"They picked up everything that was worth picking up," a US official told The New York Times on Thursday, referring to the Joint Captured Material Exploitation Group.

Headed by an Australian brigadier, the team's task included searching weapons depots and other sites for missile launchers that might have been used with illicit weapons.

Some military officials are viewing the pullout as a sign that the US has given up hope of finding chemical or biological weapons in Iraq, the daily said.

However, a team tasked with disposing of chemical or biological weapons remains part of the 1400-member Iraq Survey Group that has been searching for weapons of mass destruction since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, a member of the survey group said.

However, he told the paper the team, known as Task Force D/E, for disablement and elimination, was "still waiting for something to dispose of".

No WMDs found

An interim report by Iraq Survey Group leader David Kay in October said his search had yielded no weapons of mass destruction, which the US had cited as justification for the war against Iraq.

The Washington Post on Wednesday said interviews with Iraqi scientists and investigators indicated that Saddam's regime concealed arms research that never went beyond the planning stage, although it engaged in "abundant deception" about its ambitions.

"The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date," said the Post, "suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not posess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armoury on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Gulf War."

Despite mounting evidence Iraq lacked weapons of mass destruction, the US government insists the search for banned weapons in Iraq is not over and points to thousands of seized documents that it says may yet lead to a hidden jackpot.