- The Washington Times - Friday, January 17, 2003

The United States believes Iraq has moved prohibited weapons components to private residences, underground facilities and mobile sites to foil intelligence efforts to pinpoint their locations.
Some U.S. officials believe Iraqi President Saddam Hussein moved weapons-making machinery and tools to Tikrit, his center of power 90 miles north of Baghdad.
Tikrit, once an isolated provincial town, has seen a building boom, particularly in the past 10 years. Saddam has diverted millions of dollars in oil revenue to erect new houses, government buildings, mosques, a university and hospitals on the banks of the Tigris River.
One official said there are reports that Saddam has hidden or buried critical materials in the neighborhoods of his loyalists in Tikrit.
A U.S. official, however, said the administration has nothing to corroborate the information. "We hear similar things all the time. There are so many rumors coming out of Iraq," the official said.
A U.N. team, directed by Hans Blix, is now inside Iraq searching for weapons prohibited by a series of U.N. resolutions, including No. 1441 passed by the Security Council in December. One U.S. official said in an interview that the team should start aggressive searches in Tikrit.
It was Iraq's refusal to let inspectors visit one of Saddam's most opulent palaces in Tikrit that eventually led the previous U.N. inspections team, Unscom, to leave Iraq in February 1998. President Clinton responded by ordering air strikes for four days on Iraqi military sites, including barracks in Tikrit.
Saddam was born in the village of Auja, just south of Tikrit. Some of his most fanatical followers and troops reside in the city. Many of his top aides in Baghdad call Tikrit home.
U.S. officials speculate that, if the United States invades, Saddam might try to escape to his home province and hide among his loyalists.
Military sources say, the U.S. war plan calls for isolating Tikrit and striking military barracks there. They say to conquer Iraq, the United States or friendly Iraqi troops must control Baghdad, Basra in the south, and Tikrit.
The city of 29,000 primarily Sunni Muslims is defended by 4,000 troops, armored vehicles and anti-aircraft artillery. Support for Saddam is so fierce that Tikrit could prove to be the last major piece of real estate to fall to any U.S.-directed coalition. Its importance is one reason the Bush administration is pressing Turkey to allow American ground troops to deploy to bases there in preparation for an invasion of northern Iraq.
U.S. officials say Baghdad runs a concealment program, with personnel dedicated to moving components around the country to avoid detection. Defectors have given firsthand accounts of Iraqis moving materials into private residences.
"We do know that Iraq has designed its programs in a way that they can proceed in an environment of inspections and that they are skilled at denial and deception," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this week.
The benchmark for judging Saddam's compliance with U.N. disarmament edicts is the 1998 final report of the U.N. inspection team. That team reported huge discrepancies in the weapons components it positively identified as having been produced and Iraq's denial that they ever existed or Iraq's assertion that it destroyed such articles.
Some of the weapons components identified by the United Nations but not found, according to the 1998 report, were four tons of VX nerve gas, 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas, components to make three or four nuclear weapons devices, up to 50 Scud ballistic missiles and 157 bombs filled with germ agents.
Kelly Motz and Gary Milhollin, who run the research project Iraq Watch, said yesterday they believe that the 1998 U.N. report is credible and that Saddam is hiding large stocks of weapons.
"For example, the missiles are probably taken apart in different components and stored separately," Ms. Motz said.
Said Mr. Milhollin, "In general, we are told that much of Iraq's capability is positioned so that it can be moved quickly. There are machines that are waiting to be loaded on trucks wherever they are operating."


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