Iraq eluded U.N. inspectors, kept weapons, officials say Hussein can make arms that can kill millions

November 13, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A seven-year game of hide-and-seek has allowed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to preserve his power to make chemical, biological and nuclear weapons capable of killing millions, United Nations and U.S. officials say.

While only about two dozen missiles are believed to be at his disposal, if political and economic sanctions are lifted, Hussein could put together a destructive arsenal with the materiel and expertise he has hidden from weapons inspectors, U.S. officials say.

Hussein's military and intelligence officers have used everything from paper shredders to preposterous excuses to keep inspectors at bay. In the past six months, Iraq has presented the inspectors with a series of "cock-and-bull stories," as one U.N. official put it this week.

A U.N. report issued last month contained a listing of those lies. Iraq delivered a report on its biological warfare program that was six years late and patently false. It lied about its destruction of missile launchers. It failed to account for missile warheads and engines. It tried to conceal its program to produce nerve agents. And it produced highly dubious figures on its biological warfare program.

This is so despite the cease-fire resolution that Iraq signed in 1991 at the end of the Persian Gulf war giving U.N. inspectors the right to travel anywhere in Iraq to ensure that weapons of mass destruction were not being made and to destroy any they found.

As a consequence of this continuing deception, Hussein still has tons of materiel for making nerve gas and germ weapons, and his government keeps working on ways to put them into some 25 medium-range Scud missiles he has squirreled away, U.S. military and intelligence officers say.

The Iraqi president has rebuilt his most important military assembly lines, including a missile plant. His nuclear brain trust remains intact. He has all of the equipment and expertise he needs to resume making weapons of mass destruction.

"His production capability has been put on hold" since the gulf war, said Gary Milhollin, a private analyst of weapons proliferation. "But his research effort has gone forward. We have to assume his scientists have progressed in understanding how to make better weapons of mass destruction."

The Iraqis have conducted covert operations and deception schemes to hide evidence from U.N. inspectors. In September, they emptied chemical and biological weapons sites of incriminating evidence out the rear door of a building while keeping inspectors waiting at the front door.

Iraqi officials have asserted that weapons-related documents and equipment were accidentally lost when they fell off the back of a truck, were destroyed in riots at a hospital or tossed out with the trash by a housekeeper.

Iraqi officials said one set of military records had been burned in a medical file cabinet by a defective X-ray machine.

Iraq "has continued to try to develop chemical and biological weapons, and possibly even acquire nuclear materials," while "playing a hide-and-seek game" with the United Nations, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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