- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

BAGHDAD A top Iraqi official took journalists yesterday to a site near Baghdad that Iraqis say is a food warehouse but that U.S. officials suspect may be a biological weapons facility.
A sign at the entrance to the complex, about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, read: "The complex of al-Taji stores, the Trading State Company of Foodstuff."
Inside, boxes of milk and piles of 110-pound sacks of sugar and rice covered the floor. Writing on the sacks indicated they were imported under the oil-for-food program that allows Iraq to sell unlimited quantities of oil provided the proceeds go for food, medicine and other supplies.
Last week, U.S. officials said their intelligence agencies detected signs that Iraq may be moving material or equipment out of a suspected biological weapons facility at the al-Taji complex.
The movements were first reported by The Washington Times last Wednesday. The Times reported that a U.S. spy satellite had photographed about 60 trucks moving around at the facility once called the al-Taji Single Cell Protein Plant.
Some intelligence analysts say they believe the movements indicate an effort by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to disperse the items in anticipation of American military strikes, the officials in Washington said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh, who led the tour, told reporters that the trucks detected by U.S. intelligence were transporting large quantities of foodstuff from al-Taji to subsidiary warehouses in Iraqi provinces to be distributed to Iraqi civilians.
"Since August 4, 2,500 tons of milk and foodstuffs for children have been transported from this warehouse," he said.
"The Americans saw the operation by satellite and confirmed having seen 64 trucks. In fact, since August 4, 187 trucks, and not 64, have taken goods to Iraqi provinces," he added.
He said that if the Americans enlarged the satellite pictures of the milk boxes, which were not covered during the transfer, they would find inscribed on the golden packs "Al-moudhish" a brand of Omani-produced milk that Iraq imports.
Mr. Saleh said U.N. staffers who supervise the oil-for-food program "visit this warehouse once a week to inspect the distribution of food rations."
According to Mr. Saleh, the warehouse, built in 1986, was destroyed in raids during the Persian Gulf war in 1991, but was rebuilt by a French company in agreement with the United Nations.
It was the second tour this month of a suspected weapons site, part of stepped-up Iraqi efforts to convince the world that the country is a victim of false U.S. charges that it is producing weapons of mass destruction.

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