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'91 Iraq Toxics Plan Reported

Hussein was going to launch missiles armed with toxic warheads if Baghdad was hit with nuclear weapons, U.N. inspectors' report says.

March 10, 2003|Bob Drogin | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Saddam Hussein secretly planned to launch 75 missiles armed with chemical or biological warheads during the Persian Gulf War if Baghdad was hit with nuclear weapons, according to a new report by U.N. weapons inspectors.

The Iraqi president authorized his field commanders to unleash a counterattack with 50 Al-Hussein missiles armed with poison gas and 25 armed with deadly microbes. The warheads and the missiles, which could fly 400 miles, were hidden in four places outside the Iraqi capital, the report says.

Iraq fired 88 Scuds at Israel and coalition troops in the Arabian Peninsula during the 1991 conflict, but none carried biological or chemical agents. Hussein's aides told U.N. inspectors that the dictator is convinced that his weapons of mass destruction deterred U.S. and other armies from advancing to Baghdad -- not the lack of a U.N. mandate for doing so after Iraq was forced from Kuwait.

The question that now obsesses the White House, Pentagon planners and intelligence officials is whether Hussein or his aides could and would launch similar weapons -- assuming they still exist -- in the event of a military assault on Baghdad.

Although missiles, aircraft or drone planes also could be used, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report notes that Iraq's "preferred weapon" for short-range chemical or biological attacks is an artillery battery firing 155-millimeter shells that can reach a distance of between 10 and 25 miles.

Using computer software prepared by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, defense analysts also have "war-gamed" such horrific scenarios as a battalion of 75 howitzers on the outskirts of Baghdad firing at U.S. troops with sarin, a colorless and odorless nerve gas, or VX, which can cause death in 15 minutes.

The military software also modeled the potential effect if a U.S. bomb or missile strike hit a facility resulting in the release of an airborne plume of several pounds of anthrax over downtown Baghdad, a sprawling city of nearly 5 million people.

"You'd expect hundreds of thousands of people infected," one official said.

The Pentagon is convinced that Iraq still possesses stockpiles of such weapons, and U.S. troops have been vaccinated, trained and equipped accordingly. U.S. intelligence officials say Hussein has already authorized the use of chemical and biological weapons if he is killed or captured, which would put his younger son, Qusai, in charge.

The 173-page U.N. report on "Unresolved Disarmament Issues" does not confirm that assessment. But dense with detail, it includes several dramatic new charges suggesting that Hussein's potential weapons arsenal may be larger than previously believed.

Hans Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, delivered the report Friday to the U.N. Security Council. It has not been released to the public, but The Times obtained a copy.

The U.N. report increases the estimate for Hussein's presumed stockpile of anthrax, for example, from 8,500 liters to 10,000.

"Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 liters of anthrax ... may still exist" and could still be viable, it says.

U.N. inspectors also warned that they may have underestimated the danger of Hussein's aging supply of mustard gas, a systemic poison that blisters the skin and is lethal if inhaled. Recent tests confirmed the "high purity" of sulfur mustard stored in artillery shells for 12 years.

In addition, previous U.N. reports stated that Iraq had not accounted for up to 550 artillery shells and 450 aerial bombs filled with mustard gas. "However, based on a document recently received from Iraq, this quantity could be substantially higher," the report notes. Iraqi officials blame the discrepancy on faulty accounting.

Former U.N. inspectors say the report also reveals new details about Hussein's secret plan to launch chemical and biological weapons if Baghdad had been attacked in 1991. The existence of the 75 "special" warheads was revealed in 1995, and they were subsequently destroyed.

The document catalogs every chemical, biological and missile system Hussein's military is known to have produced over the last three decades. It cites tests with donkeys, sheep and monkeys, and describes one curious program that apparently was abandoned.

In the mid-1980s, according to the report, Iraqi military scientists used animals and other tests to experiment with psychoactive drugs, including PCP, a powerful hallucinogen known as angel dust. No evidence shows that Iraq tried to use PCP as a weapon, however.

The report details what was destroyed during and after the Gulf War, and lists what is still unaccounted for. It then proposes several hundred "actions that Iraq could take" to satisfy U.N. disarmament demands.

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