, hopefully, some public hearings by February," Pat Roberts, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said on CBS's Face the Nation programme.

"We will get those questions out."

No banned weapons have been found in Iraq despite intense searches by various inspection teams.

The Senate committee had been taking a fresh look at the pre-war intelligence and whether the Bush administration twisted data to bring about regime change in Iraq.

But hearings into the matter were suspended in November, after Senate Republicans, citing a leaked Democratic strategy paper, accused Democrats of trying to exploit the probe for political gain.

Now, Roberts has struck a conciliatory posture, saying that he has been in touch with the ranking committee Democrat, Senator John Rockefeller, and other members to find a way forward.

The change of heart came after the CIA admitted last month that it "lacked specific information" about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction when it compiled a 2002 intelligence estimate that served to justify the invasion.

Republicans embarrassed

Meanwhile, Republicans have found themselves on the back foot after Bush, when asked in a television interview last week whether he had evidence about Iraqi weapons or just feared Baghdad may acquire them, replied: "So what's the difference?"

"There is a huge difference between having something and seeking something"

Democrat Senator Carl Levin

Senator Carl Levin, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the remark was "a stunning revelation" of Bush's "thinking and of his decision to go to war".

"There is a huge difference between having something and seeking something," Levin said.

Democratic Senator Joseph Biden said it was important to
complete the Iraqi weapons review to maintain US credibility in the world at
large.

"The idea that we're going to go in next time and say, by the way, Kim Jong II in North Korea's about to do the following, who the heck's going to believe us?" Biden asked in a CBS interview.

But General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed confidence that weapons of mass destruction would be eventually found the same way US troops caught up with deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein - through cooperation of Iraqi individuals.

"The same thing's going to be true in WMD," Myers said in an interview with Fox News Sunday.