U.S. OFFICIALS said the discoveries were not proof that Iraq had managed to build or obtain banned weapons of mass destruction, as President Bush asserted before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March. But they said the materials, some of which dated back to the first Gulf War, were compelling proof that Saddam was trying actively to acquire such weapons in defiance of the United Nations.
NBC News has learned of several recent discoveries, some within the past week, one related to nuclear weapons and the others to chemical, biological and banned conventional weapons.
Three U.S. officials told NBCs Andrea Mitchell that an Iraqi scientist who was part of what Saddam called his nuclear mujahadeen had led intelligence officials to a barrel in the back yard of his home in Baghdad, where they found plans for a gas centrifuge and components of a uranium enrichment system.
The Associated Press, citing a U.S. intelligence official, identified the scientist later as Mahdi Shukur Obeidi, who headed Iraqs program to make centrifuges that would enrich uranium for nuclear weapons before the 1991 Gulf War. NBCs sources said the plans dated back to the end of the Gulf War, when Saddam was already widely known to be seeking such weapons, and came as no great surprise.
CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS
The more significant discoveries were related to Saddams attempts to rebuild chemical and biological arsenals like those he was known to have used during the Iran-Iraq War of the late 1980s, when he was supported by the U.S. government.
Sources told NBC News Jim Miklaszewski that within just the past week, U.S. investigators had found two shipping containers filled with millions of much more recent documents relating to chemical and biological weapons.
One of the documents, from 2001, was titled Document burial and U.N. activities in Iraq, the sources said. It gave detailed instructions on how to hide materials and deceive U.N. weapons inspectors, the sources said.
Other documents related to the concealment of VX nerve gas, the sources said.
The sources said U.S. troops also discovered about 300 sacks of castor beans, which are used to make the deadly biological agent ricin, hidden in a warehouse in the town of al-Aziziyah, 50 miles southeast of Baghdad, the capital. The castor beans were inaccurately labeled as fertilizer.
U.S. search teams have also been led to a site near Nasiriyah, a key Euphrates River crossing 200 miles south of Baghdad, where Iraqi informants said Scud missiles were buried.
U.S. officials said the discoveries did not constitute final proof that Saddam had rebuilt his banned weapons program, as administration officials alleged in justifying the invasion of Iraq. But they said the materials were the best evidence so far that the Iraqi government could have done so and was actively trying to deceive U.N. inspectors before the war.
Richard Butler, the United Nations former chief weapons inspector, told MSNBC TVs Lester Holt that he was absolutely unsurprised by the report. We have known of [Saddams previous plans] for a decade, he said.
Butler said that the discovery of components of a uranium enrichment system suggested that Iraq was far from production of actual weapons. The need for an enrichment system established that Iraq does not have adequate sources of natural uranium, he said. ... It has to be, above all, enriched to get weapons grade.
This all adds up and makes sense, Butler said.
NBCs Jim Miklaszewski and Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC TVs Lester Holt and MSNBC.coms Alex Johnson contributed to this report.
Did he assert that? Or is this MSNBC making things up?