REPORT CITES IRAQ'S RECENT WEAPONS ROLE



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06 Dec 2002

Source: Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2002.

THE WORLD

Report Cites Iraq's Recent Weapons Role

Assessment: The regime has been producing biological and chemical arms, CIA asserts. The data mark the harshest U.S. view yet of Baghdad.

By BOB DROGIN and PAUL RICHTER, TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON -- The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies Friday gave their harshest public assessment yet of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs, providing fresh ammunition for the Bush administration's effort to force tough, new inspections on Iraq.

The 24-page declassified report, released hours before Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made the administration's case to the U.N.'s chief weapons inspector, asserts that Baghdad has recently produced both chemical and biological weapons, and has hidden ballistic missiles that can travel farther than permitted under United Nations resolutions.

"If left unchecked, it probably will [build] a nuclear weapon during this decade," the report says of Iraq. The regime "probably does not yet have nuclear weapons or sufficient materials to make any," but Hussein "remains intent on acquiring them."

If Baghdad acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material on the black market, the report says, "it could make a nuclear weapon within a year." U.S. intelligence officials say they have no evidence to indicate that Iraq has managed to obtain such closely monitored material.

For the first time, the CIA says in the report that Iraq not only has a larger biological weapons program than before the 1991 Persian Gulf War, but that it also may be preparing such agents as anthrax via "covert operatives, including potentially against the U.S. homeland." It did not elaborate on the possible threat to the United States.

There were no other such revelations, but the report represented a hardening of the CIA's views since it last issued an assessment nine months ago of Iraq's capabilities and the threat it poses. The U.S. report in part is more strongly worded than the assessment issued last month by the British government, or several independent reports.

After meeting Powell and other top U.S. officials, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said he saw signs that the U.N. Security Council may be coming together on a new resolution aimed at forcing Iraq to comply with weapons inspections. Despite differences among Security Council members, Blix told reporters that he believes there now is strong support for a new resolution that would provide the framework for more stringent inspections.

"We hope it's not very long to a new resolution," he said. Blix also said it is clear that "constant pressure" needed to be applied on Iraq to ensure its compliance.

U.S. officials have been pushing for a single resolution that would use the threat of swift military enforcement to persuade Iraq to open up quickly and completely to inspections. But Russian officials have argued that a new resolution may not be needed, and France is seeking two resolutions so that there would be no automatic military response if Iraq refuses to comply.

Powell was joined at the meetings by National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and other officials. The secretary of State agreed that the differences among Security Council members are likely to be resolved.

The document released Friday says that since U.N. inspections in Iraq ended in 1998, Baghdad "has maintained its chemical weapons effort, energized its missile program, and invested more heavily in biological weapons; most analysts assess Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program."

The report says Iraq "largely has rebuilt" missile and biological weapons facilities that were damaged by U.S. and British bombers during Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 and has expanded its chemical and biological infrastructure "under the cover of civilian production."

In particular, it says Baghdad has restarted production of such chemical warfare agents as mustard, sarin, cyclosarin and VX. The effort is probably "more limited" now than before the Gulf War, the report notes.

But research and development, production and weaponization of Iraq's biological weapons program "are active and most elements are larger and more advanced than they were before the Gulf War," the report says.

Iraq is capable of "quickly producing and weaponizing a variety of such agents, including anthrax, for delivery by bombs, missiles, aerial sprayers and covert operatives, including potentially against the U.S. homeland," the report says.

Iraq also probably retains a covert force of as many as a few dozen ballistic missiles with ranges of up to 540 miles, in violation of U.N. resolutions barring Iraq from possessing missiles exceeding 90 miles in range.

The report also says Iraq has sought to develop a drone aircraft that "probably is intended to deliver biological warfare agents."

The report gives a more menacing view of Iraq's capabilities than one provided by the CIA to Congress nine months ago. In a Jan. 30 report, the CIA said that "given Iraq's past behavior, it is likely that Baghdad has used the intervening period to reconstitute prohibited programs."

Since inspections ended, "Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate its [chemical warfare] programs within a few weeks to months," the CIA said then, adding that while the germ warfare program appeared to have continued, it was "more difficult to determine" the program's precise status without inspections.*

Times staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report.