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Imagine that.WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. inspectors have ended their search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in recent weeks, a U.S. intelligence official told CNN.
The search ended almost two years after President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq, citing concerns that Saddam Hussein was building weapons of mass destruction and may have hidden weapons stockpiles.
Members of the Iraq Survey Group were continuing to examine hundreds of documents and would investigate any new leads, the official said.
Charles A. Duelfer, who headed the Iraq Survey Group's search for WMD in Iraq, has returned to Iraq and is working on his final report, the official said.
In October, Duelfer released a preliminary report finding that in March 2003 -- the United States invaded Iraq on March 19 of that year -- Saddam did not have any WMD stockpiles and had not started any program to produce them.
The Iraq Survey Group report said that Iraq's WMD program was essentially destroyed in 1991 and Saddam ended the country's nuclear program after the 1991 Gulf War.
The report found that Iraq worked hard to cheat on United Nations-imposed sanctions and retain the capability to resume production of weapons of mass destruction at some time in the future. (Full story)
"[Saddam] wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction when sanctions were lifted," a summary of the report said.
Many of the military and intelligence personnel, who had been assigned to the weapons search, are now working on counterinsurgency matters, the official said.
In October after Duelfer delivered his Iraq Survey Group's report to the Senate, Bush acknowledged that Iraq didn't have weapons of mass destruction at the time he ordered the invasion but said Saddam was "systematically gaming the system" and the world is safer because he is no longer in power.
"He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away," Bush said. "Based on all the information we have to date, I believe we were right to take action."
The preliminary report indicated that Saddam was trying to have the sanctions lifted and that he hoped then to restart his weapons programs -- primarily for defense against Iran.
At the same time, the report said that "the former regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after the sanctions."
As for nuclear weapons, the report found that Iraq's "ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed" after the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991 -- and a nuclear weapon would have been years away.
Bush reiterated in October his position that Saddam had to go.
"He was a threat we had to confront, and America and the world are safer for our actions," he said. Democrats, however, didn't buy the president's position.
Bush's opponent in the presidential race, Sen. John Kerry, said the same day: "Mr. President, the American people deserve more than spin about this war.
"They deserve facts that represent reality, not carefully polished arguments and points that are simply calculated to align with a preconceived conception."
In Britain Prime Minister Tony Blair faced similar criticism.
He told his Labour Party's annual conference last September that the "evidence about Saddam having actual biological and chemical weapons, as opposed to the capability to develop them, has turned out to be wrong.
"I acknowledge that and accept it," he said. "I simply point out, such evidence was agreed by the whole international community, not least because Saddam had used such weapons against his own people and neighboring countries.
"And the problem is I can apologize for the information that turned out to be wrong, but I can't, sincerely at least, apologise for removing Saddam.
"The world is a better place with Saddam in prison not in power."
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