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White House: Centrifuge parts back case on Iraq

Discovery shows difficulty in locating weapons, official says

From Suzanne Malveaux
CNN Washington Bureau

Parts of a gas centrifuge system for enriching uranium were dug up in Baghdad.
Parts of a gas centrifuge system for enriching uranium were dug up in Baghdad.

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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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CNN's David Ensor on a former Iraqi scientist giving the CIA nuclear centrifuge parts and plans buried in his rose garden.
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Uranium hexafluoride gas is placed in a series of rotating drums or cylinders that run at high speeds to extract weapon grade uranium.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House said Thursday that the CIA's procurement of centrifuge parts in Iraq -- equipment needed in a nuclear weapons program -- bolsters President Bush's assertion that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

CNN reported Wednesday that the CIA said it has critical parts of a key piece of Iraqi nuclear technology -- parts needed to develop a bomb program -- that were dug up in Baghdad. (Full story, Interactive: How uranium is enriched)

Iraqi scientist Mahdi Obeidi said he unearthed the parts in his back yard in Baghdad. Obeidi said he had hidden them beneath a rosebush 12 years ago under orders from Saddam Hussein's son Qusay and Saddam's then-son-in-law, Hussein Kamel.

CNN Security Correspondent David Ensor reports that the concealment of such materials -- and failure to disclose their presence -- would have constituted violations of Security Council regulations under U.N. sanctions in place in 1991.

National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said the equipment from Obeidi's back yard are "what might be needed to build a centrifuge, concealed over time as part of a plan to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program after the [International Atomic Energy Agency] inspections were over."

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday the parts found in Baghdad are not "evidence of a smoking gun" proving Iraq had a current weapons of mass destruction program. (IAEA reaction)

McCormack also said the discovery underscores the tremendous difficulty the United States faces in being able to find Saddam's possible weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration has come under fire for not producing any weapons so far, but officials insist they are confident the United States will find proof that Iraq had weapons that posed an imminent threat.

"This illustrates the extreme challenge that the coalition faces in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction, which were designed to be hidden from inspectors for years," McCormack said.

The White House also stressed the importance of Obeidi approaching U.S. officials.

"It's significant that he came forward to us. We hope others out there are encouraged by Obeidi coming forward," McCormack said.

The administration has argued it could not get reliable information previously because Iraqis feared reprisals from Saddam.

McCormack also said Obeidi told U.S. officials he had not been candid with inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in the past.

"Dr. Obeidi said in an interview as recently as 2002 he did not offer information to IAEA inspectors about the equipment in his back yard. ...," McCormack said. "We hope he's an example of others who will come forward to share what they know."

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