Saturday 05 April 2003
Well into the war that was supposed to rid Iraq of its alleged stockpile of weapons of mass destruction, a senior British official admitted on Saturday that no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons of mass destruction may after all be found.
Making the startling confession in a radio interview, British Home Secretary, David Blunkett, added in the same breath that he would in any case rejoice the "fall'' of Saddam Hussein and his regime -- regardless of whether any weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq or not.
The confession reconfirms the worst fears of opponents of the war that "weapons of mass destruction'' is only a ruse for the US and the British to go to war against Iraq.
At the very least the admission certainly deals a serious blow to the moral legitimacy that the US and the British have been seeking in prosecuting the war.
Critics of the war across the world have been accusing the US and the British of aiming for regime change in Baghdad under the guise of "unearthing and dismantling weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.''
There have been constant accusations that the US and the British are eyeing Iraq's huge oil wealth, promoting Israeli interests, and that its campaign against "weapons of mass destruction'' is only a convenient cover-up.
Even countries like Germany, Russia and France had been less than impressed with the US-led war against Iraq saying all along that the task of unearthing weapons of mass destruction, if any, is better left to UN weapons' inspectors.
In making the confession in an interview with BBC radio, the British Home Secretary however admitted that the non-discovery of any weapons of mass destruction would "lead to a very interesting debate'' about the war.
"We will obviously have a very interesting debate if there are no biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear weapons or facilities to produce them found anywhere in Iraq once Iraq is free,'' the home secretary added.
The US-led forces stand to face a huge global uproar if no weapons of mass destruction are found in Iraq.
US-led forces moving across the Iraqi deserts have been under pressure since the start of the war to find evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. But instead of solid evidence, the they have so far raised only false alarms.
From time to time, the US-forces have claimed to have unearthed "suspicious'' substances. And each time, the claim has turned out to be without substance.
Today Saturday 5 April, US Marines were reported to be digging up a suspected chemical weapons hiding place in the courtyard of a school in the southeast of Baghdad.
Western media reported that the US Marines were digging after being tipped off by an Iraqi informer. "We don't have a clue now but we are going to dig it up and check,'' said General James Mattis, the commander of the Marine division at the scene.
Iraq has always insisted that it does not possess any weapons of mass destruction.
UN weapons inspectors, who scoured the country for several months until the US asked them to leave last month, had repeatedly certified that they had found no credible evidence of Iraq possessing any weapons of mass destruction.
Banned Iraqi Weapons Might Be Hard to Find
By Barton Gellman
Saturday 05 April 2003
Suspicious Sites Provide No Proof Yet
U.S. forces in Iraq yesterday found sites and substances they described as suspected components of a forbidden Iraqi weapons program. But the discoveries that U.S. troops displayed, and the manner in which they were described at a Central Command briefing, struck experts in and out of government as ambiguous at best.
Iraq has the most extensive petrochemical industry in the Middle East and a wealth of vaccine factories, single-cell protein research labs, medical and veterinary manufacturing centers and water treatment plants. Nearly all of them are dual-use facilities, capable of civilian or military employment, but most were devoted to legitimate activity even at the height of Iraq's secret weapons programs.
Moving warily through that industrial landscape, U.S. and allied ground forces will inevitably find, as U.N. inspectors have found since 1991, thousands of potential weapons sites but few, if any, that could be nothing else. Iraq's continued concealment of such weapons is the allegation at the core of the Bush administration's case for war. If the hunt for them relies on that sort of survey, experienced investigators said, it faces a long road to an uncertain result.
In the first of yesterday's discoveries, the 3rd Infantry Division entered the vast Qa Qaa chemical and explosives production plant and came across thousands of vials of white powder, packed three to a box. The engineers also found stocks of atropine and pralidoxime, also known as 2-PAM chloride, which can be used to treat exposure to nerve agents but is also used to treat poisoning by organic phosphorus pesticides. Alongside those materials were documents written in Arabic that, as interpreted at the scene, appeared to include discussions of chemical warfare.
This morning, however, investigators said initial tests indicated the white powder was not a component of a chemical weapon. "On first analysis it does not appear to be a chemical that could be used in a chemical weapons attack," Col. John Peabody, commander of the division's engineering brigade, told a Reuters reporter with his unit.
U.N. inspectors have surveyed Qa Qaa some two dozen times, most recently last month. But some 1,000 structures there, organized into 10 or more factory complexes, have mainly been devoted to such conventional military industries as explosives and missile fuels. Neither is forbidden under U.N. Security Council mandates. Qa Qaa was last linked to proscribed activity in 1995 -- and somewhat peripherally then.
"Based on [the powder and antidotes] you couldn't form any real judgment," said Terence Taylor of Britain, a former inspector with the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM). "It is a place where there would be a lot of chemicals, not necessarily related to chemical or biological weapons. More likely in that place it would relate to some form of rocket propellant."
"I'm afraid what we're in for," he said, is a "long-term task" pushed forward by "the political concern and pressure to find hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction that you can show."
Brig. Gen. Vincent K. Brooks, briefing reporters at Central Command headquarters in Qatar, said he had no details on the suspicious powder but said that "certainly it's an item of interest."
But Brooks volunteered another discovery in western Iraq. Special Operations troops raided a building there "that we think now was probably an NBC training school," he said, referring to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Brooks said military commanders based that belief on a shelf of clear- and brown-glass bottles with yellow labels.
"Can we bring up the bottles?" he directed, calling for a photograph in his slide show.
"This is what we saw," he said. "One of them had been marked 'Tabun,' " a nerve agent developed during World War II. The bottle, he said, contained a few drops of liquid.
He did not say whether tests showed the liquid to be the deadly chemical.
Iraq was obliged under U.N. resolutions to declare any stocks of nerve agent in its possession. But a quantity measured in milliliters, U.S. government and U.N. experts said, probably would not constitute a material breach of that obligation.
"There will be more and more alarms like this," said an expert on nerve poisons with long experience in Iraq. "If you have a vial marked 'Tabun,' it could be simulant, it could be a sample used for training purpose or for evaluation of protection equipment. . . . The regular procedure is to put one drop on the surface of a material used in the production of a protection suit, and you analyze the penetration of this drop through the material."
Chemical protection gear is permitted under the U.N. restrictions.
A serious find, the expert said, would involve "Tabun in a munition, or in bulk storage, or traces of Tabun in a reaction vessel" of the sort used to manufacture the agent in quantity.
At part of the Qa Qaa facility, where the white powder appeared yesterday, UNSCOM ordered the destruction of reactors, heat exchangers and storage vessels suspected of chemical weapons production.
The weapons work had not taken place at that site, UNSCOM reported in the early 1990s, but Iraq had moved the dual-use equipment from the Muthana chemical weapons site, about 80 miles northwest of Baghdad, without declaring it. Under UNSCOM rules, the equipment was subject to destruction.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also reported, after a 10-day visit in September 1995, that Iraqi scientists acknowledged involvement of the Qa Qaa facility "in support of the development of the implosion package" intended to detonate a nuclear weapon if Iraq acquired highly enriched uranium.
U.S. officials overseeing the weapons hunt generally do not expect to make major finds at sites previously identified as suspicious, noting that Iraq's documented history of concealment relied on constant movement.
"There's lots we don't know about current whereabouts," Douglas J. Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, said in an interview. "That's going to be true until we have full control of the country, and even a time thereafter."
He added: "If you have [custody of] the people who know everything, and they tell you everything they know, then you could learn the whereabouts of everything very quickly. But if those people aren't around, or they're dead, or they've organized things in such a way that nobody has too much knowledge, it's going to take you awhile."
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