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Progress reported in Iraq weapons hunt

'Somebody was going to come to kill us'

From David Ensor and Mike Boettcher
CNN

A blueprint for an upper centrifuge, which the CIA says is now in their possession.
A blueprint for an upper centrifuge, which the CIA says is now in their possession.

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CIA sources tell CNN's David Ensor that with the revelation of nuclear centrifuge parts, other evidence should come quickly
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CNN's Mike Boettcher spoke to the Iraqi scientist who led U.S. officials to the nuclear centrifuge buried in his back yard.
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A former Iraqi scientist gives the CIA nuclear centrifuge parts and plans buried in his rose garden.
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SPECIAL REPORT
• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide

(CNN) -- U.S. personnel searching in Iraq for unconventional weapons and their components are making rapid progress and the world could expect surprises soon, the CIA's chief weapons inspector told CNN.

The progress is being made because key Iraqis are finally beginning to open up -- men like Dr. Mahdi Obeidi who turned over documents and parts of an Iraqi gas centrifuge system for developing nuclear weapons material.

Obeidi buried the materials beneath rose bushes in his back yard 12 years ago. (Full story, White House reaction)

"My suspicions are that we'll find [things] in the chemical and biological areas. In fact, I think there may be some surprises coming rather quickly in that area," chief CIA weapons inspector David Kay told CNN over a secure teleconference between Baghdad and CIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia.

Kay, who led three United Nations arms inspection missions in Iraq in 1991-92, declined to be more specific on what "surprises" might turn up.

U.S. officials said they were examining two large containers found in Iraq full of documents related to banned weapons.

Officials said some documents instruct scientists how to conceal evidence of the weapons program from international inspectors.

And while no smoking gun evidence has turned up, Kay is optimistic he will find some soon.

The cooperation of Obeidi -- an Iraqi nuclear scientist who has since been removed from Iraq along with his family -- has excited U.S. officials and caught the attention of the Bush administration.

"We hope this will lead other scientists to step forward," White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said Thursday.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior officials have long contended that real breakthroughs in the hunt for banned weapons and their components would not be made until Iraqis come forward with information.

So far, few have come forward. Until now, Iraqi scientists have told CNN they were unsure of the U.S. policy, wondering if they would be welcomed or treated as war criminals, or left vulnerable to reprisals by remnants of Saddam Hussein's regime.

For example, one scientist told CNN he did not have anything to do with weapons programs and said he wasn't afraid. But as CNN Producer Maria Fleet left his home, his daughter secretly passed along a note.

"He is afraid of telling the truth because of the dangerous situation Saddam put us in. Please help us and make sure of our safety and if you could make it possible to leave Iraq forever," said the note, written in English.

CIA admits raid was a mistake

After U.S. officials learned Obeidi had talked to CNN, he and his family were whisked out of Iraq to safety.
After U.S. officials learned Obeidi had talked to CNN, he and his family were whisked out of Iraq to safety.

The story of Obeidi, the Iraqi scientist now cooperating with U.S. authorities, is a prime example of the fears facing Iraqis who want to help out.

Obeidi had already begun cooperating with the CIA when U.S. Army troops raided his home June 3, breaking through the front door.

"I was eating breakfast with my wife and I heard some very loud noise outside, and the noise started to grow and even more. And then we were really scared. We thought somebody was going to come to kill us," Obeidi told CNN.

Just two days earlier, he said he had begun cooperating with the CIA, describing to them the centrifuge program and turning over the plans and parts he had hidden under his rose bushes.

Obeidi said he was promised protection by the CIA, but as armed soldiers roamed his home, he felt endangered. His handlers seemed to be reneging, he said.

Fortunately for Obeidi, he was able to reach the only American he really knew, David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector whom he had met -- and lied to -- many times during U.N. inspections in the 1990s.

Albright, now president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, told CNN the breakdown was the result of "no policy in the U.S. government to allow these scientists to come to the U.S."

"There is no plea bargain policy. I think there were people here in the bureaucracy that didn't want to make a deal," Albright said. "He was trapped."

Obeidi then contacted CNN. A day after U.S. officials learned he had spoken to CNN, Obeidi and his family were whisked out of Iraq by the CIA.

The CIA admits the Army raid on Obeidi's home was a mistake.

"There are many units operating right now in Baghdad and it was a case -- genuine case -- of lack of full coordination," Kay said.

Obeidi, who met with CNN Wednesday at a location the network promised not to disclose, said he hoped lessons could be learned from his attempt to cooperate. Other Iraqi scientists were closely watching his fate, he said.

"I think that the soft touch is the best approach. This is the approach that has really helped me to voluntarily cooperate," he said.

CNN Producer Maria Fleet contributed to this report.


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