- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

NEW YORK U.N. weapons inspectors yesterday discovered 11 empty warheads designed to deliver chemical weapons and are examining a 12th, an apparent violation of Security Council resolutions but not, according to Washington, "a smoking gun."
They said Iraqi officials had not listed the shells in their Dec. 8 weapons declaration, as required by the council.
The inspectors appeared to be making headway yesterday after eight weeks on the ground, discovering the apparently forgotten casings and also conducting surprise interviews with two Iraqi scientists. One appeared to lead the U.N. officials to a field outside Baghdad, where they inspected a man-made mound.
Yesterday also was the 12th anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, which triggered the Persian Gulf war and led the United Nations to impose sanctions on Baghdad that are still in place.
A U.S. official yesterday downplayed the discovery of the warheads, stashed in long boxes in a building at the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area, 75 miles south of Baghdad. He said a dozen clean and empty warheads, in themselves, were not justification of war.
"A smoking gun would be if you found a big stockpile with chemicals," said the Washington-based official.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, speaking to reporters at a meeting of the European Union in Brussels, said he would tell the Iraqi leadership this weekend that it must be more cooperative.
"The message we want to bring to Baghdad is, the situation is very tense and very dangerous, and everybody wants to see a verified and credible disarmament of Iraq," Mr. Blix said.
He and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of International Atomic Energy Agency, said Washington has given Baghdad until later this month to begin "actively cooperating" with the inspectors. A negative status report by the officials on Jan. 27 could trigger a U.S.-led war. The IAEA operates under the aegis of the United Nations.
Iraqi officials denied yesterday that they were trying to hide the rockets, which are long, copper-colored tubes with removable warheads.
"These are 122 mm rockets with an empty warhead. There are no chemical or biological agents or weapons of mass destruction," said Gen. Hussam Mohammad Amin, head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, at a hastily arranged news conference. "These rockets are expired. They were in closed wooden boxes that we had forgotten about."
Gen. Amin, among Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's closest advisers, dismissed the excitement as a "storm in a teacup."
"The team discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation," said Hiro Ueki, the Baghdad-based spokesman for the inspections teams. "The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s."
He said the inspectors used portable X-ray equipment to conduct preliminary analysis of one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing.
Also yesterday, a separate team of inspectors conducted interviews with two Iraqi scientists, visiting both at their homes in the Baghdad neighborhood of Ghazaliyeh.
The officials also searched the homes.
"This is a provocative act to hurt Iraq," Shaker al-Jabouri, one of the scientists, said after the inspection. "They did not leave any piece in the house unturned. They searched every corner, including personal possessions, furniture and even the mattresses. They searched my personal office, the bedroom, bathrooms and refrigerator," he said, adding that his children were frightened by the "police action."
Reporters watched inspectors lead nuclear expert Faleh Hassan, director of the al-Razzi military complex, out of his house with a box of documents and folders after the team conducted a six-hour search.
They drove to a field on the outskirts of Baghdad where together they inspected what appeared to be a man-made mound in the earth. The inspectors did not talk to reporters, nor was it clear what they were looking for.
In New York yesterday, the United States attempted to build support inside the Security Council for Mr. Blix to postpone his planned submission of a program of work for inspectors, leading to an eventual lifting of the sanctions.
Mr. Blix had expected to submit the report to the council on March 27, 60 days after the inspections reach full speed, as required in a 1999 resolution by the 15-nation body.
Under the older resolution that other council members refused to invalidate, sanctions could be lifted after 120 days of cooperation with inspectors.
"It is important that the implementation of these resolutions is done in such a way as to maintain maximum pressure on Iraq to cooperate immediately and unconditionally and proactively with the inspection regime," said John D. Negroponte, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
This story is based in part on wire service reports


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