WASHINGTON -- The White House and the Pentagon strongly denied a report from Iraq yesterday that allied warplanes had bombed a baby formula factory near Baghdad, saying that the targeted plant was actually a disguised facility for germ warfare.
"That factory is in fact a production facility for biological weapons," said White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater. "The Iraqis have hidden this facility behind a facade of baby milk production as a form of disinformation."
The Iraqi claim was conveyed by Cable News Network correspondent Peter Arnett, the only Western journalist still reporting from Baghdad. He said Iraqi officials took him to the ruined installation, telling him it was destroyed in bombing raids Sunday and Monday.
"An official said it had been producing 20 tons of powdered milk a day and was the only source of infant formula food for children 1 year and younger in Iraq," Mr. Arnett said in the broadcast, which was cleared by Iraqi censors.
L "It looked innocent enough from what we could see," he said.
CNN illustrated the report with film footage of the plant in operation, taken in August by one of its camera crews.
The film showed milk being processed and a worker wearing a white shirt emblazoned with the words "Baby Milk Plant Iraq" -- in English, not the official Arabic, prompting Mr. Fitzwater to scoff that the episode was "made for TV."
He said Iraq was using CNN to disseminate propaganda that "hurts our government and plays into the hands of Saddam Hussein."
"We must point out once again that any reports coming out of Baghdad are, in effect, coming from the Iraqi government," he said.
Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that intelligence about the plant was irrefutable: "It is not an infant formula factory. It was a biological weapons facility -- of that we are sure."
Air Force Lt. Col. Mike Gallagher said at a military briefing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that the bombed factory was heavily fortified with "military guards around it, a barbed wire fence."
"It has a military garrison outside, and numerous sources have indicated that the facility is associated with biological warfare production," he said.