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06 Feb 2003

Source: Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2003


Iraq Defies U.N., Powell Says

By Robin Wright, Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS -- Drawing on a high-tech collection of spy satellite imagery and intercepted conversations, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell charged Wednesday that Saddam Hussein has devised elaborate schemes to conceal weapons of mass destruction and warned that the time for international action to disarm Iraq is drawing closer.

"Clearly, Saddam will stop at nothing until something stops him," Powell said.

The secretary of State's methodical and measured presentation nudges the 12-year saga of disarming Iraq closer to a denouement, with new urgency attached to the weekend visit to Baghdad of the top two weapons inspectors and their next report to the Security Council on Feb. 14.

Powell's presentation included purported evidence that Iraq still has active programs in all four categories of proscribed weapons of mass destruction: nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range ballistic missiles. Most of the case is based on intelligence garnered shortly before or since the return to Iraq of weapons inspectors Nov. 27, with other material from the late 1990s, when the previous U.N. teams were forced to leave Baghdad.

The accumulated effect, Powell said, provides strong proof that Hussein is engaged in an "active and systematic" scheme to prevent U.N. teams from finding key materiel and specialists in direct violation of Resolution 1441, which calls false statements, omissions and failure to cooperate with inspectors a material breach. By this standard, he said, Iraq is now undeniably in further material breach, a possible trigger for military action.

"Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction; he's determined to make more," Powell told the Security Council. "Indeed, by its failure to seize on its one last opportunity to come clean and disarm, Iraq has put itself in deeper material breach and closer to the day when it will face serious consequences for its continued defiance of the council."

During the presentation, Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Douri, smiled as he listened to one of the captured recordings because "it was ridiculous," he said afterward. In his rebuttal, Douri said: "Programs for weapons of mass destruction are not like an aspirin pill, easily hidden. They require huge production facilities, starting from research and development facilities, to factories, to weaponization, then deployment. Such things cannot be concealed. Inspectors have crisscrossed all of Iraq and have found none of that."

In Baghdad, Gen. Amir Saadi, a presidential advisor, said Powell's presentation was "a typical American show, complete with stunts and special effects."

The United States also did not appear to fully convince long-standing skeptics about the need for imminent military action. France, Russia and China, three of the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, called for weapons inspections to continue.

"The Security Council of the United Nations must do everything it can to support the inspection process," Russian Foreign Minister Igor S. Ivanov said.

France suggested strengthening the inspections process by doubling or tripling the number of inspectors. But U.S. officials showed little interest in the French proposal or other suggestions for more time for the inspections.

"If you have mobile biolaboratories, if you have chemical weapons dispersed to military units around the country, moved out of regular bunkers to God knows where, if you have missiles hiding under palm trees and being moved every one to three weeks, one has to consider whether any of these proposals would be able to find these things under the circumstances," a senior State Department official said.

Yet with the key potential allies, there was a slight but noticeable shift in tone after Powell's presentation. The foreign ministers of all three nations also demanded that Iraq finally and fully cooperate with U.N. inspections teams before the Valentine's Day report. France, which has led the opposition, acknowledged Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons and did not rule out the use of force.

"The use of force can only be a final recourse.... If this approach fails and leads us to an impasse, we will not rule out any option, including, as a last resort, the use of force, as we have said all along," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said.

For Powell's presentation, every seat was filled in the Security Council chamber, and diplomats who were turned away at the door gathered in knots in front of TV monitors throughout the U.N.'s headquarters.

The hall was hushed as Powell set the stage for an extraordinary unveiling of evidence a multimedia show that revealed as much about U.S. intelligence capabilities as it did about Iraq's attempts to hide its weapons programs.

Ambassadors and ministers including Iraqi diplomats who were specially invited to sit at the Security Council's horseshoe table listened in as an Iraqi general ordered an underling to conceal weapons materials before inspectors visited the sites.

Laying out a thick dossier of evidence, Powell said satellite images prove that Iraq sanitized 30 alleged weapons sites before the arrival of the inspectors last fall. Prohibited weaponry was also removed from Hussein's numerous palaces, he said.

In one intercepted conversation, two officials discuss hiding a "modified vehicle" and "evacuating everything" before inspectors arrive. In another, they discuss cleaning up areas in case they contain "forbidden ammunition."

As the Security Council met last fall to debate Resolution 1441, Iraq already was engaged in dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agents to remote locations in western Iraq, Powell told the council. Many had been concealed in palm tree groves and are relocated at least every month, he said.

The United Nations has complained that it doesn't have unfettered access to scientists, and Powell painted an even darker picture.

In early December, all Iraqi scientists were warned that they and their families face "serious consequences" if they cooperate with inspectors or agreed to leave the country for interviews, Powell said.

"They were forced to sign documents acknowledging that divulging information is punishable by death," he told the council, based on human intelligence collected by the CIA.

Documents are also being hidden, he added, in cars driven around the countryside to avoid detection or in scientists' houses, such as the 2,000 pages on Iraq's nuclear program recently uncovered in a home. Even hard drives have been replaced in government computers to prevent inspectors from tracking weaponry development, Powell said.

Using illustrations, Powell charged that Baghdad has also managed to hide its biological weapons programs from U.N. inspectors by building mobile labs distributed in 18 trucks to keep them constantly on the move.

To disperse the deadly germs, Iraq possesses banned missiles with a range of up to 620 miles as well as small unmanned aircraft with a range of up to 310 miles and spray tanks that can be attached to the underbelly of warplanes. In one striking video, Powell showed an F-1 Mirage jet spraying about 500 gallons of simulated anthrax.

To conceal its ongoing chemical weapons production, Powell said, using satellite imagery as a prop, Iraq last year bulldozed an entire complex and even removed the topsoil that could provide lingering evidence for inspectors. Just a few weeks ago, he added, U.S. intelligence intercepted communications in which a senior military officer tells a subordinate to remove any mention of nerve agents.

On nuclear weaponry, Powell said Iraq has focused since 1998, when the last inspectors left, on acquiring the third and final component fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion.

And on Baghdad's ties to terrorism, Powell laid out an array of circumstantial evidence of communications and contacts between Iraq and Al Qaeda.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has frequently counseled against the rush toward war, said Powell had given a "strong presentation."

Afterward, U.S. officials expressed confidence that Powell's presentation had an effect in raising the bar on how to evaluate Iraq's compliance. "Any proposal for follow-up will have to be evaluated in context of what Powell said," said a senior State Department official.

The United States said it expects it will take time for the intelligence to fully sink in among the governments represented on the Security Council before they follow up on what further steps should be taken.

In the United States, initial reaction was mixed. Many experts praised Powell's reasoned presentation, while acknowledging resistance to his case may continue in the Arab world.

"Many in the Middle East will not believe Powell's charges. But it's important not to ignore the United Nations. The Arab world will often find reason to be angry at the United States, but it will have a harder time being angry with the entire international community," said Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

But reaction from the antiwar movement was swift. Acknowledging that Hussein may be harboring weapons of mass destruction, protest groups said Powell's disclosures made the case not for war but for giving inspections time to work.

"Secretary Powell failed to make the case for war," said Tom Andrews, a former congressman from Maine and now head of Win Without War, a coalition of U.S. groups opposing war in Iraq. "If anything, he made a case for greater American cooperation to help inspectors find and destroy Iraqi weapons."

Times staff writers Maggie Farley at the United Nations and Johanna Neuman in Washington contributed to this report.