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More weapons inspectors head to Iraq

A new sculpture -- featuring a figure under a crescent moon -- stands in Baghdad's Firdos Square, where a statue of Saddam Hussein was brought down.
A new sculpture -- featuring a figure under a crescent moon -- stands in Baghdad's Firdos Square, where a statue of Saddam Hussein was brought down.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The general leading the new U.S. team that will search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq said he thinks there is credible evidence Iraq has the weapons but he doesn't know why they haven't yet been found.

Maj. Gen. Keith Dayton will leave for Iraq Monday to head a team of more than 1,300 investigators from the United States, UK and Australia. Between 250 and 300 of those team members -- including some inspectors who were in Iraq prior to 1998 -- will visit suspected weapons sites.

The transition from the current inspection leadership will start no later than June 7 and take about two weeks.

Dayton's team, called the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), will also have responsibility for finding terrorists and war criminals, the general said.

Dayton estimated that slightly fewer than 200 U.S. personnel have so far checked about one- third of Iraq's suspected weapons sites.

While the ISG represents only a slight increase in numbers, Dayton said his team would be better prepared to respond quickly to intelligence reports, and would no longer simply check off a list of suspect sites.

"The Iraq Survey Group represents a significant expansion in the hunt for weapons of mass destruction," he said, adding that it would be "a deliberate process and a long-term effort."

Earlier Friday, a top U.S. military commander said he was surprised that Iraqi forces did not defend themselves with chemical or biological weapons and questioned whether field commanders had received faulty intelligence.

"It was a surprise to me then as it remains a surprise to me now that we have not uncovered weapons in some of the forward dispersal sites," Conway said. "Believe me, it's not for lack of trying. We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad and they're simply not there."

The First Marine Expeditionary Force is currently tasked with holding and patrolling the southern portion of Iraq.

Conway questioned the information given to U.S. commanders during the war. "In terms of [their] use of the weapons, we thought we understood. We certainly had our best guess ... our most likely courses of action that the intelligence folks were giving us. We were simply wrong. Whether or not we were wrong at the national level, I think still remains very much to be seen." (Full story)

Nuclear inspection

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency plans to send a team to Iraq for the first time since the end of the war to conduct a safety inspection at an Iraqi nuclear facility that might have been looted, an agency spokesman said Friday.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky cautioned: "These are not weapons inspections.

"We are planning to send a team to Iraq tentatively next Wednesday, June 4, with the purpose of verifying nuclear material held at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center," Gwozdecky said.

"This work flows from Iraq's obligations under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty," he added.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told CNN on Friday: "We don't know what to expect. We have seen a lot of reports about looting. We are going to focus on nuclear materials that would [be] under verification. The coalition, however, says that they will take care of the safety and the security of radioactive sources.

"I would, again, continue to say that we are ready to help in case our help is needed."

Other developments

• U.S. forces in Iraq are working to tighten security and crack down on remaining pockets of resistance in response to a series of attacks against American troops, military officials said Friday. Four soldiers were wounded in five incidents over 36 hours Thursday and Friday, they said, and five U.S. soldiers were killed in a spate of attacks earlier this week. Sources say commanders are considering whether the situation warrants a major military sweep through Fallujah and other pockets of resistance from regime loyalists in the areas around Baghdad and west of the capital city.

• The Department of Transportation Friday lifted a nearly 13-year ban on flights between the U.S. and Iraq. While DOT's order lifts restrictions imposed in 1990, it does not authorize air carriers to immediately begin air service between the two countries because procedures for restoring service are still under review, the DOT said.

• An Iraqi man suspected of involvement in the murder of thousands of Shiite Muslims was mistakenly released from a detention facility earlier this month, the U.S. military said Thursday. Mohammed Jawad An-Neifus was cleared for release after hiding his true identity from a screening officer, the statement said.

• British military police questioned a British soldier Friday about allegations that Iraqi prisoners of war were mistreated, officials said. Officers were alerted by a photo shop when developers became concerned about several pictures on a roll of film handed in for processing. The Sun newspaper reported Friday that one of the images showed an Iraqi POW gagged and bound, hanging in netting from a fork-lift truck driven by a British soldier. (Full story)

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