- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2003

From combined dispatches

AL-TAJI, Iraq Iraq yesterday displayed a drone aircraft that resembled a large model plane, disputing U.S. assertions that it represents a grave danger.

The United Nations mission that patrols the border between Iraq and neighboring Kuwait, where U.S. Army and Marine units are deploying, said it would move some of its observers on both sides of the frontier to headquarters in Kuwait in response to an increased alert level implemented Saturday.

The spokesman for the inspectors in Baghdad meanwhile said the number of inspectors has dropped to 71 from a peak of about 120 as some inspectors had left after their three-month contracts expired. Diplomats and U.N. sources have said there were signs the team may have started cutting back.

"We have not brought down our numbers," Hiro Ueki told Reuters news agency, noting that more than a dozen inspectors arrived Tuesday, and another 12 or so would joining them today.

Movements of the inspectors are closely watched in Iraq as any abrupt departure is seen as confirmation that a U.S.-led attack is imminent.

Part of Washington's push for war is based on its fears that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. officials have cited as proof what they called an undeclared drone that Iraq was developing to spread chemical and biological weapons.

Made mostly of balsa wood and held together with screws and duct tape, the drone had two small propellers attached to what looked like the engines of a weed cutter.

Officials of the Ibn Firnas State Company, in the al-Taji area just north of Baghdad, said the drone is a prototype designed for reconnaissance, jamming and aerial photography.

They said it couldn't possibly be used to spread weapons of mass destruction, and accused Secretary of State Colin L. Powell of misleading the world by saying it could. Mr. Powell told the Security Council that the drone "should be of concern to everybody."

"He's making a big mistake," the Associated Press quoted Brig. Imad Abdul Latif, the project director for the drone, as saying. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."

The aircraft, which has a wingspan of 24.5 feet, is guided by a controller on the ground, who has to be able to see the plane to direct it, Brig. Latif said.

He said the controls have a range of five miles a fraction of a U.N.-imposed limit of 93 miles.

Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix mentioned the drone in a 173-page written list of outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs last week. While small, Mr. Blix said, drones can be used to spray biological warfare agents such as anthrax.

He said the drone hadn't been declared by Iraq to inspectors.

But Iraq insisted it had declared the drone in a report in January and a confusion over a typographical error the declaration said the wingspan was 14.5 feet instead of 24.4 feet was corrected later. Mr. Ueki confirmed both, saying Iraq declared a drone called the RPV-30A on Jan. 15 and pointed out the error on Feb. 18 a day after inspectors visited the airfield and saw the drone.

Iraqi workers in another part of al-Taji yesterday destroyed three more al Samoud 2 missiles, banned by the United Nations because they can fly farther than allowed, Mr. Ueki said.

That would bring to 58 the number of missiles destroyed by Iraq, from an arsenal of about 100. Iraq also has destroyed 28 warheads, two casting chambers, two launchers and five engines associated with the al Samoud 2 program.

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