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Last Updated

10 Feb 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, February 10, 2003

Behind Name Loved by Islam, Troubling Firms Powell Cited


WASHINGTON -- Few Westerners have heard of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub ibn Ishaq Al Kindi, a ninth-century thinker from Baghdad regarded in the Islamic world as the "philosopher of the Arabs." But U.S. intelligence agencies and United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq know the name well.

Two sprawling facilities named after him are at the heart of the U.N. weapons-inspection program in Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell mentioned one in Wednesday's presentation to the Security Council, and the other has been visited twice by inspectors in recent weeks because they think it might be a key component of Iraq's biological-weapons programs.

The first facility is called the Al Kindi Co., a complex of 90 drab cement buildings, bunkers and storage sites in Mosul, in Northwest Iraq. It appears to be the source of a "modified vehicle" discussed in an intercepted Nov. 26 conversation -- played for the world in Wednesday's presentation -- between what Mr. Powell said were two Iraqi officers anxious to hide the vehicle before a pending weapons inspection.

The Al Kindi Co., which Mr. Powell said is "well known to have been involved in prohibited weapons systems activity," has been a major research center for Iraq's ballistic-missile program, including the Scud B missile, which can reach Israel, about 300 miles from Iraq's westernmost border. Iraqi officials insist the Al Kindi Co. is working on only small, defensive missiles with a range of less than 93 miles.

U.S. warplanes and missiles have blasted it twice, in 1991 and 1998, but each time it was quickly rebuilt, its machinery salvaged or replaced.

The second, like-named facility is called the Al Kindi Company for the Production of Veterinary Medicine. A well-guarded complex of 44 one-story buildings in the western outskirts of Baghdad, it is a sophisticated pharmaceuticals laboratory that supposedly makes animal vaccines for Iraq's Ministry of Agriculture.

"It was always considered to be one of the more sensitive sites," recalls Raymond Zilinskas, a former U.N. inspector who visited the complex twice in the early 1990s. Like many pharmaceuticals facilities in Iraq, it was built to change product lines quickly, and the inspectors worried that one of those products might be anthrax . The inspectors tried to visit it once a week, recalls Mr. Zilinskas, now an analyst at the Monterey Institute.

Nervousness about this Al Kindi continues. The U.N. sent a team through the complex on Dec. 22, left a monitoring device, then paid a second visit last month. They apparently found nothing out of the ordinary. That doesn't surprise Terence T. Taylor, another former U.N. inspector. He notes that, after the Gulf War, it took inspectors more than four years to find Iraq's hidden biological-weapons program.