No specter has haunted the world before or after the Gulf War more than the prospect that Iraq and its ruthless leader, Saddam Hussein, might possess weapons of mass destruction.
To ensure that nuclear, biologic and chemical caches had not eluded the rain of bombs unleashed by the U.S.-led coalition during the war, and to strip Hussein of his power to threaten the world again, the United Nations insisted that the Iraqis permit international inspection teams to canvass the country, monitoring Iraq's war-making capacity.
Months after this process began, after foot-dragging, deceit and deception by the Iraqis, dozens of experts from dozens of countries across the globe have only begun to piece together a stark portrait of Hussein's vast, grim and destructive vision. As global leaders consider expanding the depth, duration and intensity of plans to monitor and control Iraq's military might, just what have U.N. inspectors already found?
CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL AND LONG-RANGE ARMS
The U.N.'s war-ending resolutions require Iraqi to detail its nuclear, biological and chemical arsenals and capacities. This has been done, with only the greatest reluctance. But under continual pressure, including threat of renewed military action, the Iraqis have admitted to the U.N. that:
* They still have 46,000 chemical munitions, some of them non-lethal tear gas stocks; this late summer concession contrasts with Iraq's April claim that it had only 12,000 or fewer such munitions. Chemical weapons are of special concern in the region, where Iraq previously has employed them.
* They ran a germ warfare laboratory at Salman Pak. Iraq had insisted it had no such facilities. It had called Salman Pak a civilian lab for inspecting food and other purposes. Investigators' work at lab initially was stalled because site was piled high with unexploded ammunition. Lab's germ warfare research, Iraqis say, was halted just before Gulf crisis began because they feared facility might be bombed. Iraqis since have admitted conducting military research with anthrax and botulin and gave investigators more than 30 samples of microorganisms and deadly toxins. Experts found sophisticated hardware indicating Iraqis could produce vast quantities of biological warfare agents.
* They still possessed deadly long-range weapons. Since the war's end, inspectors have overseen destruction of at least 61 Scud missies, 10 mobile launchers, two fixed launchers, nine liquid fuel launchers and eight missile transport vehicles. Investigators also have evidence Iraq was constructing giant super cannons and had test-fired one of them.
The most daunting task confronting U.N. inspectors, some from the International Atomic Energy Agency, has been to discover and destroy Iraq's nuclear capacity. Iraq has resisted inspections here with gunfire over the heads of inspectors, lies and shifty tactics, such as shuffling equipment and destroying or disguising items.
Still, after almost half a dozen tours and weeks of work by teams of inspectors, it has become clear that Hussein spent billions of dollars on preliminary steps to produce nuclear arms. The web of Iraqi nuclear facilities include:
* Tarmiya: Main production site for uranium enrichment by electromagnetic isotope separation, it was multibillion-dollar complex, where there were vast numbers of sprawling labs. Inspectors found signs that Iraqis once had installed towering cranes, giant magnets and enormous electrical generators. Tarmiya never operated for uranium enrichment and was six to 18 months away from doing so when allied bombs destroyed it. Iraqis, probably to disguise its purpose, ransacked facility, shuttling key components to Tikrit, Suwaira, Razazah, Is Hagi and other sites for destruction. They tried to hide some structures under fresh cement.
* Tuwaitha: This sprawling research and development complex was where Iraqis studied three processes for uranium enrichment. Iraqis variously said it was site for nuclear research for possible power plants or claimed its buildings housed operations such as truck maintenance or machine shops. But inspectors found giant generators, huge cooling systems, massive cranes and powerful magnets. There were at least 90 buildings at Tuwaitha, destroyed by allied bombing. Iraqis sought to disguise full intent and function by further leveling it. And they dispersed key components to other sites for destruction.
* Ash Sharkat: For undetermined reasons, Hussein ordered construction of a replica of Tarmiya here. It was 85% complete before destroyed. Iraqis sought to disguise this uranium enrichment plant from inspectors. They claimed it was supposed to provide protective coating for pipes and containers; they also said it was a machine tool plant.
* Mosul: This uranium processing plant went into production in August, 1990, and operated for six months or so, but in limited fashion because of chemical corrosion problems. It was heavily damaged by bombing; Iraqis also shifted materials from it for destruction elsewhere.
* Kaim: Commissioned in 1984 and described by Iraqis as a super phosphate plant, this facility was converting and extracting uranium from yellow cake and ores. But it handled only low-grade materials and was producing below expectation before it was extensively damaged by bombing.
* Akashat: This mine fed Kaim facility; no activity detected during inspection at site, bombed by the allies.
* Fallouja: Electrical coils, magnet pieces, vacuum chambers and other equipment used in uranium enrichment were seen and photographed by U.N. inspectors, even as Iraqis tried to move items from this site, bombed by the allies.