- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 16, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) — The United Nations said it discovered warheads Iraq had not told it about today, but an Iraqi official said the weapons were old artillery rockets mentioned in its December declaration.

The inspectors said they found 11 empty chemical warheads in "excellent" condition at an ammunition storage area where they were inspecting bunkers built in the late 1990s, a U.N. spokesman reported. They had not previously been declared by Iraq.

A 12th warhead, also of a 122 mm caliber, was found that requires further evaluation, according to the statement by Hiro Ueki, the spokesman for U.N. weapons inspectors in Baghdad.

"It was a discovery. They were not declared," Mr. Ueki told The Associated Press. But Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison officer to the inspection teams, said they were short-range rockets imported in 1988 and mentioned in Iraq's December declaration to the United Nations.

"I would like to express the astonishment of the Iraqi government about the fuss made about the discovery by a U.N. inspection team of `mass destruction weapons.' It is no more than a storm in a teacup," Mr. Amin said in a news conference called hastily after the U.N. issued its written statement.

"We shall remain patient and we shall continue to deal with all this calmly," Mr. Amin said.

Mr. Amin said the inspection team found the munitions in a sealed box that had not been opened before and was covered by dust and bird droppings.

"When these boxes were opened, they found 122-mm rockets with empty warheads. No chemical or biological warheads. Just empty rockets which are expired and imported in 1988," Mr. Amin said, adding similar rockets were found by U.N. inspectors in 1997.

Iraq's December declaration was to be a full and final report on its doomsday weapons programs and how they had been disposed of.

Mr. Ueki's statement said inspectors used portable x-ray equipment for a preliminary analysis of one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing.

"The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s," the statement said.

The warheads were found during a visit by inspectors to the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area, 120 kilometers (75 miles) south of Baghdad. It was one of several sites inspectors checked today.

U.S. warplanes bombed the Ukhaider depot on Feb. 14, 1991, damaging or destroying an unspecified number of mustard shells and possibly created a plume of mustard gas. U.N. inspectors in 1997 said U.S. troops based in Saudi Arabia may have been exposed to the gas, but the CIA said at the time that the plume would have come no closer than 84 kilometers (60 miles) to U.S. troops.

Inspectors do not usually report specific discoveries, which made today's announcement unusual. It is up to the U.N. Security Council to determine whether today's find would amount to a breach of U.N. resolutions.

On Dec. 7, a chemical team secured a dozen artillery shells filled with mustard gas that had been inventoried by their predecessors in the 1990s. It was the first batch of weapons of mass destruction brought under their control in the new round of inspections in Iraq. Inspectors have said Iraq has failed to support its claims to have destroyed missiles, warheads and chemical agents.

U.N. inspectors have said Iraq's final weapons declaration made in December failed to support its claims to have destroyed missiles, warheads and chemical agents such as VX nerve gas.

The United States and Britain doubt Iraq is committed to giving up its weapons of mass destruction and have dispatched thousands more troops to the Gulf region for a possible military showdown.

Washington has cited nine areas in which it said Iraq's declaration fails to give a complete picture of weapons holdings. These include thousands of pounds of unaccounted-for materials for producing anthrax, and the chemical precursors for manufacturing mustard gas.

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