Iraq weapons hunter steps down

David Kay, the chief US weapons hunter in Iraq, has told the CIA he will not return to his post, a US government source said on Thursday.

    Kay was a former UN weapons inspector

    If confirmed,

    critics could seize upon the move as a sign that he has given up

    hope of finding banned arms.

    "He has told the DCI (Director of Central Intelligence

    George Tenet) that he doesn't want to go back, they have been

    trying to get him to stay," the source told Reuters on

    condition of anonymity.

    It was unclear whether the CIA had had any success in

    persuading Kay, who came back to the United States for the

    Christmas holidays, to stay on the job, the source said.

    A CIA spokesman declined to comment. Kay, reached earlier

    this week, also declined to comment and referred questions

    about his status to the CIA.

    Weapons programmes

    Tenet last June appointed Kay, a former UN weapons

    inspector, as a special adviser to lead the search for

    biological and chemical weapons and any signs of a resurrected

    nuclear weapons programme in Iraq.

    But the hunt, which is being conducted by the Defense

    Department's Iraq Survey Group, has come up empty, finding no

    stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons or any evidence

    that Iraq had restarted a programme to develop nuclear weapons.

    Alleged Iraqi WMDs were Bush's
    main justification for war

    The Bush administration cited weapons of mass destruction

    as its main justification for the war against Iraq that ousted

    Saddam Hussein from power last April.

    A US official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity,

    called Kay's status "up in the air".

    US officials last month said Kay had told administration

    officials he was considering leaving the job as early as

    January, citing family obligations.

    'Exaggerated' threat 

    At that time, officials described Kay as frustrated that no

    banned weapons were found and that some of his staff had been

    diverted to other tasks.

    The White House also said the weapons

    hunt was a priority for the administration whether or not Kay

    stayed on the job.

    The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace last week

    issued a report that accused the Bush administration in the

    lead-up to the war of making the threat from Iraq sound more

    dire than the underlying information warranted.

    The report's authors said they did not expect any large

    stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons to be found.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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