By DOUGLAS JEHL and JUDITH MILLER
'WASHINGTON, Sept. 24 — An early draft of an interim report by the American leading the hunt for banned weapons in Iraq says his team has not found any of the unconventional weapons cited by the Bush administration as a principal reason for going to war, federal officials with knowledge of the findings said today.
The long-awaited report by David Kay, the former United Nations weapons inspector who has been leading the American search for illicit weapons, will be the first public assessment of progress in that search since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1.
Mr. Kay's team has spent nearly four months searching suspected sites and interviewing Iraqi scientists believed to have knowledge about the country's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Mr. Kay and his team had not found illicit weapons. They said they believed that Mr. Kay had found evidence of precursors and dual-use equipment that could have been used to manufacture chemical and biological weapons.
They also said that Mr. Kay's team had interviewed at least one Iraqi security officer who said he had worked in such a chemical and biological weapons program until shortly before the American invasion in March.
Sections of the interim report by Mr. Kay are expected to be made public later this month. A spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency, Bill Harlow, said in a statement today that Mr. Kay was still receiving information from the field and that his progress report would not "rule anything in or out."
The administration's inability to uncover evidence of banned weapons has prompted increasing criticism from Capitol Hill. Until now, administration officials had insisted that they did not know what Mr. Kay's report might conclude. The effort by the C.I.A. today to emphasize the interim nature of any document seemed intended to minimize political fallout from his findings.
The failure to find banned weapons has been cited by Democratic presidential candidates and other critics of the war as evidence that the administration exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to secure public support for toppling the government in Baghdad, a course that some of Mr. Bush's deputies had long promoted.
In a telephone interview, Mr. Harlow said that Mr. Kay's report was still being drafted and that it would be premature to describe any draft as reflecting even interim conclusions. Mr. Kay reports to George Tenet, the director of central intelligence, and oversees the Iraq Survey Group, an organization made up of about 1,400 American and British weapons experts, security teams and support personnel.
Mr. Kay returned to the United States from Iraq about a week ago, government officials said, and is working from an office at C.I.A. headquarters in Virginia.
The details of Mr. Kay's findings have been closely held within the administration as part of a strategy that officials said was intended both to prevent unauthorized leaks and to minimize internal disputes about any emerging findings. Issues related to the Iraqi weapons program have been contentious inside the administration as well as outside, with the State Department's intelligence branch and some officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency taking issue with a report made public in May by the C.I.A. that said mysterious trailers discovered in Iraq were used to manufacture biological weapons.
Mr. Bush, who said at the time that the discovery of the trailers meant that the administration had found illicit weapons in Iraq, has not repeated such statements in recent months. But in a recent television interview, Vice President Dick Cheney called the trailers "mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox or whatever else you wanted to use during the course of developing the capacity for an attack."
In early June, American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence disputed claims that the trailers were used for making deadly germs. They said in interviews with The New York Times that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.
As recently as Monday, Mr. Bush said he believed that Saddam Hussein buried or dispersed his stockpiles of illicit weapons before the United States mounted its invasion in March. But Mr. Bush said it would take Mr. Kay "a while" to uncover the truth about what happened to them.
People who have been hunting for weapons in Iraq have said that Mr. Kay has been frustrated over the lack of progress in the search, initially over problems involving coordination with military commanders charged in some cases with detaining the very Iraqis whose cooperation Mr. Kay's team was seeking.
Those problems have been largely resolved, the weapons hunters said, but Mr. Kay has still found it difficult in recent weeks to investigate leads that seemed worth pursuing, in part because the unstable security situation in Iraq has made it difficult for his teams to travel to some areas.
Iraq acknowledged having stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons after the Persian Gulf war of 1991 but maintained that it destroyed all such weapons after that conflict, a position that Iraqi officials in American custody are said to have reiterated in recent interrogations.
In a formal National Intelligence Estimate last October, the C.I.A. and the rest of the American intelligence community concluded that "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons" and that "if left unchecked, it probably will have a nuclear weapon during this decade." That general view was shared at the time by the United Nations and most foreign governments but support for the position has been eroded by the American failure to discover the weapons in Iraq.
A United Nations inspection team headed by the Swedish diplomat Hans Blix said in June that Iraq had never accounted for weapons and materials it claimed to have destroyed. But Mr. Blix said in more recent interviews that he now believes that Iraq destroyed its banned weapons long before the United States mounted its invasion in March.
Addressing the United Nations on Tuesday, Mr. Bush showed no sign of backing away from the administration's view that the Iraqi claims were not credible. At the White House on Monday, Condoleezza Rice, the national security adviser, said that at the time of the war there had been "nobody who knew anything about Iraq who believed that Saddam Hussein had destroyed all of his weapons of mass destruction."
"I think we will find that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction can be accounted for and we'll know the truth," Ms. Rice said, but she added: "David Kay is not going to be done with this for quite some time."'