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'Damning Portrait' of Arms Programs

Baghdad has expanded missiles, built bombs and may still have anthrax, inspector says.

January 28, 2003|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — The chief U.N. weapons inspector disclosed troubling new details about Iraq's weapons programs Monday and expressed frustration with what he described as Baghdad's refusal to resolve long-standing questions about efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, as well as long-range missiles.

While the report to the Security Council by Hans Blix did not provide proof that Iraq is hiding programs to produce weapons of mass destruction, his criticism was perhaps his sharpest since the current confrontation with Iraq began last fall, and its tone surprised veteran weapons inspectors. Blix notably did not ask to extend the current inspections. Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, was more restrained in his language and asked for more time.

Among the disclosures in Blix's report:

Iraq has expanded the diameter of its liquid-fueled Al-Samoud missile to 760 millimeters, far beyond limits set by the U.N. Outside experts say the expanded missile may be large enough to carry a nuclear warhead. In addition, Iraq has imported 380 rocket engines for the Al-Samoud, some as recently as last month, without U.N. approval.

An Iraqi air force supply document recovered late last year shows that Baghdad produced 6,500 bombs, containing about 1,000 tons of chemical agents, in the 1980s. Iraq has not accounted for those weapons, as well as thousands of other chemical warheads.

About 8,500 liters of concentrated anthrax Iraq produced as a germ weapon "might still exist," because Baghdad has given no evidence to support its claim that it secretly destroyed the deadly microbes in 1991. Iraq also no longer admits to what it previously had conceded -- that it imported material that could be used to produce an additional 5,000 liters of anthrax.

Several former U.N. weapons inspectors, who closely track the nuts and bolts of U.N. reports, applauded Blix's dry though harsh report.

"It's a damning portrait, with much more coherent examples of Iraq's failures than the White House has been able to present," said David Kay, a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector now at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies outside Washington.

"I was surprised, almost shocked," said Timothy V. McCarthy, a former U.N. missile inspector now at the Monterey Institute of International Studies south of San Francisco. "It was much stronger than I expected."

Blix also disclosed that a dozen 122-millimeter chemical rocket warheads found by inspectors this month south of Baghdad were in a "relatively new bunker" and thus had been moved there at a time "when Iraq should not have had such munitions."

Blix, a Swedish diplomat, sounded skeptical of Iraq's claim that the warheads had been stored since 1991 and were simply overlooked. "They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg," he said. "The discovery of a few rockets does not resolve but rather points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for."

Blix also highlighted his concern that Iraq previously sought to produce and deploy warheads with VX, a deadly nerve agent. Iraq has repeatedly changed its official accounts of its VX program, and those accounts still conflict with documents and evidence recovered by current and former U.N. weapons teams, he said.

Inspectors have found a "laboratory quantity" of thiodiglycol, a chemical precursor of mustard gas, Blix also disclosed. U.N. officials previously have demanded that Iraq explain the disposition of 550 warheads filled with mustard gas in the 1980s. The laboratory discovery is the first suggestion that Iraq's production of mustard gas, a weapon first used in World War I, may be more recent.

Blix said inspectors are considering whether to destroy chemical processing equipment Iraq installed at Fallujah for the production of chlorine and phenol. The two chemicals have civilian uses, but they also can be used to synthesize precursors for blister and nerve agents.

"We have inspected this equipment and are conducting a detailed technical evaluation of it," Blix said. "On completion, we will decide whether this and other equipment ... should be destroyed."

The Times reported last week that some of the equipment at the Fallujah chlorine plant was purchased from an Indian trading company, NEC Engineering Private Ltd., between 1998 and 2001 in a scheme that used phony customs documents and a series of front companies.

Blix also strongly criticized Iraq's refusal to explain its program to produce concentrated anthrax as a germ weapon. Baghdad has acknowledged producing about 8,500 liters of anthrax in the 1980s but says it unilaterally destroyed the stockpile in 1991.

"Iraq had provided little evidence for this production and no convincing evidence for its destruction," Blix said. "There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared.... It might still exist."

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