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Jane Arraf: U.S. intensifies weapons search

CNN correspondent Jane Arraf
CNN correspondent Jane Arraf

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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Coalition forces in Iraq have searched for weeks without finding any chemical or biological weapons, raising questions about the intelligence the United States cited to assert that Saddam Hussein had banned weapons.

The United States is sending in a new team of investigators to join the search for weapons of mass destruction.

Correspondent Jane Arraf is in Baghdad and discussed the search with CNN's Bill Hemmer.

ARRAF: That new team [of inspectors] is going to be [headed by] Lt. General Keith Dayton, and he says it's a new kind of search -- in fact, turning the corner on years of weapons inspections by the United Nations

Now, essentially ... intelligence experts of every kind are coming here, about 1,200 of them. They'll begin to arrive on June 7, just at the end of the week, to try to begin work.

And essentially, what they will be doing is sifting through documents, interviewing and interrogating people, and basically trying to fill in some of those questions.

When the U.N. weapons inspectors left, it wasn't so much material evidence that was being unearthed, it was documents that they were looking for, the records of how those weapons programs were compiled, and what might have happened to them, and to try to piece together what's missing. In essence, a lot of detective work.

Now, [members of] the U.S.-backed Iraqi National Congress, one of the main original opposition groups, held a press conference today in Baghdad. They were the controversial source of a lot of that information from defectors saying there were banned weapons here.

The INC spokesman sidestepped questions, saying it was enough that we're finding mass graves, that the war was justified, even if we never find weapons of mass destruction.

HEMMER: Jane, we were talking with a U.S. senator just about 30 minutes ago, Saxby Chambliss out of Georgia. He says that it may be, in the end, that the U.S. was just too late for war. How is that argument now being taken -- that perhaps [the weapons] were destroyed, as you point out, prior to the war beginning?

ARRAF: There is a feeling that those weapons might have been destroyed a long time ago, and the feeling, also, that perhaps Saddam Hussein would have wanted to perpetuate the idea that he still hung on to them, that he still held them to create the perception of a threat. It's not out of the realm of possibility.

Certainly on the streets here, there is a lot of skepticism that Iraq did have banned weapons and certainly with the criticism we're seeing from Washington and London, a deeper skepticism about the motives of this war.

Now the idea is that, no matter what the rationale was, this is what we have to deal with now, but U.S. officials here are making very clear that it is still a priority of theirs here in Baghdad to try to uncover whether the banned weapons exist.

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