BAGHDAD Baghdad complied with a key United Nations demand yesterday by delivering a list to weapons inspectors naming more than 500 scientists linked to Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs, a U.N. official said.
U.N. weapons sleuths hope that the list, written in Arabic, will open new avenues to learning more about Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction programs.
In the world body’s tough new sanctions regime, U.N. inspectors are allowed to speak to Iraqi scientists in private an option Washington hopes will prompt scientists to reveal hidden arms programs.
So far, inspectors have interviewed two key scientists both in the past week. Both, however, refused to talk alone with U.N. officials, and Iraqi officials remained present.
“We have received from the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate a list of names of personnel associated with Iraq’s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programs,” Hiro Ueki, the spokesman for the U.N. office in Baghdad, told reporters yesterday. The list contained more than 500 names, he said.
The list hand-over marks Baghdad’s latest show of cooperation toward the new weapons inspections. While strenuously denying it possesses arms of mass destruction, Iraq has so far complied with most Security Council requirements, including allowing the initial return of inspectors, giving access to sites the experts want to search and delivering its Dec. 7 declaration on the state of its weapons programs.
If Iraq convinces inspectors it is not hiding weapons of mass destruction, it might avoid a U.S. strike. But inspectors have said Iraq’s weapons declaration is wanting, and Washington has dismissed it as a lie.
Security Council Resolution 1441 allows inspectors to take willing scientists out of Iraq to interview them. Iraqi officials have said they don’t think that is necessary but will allow it if a scientist consents.
Since arriving in Baghdad on Nov. 27, inspectors have been speaking to engineers and experts at sites they have searched. But there have only been two reported interviews with Iraqi scientists, with the first occurring Tuesday.
Both scientists were interviewed with Iraqi officials in attendance and about Iraq’s suspected nuclear program.
One of the scientists, metallurgist Kazem Mojbal, yesterday rejected a U.N. account of his interview and denied assertions that he had been involved in a nuclear program.
On Friday, Mr. Ueki, the U.N. spokesman, said Mr. Mojbal had given U.N. officials details about an unidentified Iraqi military program that “has attracted considerable attention as a possible prelude to a clandestine nuclear program.”
“I strongly deny this,” Mr. Mojbal said at a news conference. “Frankly I’m very disturbed over these statements because they don’t relate to reality. Does cleaning an aluminum tube from corrosion with basic chemicals lead to a secret program?” Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.
Yesterday, Mr. Ueki clarified his statement, saying the United Nations knew that Mr. Mojbal was not involved in Iraq’s past nuclear program, and that he had not made a judgment about Iraq having a clandestine nuclear program.
Also yesterday, U.N. inspection teams went to the al-Qa’qaa complex, 20 miles south of the capital, and four other sites, including the al-Kindi vaccine factory which was inspected on Dec. 22 and the Ibn Younis engineering plant, the Iraqi Information Ministry said.
The inspectors have visited al-Qa’qaa eight times. The huge complex houses several factories, including one used to make parts for nuclear and conventional missiles.
Thousands of U.S. troops, two aircraft carrier battle groups and scores of combat aircraft have received orders since Christmas to ready themselves to head to the Persian Gulf region in January and February, U.S. defense officials said Friday. Military personnel will go to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain, among other locations.
The Iraqi government yesterday scoffed at the plans to deploy. “The beating of war drums, the noise of weapons, the sending of warships, the mobilizing of armies will neither frighten nor terrorize the Iraqis,” the official Iraqi army newspaper, Al-Qadissiya, said in an editorial.
In neighboring Jordan, Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher said a U.S. military strike on Iraq is highly probable after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix gives his expected Jan. 27 report to the Security Council on Baghdad’s compliance with the U.N. resolution.
Mr. Muasher said Jordan will not allow its territory to be used in any attack on Iraq, and said Jordanian officials were seeking to avert war through diplomacy.