UNITED NATIONS -- Saddam Hussein secretly planned to launch 75 missiles armed with chemical or biological warheads during the Persian Gulf War if Baghdad was hit with nuclear weapons, according to a new report by U.N. weapons inspectors.
The Iraqi president authorized his field commanders to unleash a counterattack with 50 Al-Hussein missiles armed with poison gas and 25 armed with deadly microbes. The warheads and the missiles, which could fly 400 miles, were hidden in four places outside the Iraqi capital, the report says.
Iraq fired 88 Scuds at Israel and coalition troops in the Arabian Peninsula during the 1991 conflict, but none carried biological or chemical agents. Hussein’s aides told U.N. inspectors that the dictator is convinced that his weapons of mass destruction deterred U.S. and other armies from advancing to Baghdad -- not the lack of a U.N. mandate for doing so after Iraq was forced from Kuwait.
The question that now obsesses the White House, Pentagon planners and intelligence officials is whether Hussein or his aides could and would launch similar weapons -- assuming they still exist -- in the event of a military assault on Baghdad.
Although missiles, aircraft or drone planes also could be used, a U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency report notes that Iraq’s “preferred weapon” for short-range chemical or biological attacks is an artillery battery firing 155-millimeter shells that can reach a distance of between 10 and 25 miles.
Using computer software prepared by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, defense analysts also have “war-gamed” such horrific scenarios as a battalion of 75 howitzers on the outskirts of Baghdad firing at U.S. troops with sarin, a colorless and odorless nerve gas, or VX, which can cause death in 15 minutes.
The military software also modeled the potential effect if a U.S. bomb or missile strike hit a facility resulting in the release of an airborne plume of several pounds of anthrax over downtown Baghdad, a sprawling city of nearly 5 million people.
“You’d expect hundreds of thousands of people infected,” one official said.
The Pentagon is convinced that Iraq still possesses stockpiles of such weapons, and U.S. troops have been vaccinated, trained and equipped accordingly. U.S. intelligence officials say Hussein has already authorized the use of chemical and biological weapons if he is killed or captured, which would put his younger son, Qusai, in charge.
The 173-page U.N. report on “Unresolved Disarmament Issues” does not confirm that assessment. But dense with detail, it includes several dramatic new charges suggesting that Hussein’s potential weapons arsenal may be larger than previously believed.
Hans Blix, head of the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, delivered the report Friday to the U.N. Security Council. It has not been released to the public, but The Times obtained a copy.
The U.N. report increases the estimate for Hussein’s presumed stockpile of anthrax, for example, from 8,500 liters to 10,000.
“Based on all the available evidence, the strong presumption is that about 10,000 liters of anthrax ... may still exist” and could still be viable, it says.
U.N. inspectors also warned that they may have underestimated the danger of Hussein’s aging supply of mustard gas, a systemic poison that blisters the skin and is lethal if inhaled. Recent tests confirmed the “high purity” of sulfur mustard stored in artillery shells for 12 years.
In addition, previous U.N. reports stated that Iraq had not accounted for up to 550 artillery shells and 450 aerial bombs filled with mustard gas. “However, based on a document recently received from Iraq, this quantity could be substantially higher,” the report notes. Iraqi officials blame the discrepancy on faulty accounting.
Former U.N. inspectors say the report also reveals new details about Hussein’s secret plan to launch chemical and biological weapons if Baghdad had been attacked in 1991. The existence of the 75 “special” warheads was revealed in 1995, and they were subsequently destroyed.
The document catalogs every chemical, biological and missile system Hussein’s military is known to have produced over the last three decades. It cites tests with donkeys, sheep and monkeys, and describes one curious program that apparently was abandoned.
In the mid-1980s, according to the report, Iraqi military scientists used animals and other tests to experiment with psychoactive drugs, including PCP, a powerful hallucinogen known as angel dust. No evidence shows that Iraq tried to use PCP as a weapon, however.
The report details what was destroyed during and after the Gulf War, and lists what is still unaccounted for. It then proposes several hundred “actions that Iraq could take” to satisfy U.N. disarmament demands.
Both sides on the deeply divided Security Council have cited portions of the report to bolster the case for or against war. Bush administration officials said it vividly records Hussein’s “lies and deceptions,” and criticized Blix for not highlighting more of the problems when he spoke to the Security Council on Friday.
“I think he could have done a lot more with respect to noncompliance,” Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said on “Fox News Sunday.” Powell said the report shows how Baghdad has tried “to hide, to deceive, to cheat, to keep information away from the inspectors” over the last 12 years.
“The problems are still there,” he said. “The lies are still there.”
U.S. officials were especially concerned about the report’s revelation that U.N. inspectors recently found a drone aircraft with a 24 1/2-foot wingspan -- about one-half the size of the U.S. military’s Predator -- that Iraq had not officially declared. U.N. teams are trying to determine if the pilotless plane can fly more than 93 miles, the limit set by the U.N.
The report notes that in December, U.N. inspectors also found modified aircraft fuel tanks that could be used as spray tanks on a drone.
Iraq has admitted that in the late 1980s, it sought to convert MIG-21 jets into drones to spray chemical and biological weapons, but abandoned the effort. The program, directed by Hussein’s older son, Uday, was resumed in 1995, using Czech L-29 jet trainers.
The U.N. report also sharply faults Iraq for refusing to identify its black-market sources for raw materials, equipment and supplies for its illegal weapons programs. It cites 40 cases where Baghdad has supplied “insufficient information” for biological weapons, 70 for chemical agents and nearly 500 for missiles.
“On many occasions, the imports are simply referred to as coming from the ‘local market’ or from ‘Iraq’ when it is clear that the items actually originated from overseas,” it says. Many of the components of Iraq’s drones and missiles “originated from overseas and the supplier has been inadequately identified.”
The inspectors express other frustrations as well.
U.N. teams using ground-penetrating radar so far have not confirmed intelligence reports that Iraq is covertly churning out illegal chemical and biological agents in buried bunkers and other underground facilities “at locations throughout Iraq, from the mountains in the north, to buildings in Baghdad, including a Baghdad hospital.”
Similarly, inspectors “cannot discount the possibility” that Iraq has secretly built truck-mounted factories for biological weapons. Iraqi officials “seriously considered” building such facilities in the late 1980s but canceled the project as impractical. U.S. officials, citing defector accounts, insist Iraq has built mobile germ warfare factories.
If war does break out, defense analysts say, Hussein is likely to deploy his best-trained, best-equipped and most loyal security forces in three concentric rings for the defense of Baghdad and the ruling elite.
The 70,000-member Republican Guard is expected to protect the city’s three main access roads with tanks and armor as the first line of defense. The 26,000-member Special Republican Guard would hold the vital city center.
The Special Security Organization and a presidential protection unit called the Himayat al-Rais would form the innermost ring to shield Hussein and the 50 or so people around him, the officials say.
The Special Republican Guard is the chief concern. Said to be intensely loyal to Hussein, most members are from the same Tikrit region as the dictator.