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New Iraq Documents Show Effort to Produce Weapons

By R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Iraq abruptly has turned over to the United Nations thousands of documents that describe a broader and more advanced effort by the country to produce nuclear arms, germ weapons and ballistic missiles than previously known, senior U.N. and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

Iraq previously claimed that all pertinent documents on its weapons of mass destruction programs had been turned over to the U.N. or deliberately destroyed to hide their contents. But on Sunday, Iraqi officials released what one official described as "several planeloads" of documents in 147 boxes and two large cargo containers.

Ambassador Rolf Ekeus, who chairs the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq and was given the documents moments before ending a three-day visit there, Wednesday said the Iraqi disclosures contain "radically new valuable data." He said they will give the United Nations a fuller picture of the deadly arsenal Iraq developed during the 1980s to use against its enemies.

Among the new disclosures is an Iraqi admission that it had germ- or toxin-filled artillery shells, aircraft bombs and ballistic missile warheads ready for possible use during the 1991 Persian Gulf War with U.S. and allied forces that ousted Iraqi troops from Kuwait. Iraq first denied having such arms, then said they were destroyed before the war.

Iraq never used the weapons during the conflict, but if it had, the effects could have been devastating. Only some of the U.S. soldiers sent to the region were given vaccinations, and the shots covered only two of the three highly lethal biological and toxin weapons that Iraq has now admitted it produced.

Despite having previously claimed that it produced its entire arsenal at one factory, Iraqi officials admitted last weekend that five different sites were used to produce a larger quantity of anthrax bacteria than previously admitted, as well as botulinum toxin and another toxin. It said all the weapons were eliminated in 1991, after the war ended.

Iraq also admitted to having begun a crash program in August 1990 - the month it invaded Kuwait - aimed at producing a single nuclear weapon within one year, two U.N. officials said. The apparent aim was to deter any military action against its occupying forces, but the program was still at least three months from completion when the gulf war ended and the United Nations ordered all nuclear efforts eliminated.

These secrets, as well as new details about Iraq's missile program, were divulged because Iraq wanted to preempt what it feared a defector would tell Ekeus this week, U.N. officials said. The defector, Hussein Kamel Hassan Majeed, directed the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction programs before fleeing to Jordan on Aug. 7.

Iraqi officials blamed Kamel for keeping the data secret before his defection, claiming he had threatened to kill anyone who revealed it. In an unusual bit of drama, they diverted Ekeus's car while he was en route to the airport and took him to a farm that they said was owned by Kamel. There, in a chicken house, were the document-filled boxes and cargo containers.

U.N. and U.S. officials privately dismiss this as an utter fiction, noting that Kamel could not singlehandedly have kept this information secret in a government so tightly ruled by one man, President Saddam Hussein. They note, for example, that Iraq admitted last weekend that its biological warfare effort was secretly commanded by Ahmad Murthada Ahmad Khalil, who is still in Saddam's cabinet as the Minister of Communications and Transportation and obviously knew what had been withheld from the U.N. commission.

Diplomatic sources said Kamel told Ekeus, who went to Jordan from Baghdad, that the Iraqi government's new admissions are correct, and that Kamel also disclosed additional information about Iraq's weapons programs. "I do not want to address the extent of discrepancies between the two types of information," Ekeus told reporters, according to the Associated Press.

"We must verify these statements," Ekeus said about the new information provided by Baghdad. "We cannot take it (at) face value. Every time we have done that before, we have been misled." He noted that "the Iraqi leadership declared to me that its policy from now on is 100 percent implementation" of the 1991 and 1992 U.N. resolutions authorizing the destruction of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs.

The documents that Iraq turned over are in Arabic and will have to be translated before their contents can be verified, a process that U.N. officials have said will take months. The documents also will be subjected to delicate scientific testing to confirm that they are at least five years old and were not created recently for the purpose of deceiving the U.N. special commission, officials said.

"The toughest problem-and our key mission-will be verifying destruction" of the biological weapons, Charles Duelfer, the commission's deputy chairman, said in an interview.