LONDON – Saddam Hussein is alive and well and still in Iraq, the leader of a U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition group said Monday.
Ahmad Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress, an exile umbrella group backed by the Pentagon, told BBC radio that his group was tracking Saddam as he continued to move around the country, but were behind him by at least a half a day.
"We have received information about his movements and the movements of his sons," Chalabi told the BBC. "We cannot locate Saddam so that we have a coincidence of time and position simultaneously to locate him. But we are aware of his movements and we are aware of the areas that he has been to, and we learn of this within 12 to 24 hours."
Meanwhile, The New York Times reported Monday that a scientist who claims to have worked on Iraq's chemical-weapons program told a U.S. military investigation team that large amounts of chemical and biological weapons and equipment had been destroyed just days before coalition attacks began on March 20.
The scientist also said that Iraq secretly sent stockpiles of deadly agents and weapons technology to Syria in the mid-1990s, and more recently had been cooperating with Al Qaeda, according to the report.
Military officials said the scientist told them that chemical precursors for weapons and other sensitive materials had been buried at hidden sites several months ago.
The researcher also said a warehouse where biological weapons research had been conducted was set on fire four days before President Bush gave his Iraqi counterpart an ultimatum to leave the country.
An INC spokesman told reporters that Saddam's son-in-law, Jamal Mustafa Abdallah Sultan al-Tikriti, and one of the former president's bodyguards turned themselves in to the group after returning from neighboring Syria. The men could have information on the whereabouts of Saddam, he added.
Chalabi, who left Iraq in 1958 and returned to Baghdad last week with U.S. help and at least 100 Iraqi fighters, has been touted by some in Washington as the possible leader of a new Iraqi government.
In the BBC interview, Chalabi repeated claims that he has no political ambitions in Iraq. Many Iraqis oppose Chalabi as a new leader.
His situation is complicated by legal troubles in neighboring Jordan.
In 1992, Chalabi was convicted in absentia by a Jordanian court of embezzlement, fraud and breach of trust after a bank he ran collapsed with about $300 million in missing deposits; he was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
Chalabi, who fled Jordan before the case went to trial, denies the charges, saying the Iraqi government was behind the charges.
Chalabi also told the BBC that the United Nations should not play a major role in postwar Iraq, because Iraqis see it as having opposed military action to dislodge Saddam.
"The United Nations can and deserves only a limited role," he said. "It has little credibility in Iraq and the people of Iraq view it as a de facto ally of Saddam."
However, British Foreign Office minister Mike O'Brien said Monday that the United Nations should be involved in helping Iraq move toward democracy. Prime Minister Tony Blair has been a vocal advocate of a strong U.N. hand in the post-Saddam operation.
"I don't think they want to be involved in any of the security areas," O'Brien told the BBC. "But in terms of looking at the way in which the process of democratization takes place, the elections, the running of those ... I hope they will have a voice and an influence."
O'Brien said he hoped Syria, which the United States has accused of sponsoring terrorism, harboring remnants of Saddam's regime and producing chemical weapons, wouldn't pose an obstacle to Iraq's road to democracy.
He said Syrian President Bashar Assad assured him that Damascus had tried to prevent volunteers from crossing to help fight U.S. troops, but added those efforts were not successful.
"Many of the volunteers have gone across and have been involved in action against British and U.S. soldiers," he said. "We very much regret that, and I've made that clear to President Assad."
Secretary of State Colin Powell was expected to travel to Damascus soon to meet with Assad.
Bush said this weekend that he believed Syria was "getting the message" about Iraq and might be willing to help round up Iraqi regime leaders instead of sheltering them.
"There's some positive signs," Bush said Sunday after attending Easter services at the Army's Fort Hood in central Texas. "They're getting the message that they should not harbor Baath Party officials, high-ranking Iraqi officials."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.