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Last Updated

10 Nov 2002

Source: Washington Post, November 10, 2002.

For Iraq Inspectors, 'Yellow Cake' and Other Quarries

By Walter Pincus, Washington Post Staff Writer

Any amounts of uranium oxide, called "yellow cake," will be one of the first items the United Nations inspection team will look for in Iraq's declaration, due Dec. 8, of its programs to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, a former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency who set in place the 1991 post-Gulf War nuclear monitoring of Iraq, is aware of the recent British intelligence report on Baghdad's attempts to buy "yellow cake" from Niger. He is also aware of the analysis that "Iraq has no active civil nuclear program or nuclear power plants and, therefore, has no legitimate reason to acquire uranium" unless it is eventually producing weapons-grade materials.

Blix and his colleague, Mohammed El Baradei, the current IAEA head who is responsible for the nuclear inspections, believe an initial test for Saddam Hussein's adherence to the new Security Council resolution will be in the evidence he provides to support the claim he is expected to make in the Dec. 8 declaration. They expect him to claim that he has destroyed the chemical and biological weapons he had in 1991 along with the facilities to produce nuclear ones, as well as the means to develop or deliver any new ones.

The declaration must also list all facilities used to build delivery systems for prohibited weapons as well as commercial factories and storage sites for "dual-use" materials and equipment that could be used to build such weapons.

Blix's team has for months been compiling a list of sites it expects Baghdad to declare, based on materials passed on from the previous inspectors, from governments such as the United States and Britain, and from its own analytic team that has been tracking Iraqi purchases for the past two years.

U.S. officials, including President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, have publicly stated that Hussein has hidden stockpiles of chemical or biological weapons and has resumed efforts to build nuclear devices.

Bush administration officials who have long doubted that inspections can disarm the Iraqi leader are focusing on a provision of Friday's U.N. resolution. It requires Iraq's Dec. 8 declaration to be "accurate, full and complete" and that any "false statements or omissions" would constitute "a further material breach" that could trigger a U.S.-led invasion.

"Declarations by Iraq are not evidence," Blix said during a training session for inspectors. "They have to be sustained by evidence from the inspection of sites and/or examination of documentary evidence presented or the interviews of people with relevant knowledge," he added.

Although the U.N. inspectors want evidence from Hussein to prove he does not have prohibited weapons and materials, they also want the United States, Britain and others to provide information, including intelligence data, that can be verified. As Blix told his inspectors: "Intelligence may be very important, but if it is not sustained by evidence, it remains allegations. It is our job to try to verify plausible allegations."

In Senate testimony in September, Rumsfeld said Hussein's regime "has amassed large, clandestine stockpiles of biological weapons -- including anthrax and botulism toxin, and possibly smallpox . . . large, clandestine stockpiles of chemical weapons . . . including VX, sarin, cyclosarin and mustard gas . . . [and] has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons."

Iraq's alleged stocks of deadly anthrax provide an example of the issues facing inspectors.

In 1998, a U.N. inspection team estimated that Iraq could have produced two to four times the 8,500 liters it declared in 1991. Iraqi officials told the inspectors they never weaponized anthrax and destroyed all stocks in 1991. Later, the U.N. team found spores in six Iraqi missile warheads.

Meanwhile, an article published last week, saying that U.S. intelligence had reported Iraq had hidden 7,000 liters of anthrax, has been denied by senior administration officials familiar with CIA analyses. "Private experts and perhaps defectors have said that," an official said last week.

Blix has said anthrax is one of many open issues that must be investigated because Iraq produced no records or protocols about the destruction of the biological agent. He expects the Dec. 8 declaration would have some of those records. In addition, Rihab Taha, the British-educated scientist who headed the Iraqi biological weapons program and who is known among inspectors as "Dr. Germ," is still working in Iraq and a prime candidate on inspectors' interview list.

Iraqi missile systems are also on Blix's list. A CIA report said Hussein never "fully accounted" for Iraq's missile programs. Discrepancies in previous Baghdad declarations "suggest" an undetermined number of Scud-type missiles may still exist, the report said. But the United States has not been able to locate those missiles, an intelligence official said.

The CIA and British intelligence have reported that Iraq's newer missiles, prohibited from having a range longer than 150 kilometers, can go much farther and thus are a violation. That also will be an early target for inspectors who expect to place monitoring cameras in missile construction facilities and demand to be present at missile engine tests and missile launchings.

A newer target for inspectors that Iraq is now required to declare will be Iraq's unmanned aerial vehicles. The CIA has said they are capable of delivering biological and perhaps chemical warfare agents. If found to have that capability, they would be destroyed.

As Blix told an audience in Moscow in late October, "Inspectors may be more likely to encounter smoke than smoking guns. However, smoke might be enough to trigger government concern and action." He noted that in the case of discovering North Korea's nuclear activity, inspectors never found the weapons program. Instead, it was the discovery that Pyongyang had been producing more plutonium than had been declared that produced the 1994 crisis.

Iraq's cooperation with the inspectors will be another early test.

"Lack of cooperation, like an offer of good cooperation, sends signals," Blix said in Moscow. "Any denial of access or any other uncooperative conduct," he said, would be reported to the Security Council. The council would decide the consequences, he said, adding, "It is not the inspectors who decide the question of peace and war but the council and its members."