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Officials: WMD chief may quit

Kay: Some of his team diverted to helping combat insurgents
Kay: Some of his team diverted to helping combat insurgents

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Arms Control

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- In a potential setback to the so far fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the head of the U.S. search team, David Kay, told administration officials he is considering leaving the job as early as next month, U.S. officials said.

Though Kay cited family obligations, officials described the former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector as frustrated -- no banned weapons have been found despite months of searching and some of Kay's staff have been diverted to helping combat Iraqi insurgents.

Kay and his team were sent to Iraq to locate the weapons that were cited by President George W. Bush and his top advisers as the main justification for invading.

An announcement could come as early as next week, one official said.

Officials said Kay, who is directing the weapons search as an adviser to the CIA, could step down before his Iraq Survey Group issues its next interim report slated for February.

Kay met with CIA officials earlier this week and will hold a follow-up meeting, most likely next week, "to discuss next steps," including his tenure, an official said. He may not return to Baghdad after the Christmas and New Year's holiday. "That's yet to be determined," one official said.

Critics blamed the Bush administration for undercutting the search for weapons and warned that Kay's departure could further undermine the effort.

Former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright, now head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said some of the investigators on Kay's team might say to themselves, "Kay's not sticking around. Why should I?"

But White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the weapons hunt was an "important priority" for the administration whether Kay stays or goes. "Regardless, the work of the Iraq Survey Group continues and they will complete that work," he said.

In an interview earlier this week with ABC News, Bush brushed aside questions about whether Iraq had possessed banned weapons -- as his administration asserted before the war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who was captured on Saturday -- or was merely pursuing weapons programs.

"So what's the difference?" Bush responded.

High hopes

When he took the job in June, officials said, Kay had fully expected to quickly find evidence to back up the administration's prewar claims about Iraqi weapons.

But in a preliminary report in October, his team found no stockpiles of biological or chemical weapons. (Full story)

"When he (Kay) signed up, I don't think that he envisioned that it would take quite as much time and effort and that the security situation would be quite what it is," a U.S. official said.

"And there is some pressure back here on the home front," the U.S. official added, referring to Kay's family obligations.

Officials said Kay was also unhappy that some members of his team were shifted to the counter-insurgency front. "So he doesn't have all of the assets he would like to have. Nobody does," the U.S. official said.

The Survey Group plans to issue its next interim report in February and its final report next fall.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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