'Damning Portrait' of Arms Programs

Times Staff Writer

The chief U.N. weapons inspector disclosed troubling new details about Iraq's weapons programs Monday and expressed frustration with what he described as Baghdad's refusal to resolve long-standing questions about efforts to produce biological and chemical weapons, as well as long-range missiles.

While the report to the Security Council by Hans Blix did not provide proof that Iraq is hiding programs to produce weapons of mass destruction, his criticism was perhaps his sharpest since the current confrontation with Iraq began last fall, and its tone surprised veteran weapons inspectors. Blix notably did not ask to extend the current inspections. Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, was more restrained in his language and asked for more time.

Among the disclosures in Blix's report:

Iraq has expanded the diameter of its liquid-fueled Al-Samoud missile to 760 millimeters, far beyond limits set by the U.N. Outside experts say the expanded missile may be large enough to carry a nuclear warhead. In addition, Iraq has imported 380 rocket engines for the Al-Samoud, some as recently as last month, without U.N. approval.

An Iraqi air force supply document recovered late last year shows that Baghdad produced 6,500 bombs, containing about 1,000 tons of chemical agents, in the 1980s. Iraq has not accounted for those weapons, as well as thousands of other chemical warheads.

About 8,500 liters of concentrated anthrax Iraq produced as a germ weapon "might still exist," because Baghdad has given no evidence to support its claim that it secretly destroyed the deadly microbes in 1991. Iraq also no longer admits to what it previously had conceded -- that it imported material that could be used to produce an additional 5,000 liters of anthrax.

Several former U.N. weapons inspectors, who closely track the nuts and bolts of U.N. reports, applauded Blix's dry though harsh report.

"It's a damning portrait, with much more coherent examples of Iraq's failures than the White House has been able to present," said David Kay, a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector now at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies outside Washington.

"I was surprised, almost shocked," said Timothy V. McCarthy, a former U.N. missile inspector now at the Monterey Institute of International Studies south of San Francisco. "It was much stronger than I expected."

Blix also disclosed that a dozen 122-millimeter chemical rocket warheads found by inspectors this month south of Baghdad were in a "relatively new bunker" and thus had been moved there at a time "when Iraq should not have had such munitions."

Blix, a Swedish diplomat, sounded skeptical of Iraq's claim that the warheads had been stored since 1991 and were simply overlooked. "They could also be the tip of a submerged iceberg," he said. "The discovery of a few rockets does not resolve but rather points to the issue of several thousands of chemical rockets that are unaccounted for."

Blix also highlighted his concern that Iraq previously sought to produce and deploy warheads with VX, a deadly nerve agent. Iraq has repeatedly changed its official accounts of its VX program, and those accounts still conflict with documents and evidence recovered by current and former U.N. weapons teams, he said.

Inspectors have found a "laboratory quantity" of thiodiglycol, a chemical precursor of mustard gas, Blix also disclosed. U.N. officials previously have demanded that Iraq explain the disposition of 550 warheads filled with mustard gas in the 1980s. The laboratory discovery is the first suggestion that Iraq's production of mustard gas, a weapon first used in World War I, may be more recent.

Blix said inspectors are considering whether to destroy chemical processing equipment Iraq installed at Fallujah for the production of chlorine and phenol. The two chemicals have civilian uses, but they also can be used to synthesize precursors for blister and nerve agents.

"We have inspected this equipment and are conducting a detailed technical evaluation of it," Blix said. "On completion, we will decide whether this and other equipment ... should be destroyed."

The Times reported last week that some of the equipment at the Fallujah chlorine plant was purchased from an Indian trading company, NEC Engineering Private Ltd., between 1998 and 2001 in a scheme that used phony customs documents and a series of front companies.

Blix also strongly criticized Iraq's refusal to explain its program to produce concentrated anthrax as a germ weapon. Baghdad has acknowledged producing about 8,500 liters of anthrax in the 1980s but says it unilaterally destroyed the stockpile in 1991.

"Iraq had provided little evidence for this production and no convincing evidence for its destruction," Blix said. "There are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared.... It might still exist."

Blix said Iraq is now attempting to deny a major germ weapon program that it previously had admitted.

In the late 1990s, he said, Baghdad handed the U.N. a document showing that it had imported 650 kilograms of bacterial growth media for biological weapons. But Iraq omitted that admission when it submitted the nearly 12,000-page weapons declaration it delivered to the Security Council on Dec. 7.

"The absence of this table would appear to be deliberate [since] the pages of the resubmitted document were renumbered," Blix said. He said the biological material would be enough "to produce, for example, about 5,000 liters of concentrated anthrax."

David Franz, a former U.N. biological weapons inspector, said Iraq's germ program had become so sophisticated by the mid-1990s that further inspections might be futile unless Baghdad provides full disclosure of precisely what it has produced and where it is stored.

"It's too easy to hide," Franz said. "This is no longer about finding a factory inside six miles of concertina wire. We're looking for something now that could be smaller than a toaster."

Blix also cited "significant" unanswered questions and mounting doubts about Iraq's missile programs.

Under U.N. resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq is barred from producing missiles with a range of more than 90 miles. Since Iraqi missiles use crude guidance systems and thus are inaccurate, officials fear that long-range missiles make sense only if they carry chemical, biological or nuclear warheads.

Iraq's liquid-fueled Al-Samoud 2 missile and the solid-propellant Al-Fatah have exceeded the 90-mile range by 10 to 20 miles in 13 recent tests. Both missiles have been provided to Iraq's armed forces, Blix said, even though Iraqi officials insist that they are still undergoing development.

"We have asked Iraq to cease flight tests of both missiles," he added.

In addition, the diameter of the Al-Samoud 2 has been increased to 760 millimeters, Blix said. The change was made despite a 1994 letter from the chief weapons inspector at the time directing Iraq to limit its missile diameters to less than 600 millimeters.

David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear weapons inspector who now heads the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington, said the missile may now be large enough to carry a crude nuclear warhead. "This violation raises questions about whether they're trying to link it to a nuclear weapon," he said.

Blix said Iraq has "refurbished its missile production infrastructure," including casting chambers and other equipment destroyed by U.N. inspection teams in the 1990s. He said the rebuilt equipment could produce motors for missiles capable of flying "ranges significantly greater" than allowed under U.N. rules.

In another disclosure, Blix said Iraq had imported 380 rocket engines, some as recently as December, without approval from the United Nations. Other officials said the engines, which were used for the Al-Samoud 2 missiles, were procured from Uzbekistan.

He also said Iraq had imported "chemicals used in propellants, test instrumentation and guidance and controls systems" for missiles. Though their purpose was still under investigation, he said, "what is clear is that they were illegally brought into Iraq."

Iraq has used a complex network of front companies and other corrupt practices to evade U.N. sanctions over the last four years. Baghdad largely seeks to import raw materials, equipment and spare parts, rather than complete weapons.

Although ElBaradei, the chief nuclear weapons inspector, criticized Iraq for failing to provide "any information relevant to the questions and concerns that have been outstanding since 1998," he generally gave Baghdad a more favorable review than Blix. Inspectors have now searched every known nuclear site where satellite photos and other intelligence had indicated new construction or other suspicious activity, he said. "No signs of nuclear activity" were found at any of the sites, he said.

An investigation into allegations made public by the White House last fall that Iraq had attempted to import high-strength aluminum tubes tends to support Iraq's claim that the tubes were intended for 81-millimeter rockets, not nuclear weapons, he said.

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