- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 8, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 8 (UPI) — Some evidence linking Iraq to a nuclear weapons program appears to have been fabricated, the Washington Post reported Saturday. The faked evidence was described as a series of letters between Iraqi agents and officials in Niger.

The correspondence was deemed "not authentic" after careful scrutiny by U.N. and independent experts, Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the U.N. Security Council.

The documents had been given to the U.N. inspectors by Britain and reviewed extensively by U.S. intelligence. The forgers had made relatively crude errors that eventually gave them away — including names and titles that did not match up with the individuals who held office at the time the letters were purportedly written, the Post report said.

"We fell for it," said one U.S. official who reviewed the documents.

A spokesman for the IAEA said the agency did not blame either Britain or the United States for the forgery. The documents "were shared with us in good faith," he said. ElBaradei also rejected a key Bush administration claim that Iraq had tried to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes to use in centrifuges for uranium enrichment.

Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday acknowledged ElBaradei's findings, but showed members of the U.N. Security Council what he called "a catalog of 12 years of abject failure" by Iraq to disarm, saying the 167-page U.N. weapons inspectors' report shows a "damning record of 12 years of lies, deception and failure."

"UNMOVIC put together a solid piece of research that adds up, when one reads the entire 167 pages, adds up fact by chilling fact, to a damning record of 12 years of lies, deception and failure to come clean on the part of Iraq," said Powell at a ministerial meeting of the council.

"This document is, in fact, a catalog of 12 years of abject failure, not by the inspectors, but by Iraq," he said. "We have found nearly 30 instances where Iraq refused to provide credible evidence substantiating its claims.

"We have counted 17 examples when the previous inspectors actually uncovered evidence contradicting Iraqi claims," referring to the earlier inspection regime known as UNSCOM, disbanded and replaced by UNMOVIC after its inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in 1998 on the eve of an allied bombing campaign.

"We see instance after instance of Iraq lying to the previous inspectors and planting false evidence, activities which we believe are still ongoing," said Powell. "As you read this document, you can see page after page of how Iraq has obstructed the inspectors at nearly every turn over the years."

U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix reported earlier on Friday to the council that Iraq inspections "will not take years, nor weeks, but months," adding that "even with a proactive Iraqi attitude induced by continued outside pressure it will still take some time to verify."

He said there had been an "acceleration" of Iraqi cooperation since January, but questions remained. Inspectors had found no evidence that Iraq was moving weapons of mass destruction to avoid detection, or had mobile laboratories, however, he said.

Blix described the destruction of al-Samoud 2 missiles as a significant step toward disarmament. He had ordered the missiles scrapped because their range exceeds the 150 kilometers (93 miles) permitted by the council.

As an example of the list provided by Blix's team, Powell turned to a mention of R-400 aerial bombs capable of dispersing biological agents. Iraq recently revealed the apparently disposed-of devices.

"The report says that during the period 1992, Iraq changed its declaration on the quantity of bombs it had produced, changed the declaration several times," the secretary of state said. "In 1992, it declared it had produced a total of 1,200 of these bombs. With the admission — finally, after it was pulled out of them — of an offensive biological warfare program in 1995, this number was subsequently changed to a total of 1,550 such bombs.

"Given the lack of specific information from Iraq, UNSCOM could not calculate the total number of R-400 bombs that Iraq had produced for its programs," he said.

"This is just one example of the kinds of documentation we'll all be seeing," continued Powell. "The question that leaps out at you is that these are … actions that Iraq is being asked to take, they could have taken many times over the preceding 12 years. We're not talking about immediately. We're talking about why hasn't it been done over the last 12 years, and how can we rely on assurances now in the presence of this solid record of lying and deceit over the years?"

(UPI U.N. Correspondent William M. Reilly contributed to this report)

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