Several hundred military translators and document experts will continue to sift through millions of pages of documents on paper and computer media sitting in a storeroom on a U.S. military base in Qatar.
But their work is focused on material that could support possible war crimes charges or shed light on the fate of Capt. Michael Scott Speicher, a Navy pilot who was shot down in an F/A-18 fighter over central Iraq on Jan. 17, 1991, the opening night of the Persian Gulf War. Although he was initially reported as killed in action, Speicher's status was changed to missing after evidence emerged that he had ejected alive from his aircraft.
The work on documents is not connected to weapons of mass destruction, officials said, and a small group of Iraqi scientists still in U.S. military custody are not being held in connection with weapons investigations, either.
Three people involved with the ISG said the weapons teams made several pleas to the Pentagon to release the scientists, who have been interviewed extensively. All three officials specifically mentioned Gen. Amir Saadi, who was a liaison between Hussein's government and U.N. inspectors; Rihab Taha, a biologist nicknamed "Dr. Germ" years ago by U.N. inspectors; her husband, Amir Rashid, the former oil minister; and Huda Amash, a biologist whose extensive dealings with U.N. inspectors earned her the nickname "Mrs. Anthrax."
None of the scientists has been involved in weapons programs since the 1991 Gulf War, the ISG determined more than a year ago, and all have cooperated with investigators despite nearly two years of jail time without charges. U.S. officials previously said they were being held because their denials of ongoing weapons programs were presumed to be lies; now, they say the scientists are being held in connection with the possible war crimes trials of Iraqis.
It has been more than a year since any Iraqi scientist was arrested in connection with weapons of mass destruction. Many of those questioned and cleared have since left Iraq, one senior official said, acknowledging for the first time that the "brain drain" that has long been feared "is well underway."
"A lot of it is because of the kidnapping industry" in Iraq, the official said. The State Department has been trying to implement programs designed to keep Iraqi scientists from seeking weapons-related work in neighboring countries, such as Syria and Iran.
Since March 2003, nearly a dozen people working for or with the weapons hunt have lost their lives to the insurgency. The most recent deaths came in November, when Duelfer's convoy was attacked during a routine mission around Baghdad and two of his bodyguards were killed.