(IPS) WASHINGTON --
United States has quietly withdrawn from Iraq a 400-member military team after they have found no weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, an American think-tank said that the Bush administration "systematically misrepresented" the danger of Iraq's allegedly-banned weapons, according to press reports on Thursday, Jan. 8.
The task of the Joint Captured Materiel Exploitation Group, made up of technical experts headed by an unidentified Australian brigadier, included searching weapons depots and other sites for missile launchers that might have been used with illicit weapons.
"They picked up everything that was worth picking up," one U.S. official told The New York Times.
Some military officials described the step as a sign that the administration might have lowered its sights and no longer expected to uncover the caches of chemical and biological weapons that the White House cited as a principal reason for going to war last March, the daily said.
A separate military team that specializes in disposing of chemical and biological weapons remains part of the 1,400-member Iraq Survey Group, which has been searching Iraq for more that seven months at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, reported the Times.
David Kay, the head of the survey group, made it known last month that he might leave his post as his team had yielded no weapons of mass destruction, which President George W. Bush had cited as justification for the invasion of Iraq.
"I am sure that if they had found important evidence, we would know about it," said Representative Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who has said the administration exaggerated the Iraqi threat.
The Washington Post on Jan. 9 said interviews with Iraqi scientists and investigators indicate that Saddam's regime concealed arms research that never went beyond the planning stage.
"The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date," said the Post, "suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War."
The United States justified going to invade Iraq last year citing a threat from Baghdad's alleged weapons of mass destruction.
In a related development, a report from a U.S. think tank said on Wednesday that Bush administration officials "systemically misrepresented" the danger of Iraq 's allegedly weapons of mass destruction programs.
The report, by four experts on weapons proliferation at the respected Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is likely to reignite calls for a commission to look into the government's pre-invasion intelligence claims.
According to the report, carried by the British Guardian, the absence of any imminent threat from Saddam Hussein's chemical or nuclear programs was "knowable" before the invasion of the oil-rich country.
There was greater uncertainty over biological weapons but no evidence strong enough to justify the invasion, said the report.
The report concludes that "administration officials systematically misrepresented the threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missile program."
The authors say the intelligence reports of Iraq's capabilities grew more shrill in October 2002 with the publication of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which included an unusual number of dissenting views by intelligence officials.
The intelligence community, the report says, began to be unduly influenced by policymakers' views "sometime in 2002."
Repeated visits to the CIA by the U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney, and demands by top officials to see unsubstantiated reports, created an atmosphere in which intelligence analysts were pressed to come to "more threatening" judgments of Iraq.
The Bush administration has come under a barrage of criticisms from members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who charged the administration had "shifted justification" of the Iraq invasion from alleged weapons of mass destruction to simply the human rights violations of the ousted Saddam.
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