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Panel: U.S. Ignored Work of U.N. Arms Inspectors

Months before U.S. troops attacked Iraq in March 2003, the IAEA challenged every piece of evidence the Bush administration offered to support claims of a nuclear program there, according to the commission.

In January, IAEA inspectors discovered that documents showing Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger were forged. But the CIA chose to stick to the claim for another six months.

"We offered eyes and ears," Hans Blix says of his U.N. team's work.

Two years earlier, the IAEA disputed CIA claims that Iraq was trying to buy black-market aluminum tubes for a nuclear program. The IAEA assessment, which turned out to be accurate, was first shared with U.S. intelligence in July 2001, according to the authors of the presidential commission report.

Blix's U.N. group tested evidence supplied by an Iraqi defector codenamed "Curveball," whose tales of mobile bioweapons laboratories turned out to be fabrications, according to the report. Among Curveball's claims was that an Iraqi facility had been redesigned, with a temporary wall, to allow mobile laboratories to slip in and out undetected.

"When United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors visited the site on Feb. 9, 2003, they found that the wall was a permanent structure and could find nothing to corroborate Curveball's reporting," the commissioners wrote.

"We offered eyes and ears," Blix said in a telephone interview yesterday. "We knew a lot about the country, we examined places, got intelligence tips about where to go and conducted 700 inspections at 500 sites in three months."

UNMOVIC also determined before the war that CIA claims about a fleet of pilotless Iraqi planes were incorrect. The unmanned aerial vehicles did not have the capability to deliver chemical or biological weapons and were probably designed for reconnaissance missions.

The Bush administration has prevented the IAEA from returning to Iraq since the invasion. UNMOVIC will likely be dismantled unless the United States agrees to turn it into an international inspection force for biological weapons and missile programs.

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