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09 Dec 2002

Source: Washington Post, December 9, 2002.

Iraq Lacks New Proof Of Arms Destruction

U.S., U.N. Had Demanded Evidence for Claims

By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post Foreign Service

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Dec. 8 -- The 12,000-page arms declaration Iraq submitted to the United Nations offers no new evidence to support Iraq's contention that it destroyed biological and chemical weapons in the 1990s, a top adviser to President Saddam Hussein said tonight.

Gen. Amir Saadi challenged the United States to disprove Iraq's contention that it no longer has any weapons of mass destruction. "If they have anything to the contrary, let them forthwith come up with it," he said.

The Bush administration and U.N. inspectors had demanded that the declaration, which was flown today from Baghdad to U.N. headquarters in New York, support Iraq's claims that it had destroyed its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. U.S. and U.N. officials have long been skeptical of Iraq's assertion and insisted on seeing proof that Baghdad eliminated tons of bacteriological and nerve agents it covertly produced and weaponized in the 1980s.

The lack of new evidence could prove to be a key point of contention as U.N. arms experts pore through the hefty declaration and the Bush administration prepares its formal response to the submission. In a 1999 report to the Security Council, arms inspectors said their most significant unresolved issue with Iraq was its failure to fully account for the biological and chemical weapons it had acknowledged producing.

"Iraq's past declarations were not accepted as a full account of the scale and the scope of Iraq's [biological weapons] program," the inspectors wrote.

Saadi, however, said today that the Iraqi government was unable to find any documents about the destruction beyond those it already had turned over to the United Nations over the past decade. "Those documents have not been increased, not by a single document," he said at a news conference. "We have done all researching we could and we could not find any more."

The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix, recently expressed doubt about Iraq's claims that it did not have more thorough evidence. "The production of mustard gas is not like marmalade," he said on a trip to Baghdad last month. "You have to keep some records."

Saadi's comments provided the most detailed description yet of the contents of Iraq's submission, a document that could determine whether Hussein's government is deemed to have violated a recently passed U.N. Security Council resolution, an act that U.S. officials have said could trigger a U.S. military campaign to topple the Iraqi leader.

In a series of declarations in the 1990s, Iraq acknowledged making three types of biological weapons, including one that spreads anthrax bacteria. Iraq also admitted to developing nearly four tons of VX nerve gas and between 100 and 150 tons of Sarin, both highly lethal compounds. But inspectors never were able to verify claims by Hussein's government that it destroyed everything it manufactured.

Saadi insisted today that all of Iraq's biological and chemical agents had been eliminated. Iraq contends that much of it was done in secret, without U.N. inspectors present.

"It's not just a claim," he said. "It's a fact."

But, he said, Iraq erred by destroying not just the forbidden compounds but also documentation of its manufacture and destruction. Iraq's biological weapons program "was totally and completely removed before the inspectors arrived in Iraq," he said. "When you remove something completely, it no longer exists and if you want to do it properly, you also remove all the evidence that it ever existed. That's what we did, and retrospectively, it was a mistake."

Saadi said the declaration, which was required of Iraq under a Security Council resolution passed unanimously last month, includes an extensive history of the country's weapons programs and an account of civilian nuclear, chemical and biological activities since U.N. inspectors left Iraq in 1998. Much of the document, he said, lists "dual-use" facilities and technologies that could have civilian and military functions.

Among them, he said, were breweries, leather tanneries, hospital laboratories and food-processing facilities because of the chemicals and fermentation units used there. "Even dairies that produce cheese -- they're included," he said.

"We hope that it will satisfy because it is currently accurate, as they've asked for, and comprehensive and truthful," he said. He called on the Bush administration, which says Iraq still has weapons of mass destruction, to provide evidence to the two agencies inspecting Iraq: the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"They are here," he said. "They could check it. Why play this game?"

During television news shows, Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Richard D. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), along with former vice president Al Gore, were all highly skeptical of Iraq's weapons report, saying they doubted Hussein would tell the truth about whether he has developed weapons of mass destruction.

"We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction," said Graham, chairman of the Senate intelligence committee.

Graham also warned that the Iraqi leadership would lash out at Americans if attacked.

"One of the ways [Hussein] will display that danger is by energizing a series of terrorist attacks inside the United States of America," he said. "We need to be certain that we've done everything, in the days and weeks that remain, to decapitate the capability for that kind of terrorist attack inside the U.S."

Saadi, 64, a British-trained chemist who serves at Hussein's senior-most science adviser, expressed indignation that some U.S. officials suggested that the declaration was an attempt to flood U.N. inspectors with paper, instead of saying that Iraq had to gone to great lengths to compile an 11,807-page document as well as additional data on at least 10 compact discs within the one-month window mandated by the Security Council. "It's not a telephone directory," he said on three occasions in a 45-minute news conference.

Without divulging specifics, he provided a basic outline of the declaration's section on nuclear weapons research. It starts with an 80-page introduction that outlines the development of Iraq's nuclear program, organizations and finances, he said. Then a 363-page chapter details technologies employed by Iraqi scientists, including "electromagnetic isotope separation" and "uranium enrichment by gaseous diffusion."

Finally, Saadi said, there is a 333-page chapter on "device development."

"In the nuclear jargon," he said, "that's the bomb."

He said Iraqi researchers, whose nuclear-weapons work ended with the 1991 Persian Gulf War, had "not reached the final assembly of the bomb."

The United Nations does not plan to immediately release the declaration because of concerns that some of the data might help other nations produce chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Saadi said Iraq would not object if U.N. inspectors wanted to take Iraqi scientists outside the country for questioning, a tactic permitted by the resolution and encouraged by U.S. officials. "Some things are like medicines -- bitter pills," he said.

Although Saadi, arguably Iraq's top weapons expert, pointedly refused to answer whether he would leave if asked, he said Hussein's government would continue to comply with the inspections.

"Of course, nobody is happy being inspected," he said. "When you are frisked at the airport, are you happy? Do you feel comfortable? But it's for your own safety."

Staff writer Marc Kaufman in Washington contributed to this report.