US weapons inspector David Kay briefed Congress on the progress of work in Iraq, following three months of searching by a team of 1,500 inspectors.

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“We have not found at this point actual weapons,” he later told the waiting media, but says there was significant evidence of suspicious activity by Saddam Hussein’s former regime.

Dr Kay says the findings did not mean the United States had concluded there were no weapons.

“At this point, we have found substantial evidence of an intent of senior level Iraqi officials, including Saddam, to continue production at some future point in time of weapons of mass destruction.”

Dr Kay said experts in the Iraq Survey Group had found “a large body of continuing activities and equipment that were not declared to the UN inspectors when they returned in November of last year.”

He says it included “substantial equipment and activities in the chemical and biological area, a much more substantial activity in the missile area.”

Dr Kay said Saddam’s regime was carrying out “a very full-scale program” aimed at extending the range of its missiles beyond 1,000 kilometres, which would be capable of reaching the Egyptian capital Cairo and the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh from Iraqi territory.

The head of the Iraq Survey Group estimates it will take up to another nine months to give a firm indication of the state of the Iraqi weapons program.

“Believe me, if I wanted to go into business, I would go into the metal detection business in Iraq. I think for 100 years they will be digging up the relics of Saddam’s empire that are buried over the country,” he said.

“My advice to everyone is still don’t be surprised by surprises in Iraq.”

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