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U.N. Investigators Surprise Iraqis Trying to Dismantle Illegal Drone

By Walter Pincus
THE WASHINGTON POST -- Iraq tried to dismantle an undeclared new drone aircraft last week after it was discovered by inspectors from the United Nations, according to U.N. and U.S. officials.

Inspectors from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) first discovered the remote piloted vehicle, or RPV, at the Samarra East flight-test facility north of Baghdad in mid-February, officials said. With a wingspan of almost 25 feet, the RPV could have a range far in excess of the 150 kilometers (93 miles) allowed by U.N. regulations.

The inspectors raised questions about the drone last Tuesday when they visited the Ibn Fernas Center in northern Baghdad, where RPVs and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are developed and produced. When they returned to the flight-test site the next day for another look at the large drone, they found two such RPVs -- and found the Iraqis dismantling one of them, as well as two smaller RPVs, according to a senior administration official. “They apparently did not expect the inspectors,” the official said.

Under last November’s U.N. resolution, Iraq was required to declare UAV and RPV aircraft because Baghdad had experimented with them in the 1980s and 1990s as delivery vehicles for chemical or biological agents. The RPV being dismantled had been fabricated from the fuel tank of one of those vehicles, an L-29 Czech-made small airplane. Hans Blix, UNMOVIC’s executive director, reported Friday to the Security Council that his inspectors had raised questions with Iraq about its unmanned aircraft. But U.S. officials Monday took public issue with his failure to disclose the problem encountered last week, calling it an example of Iraq’s refusal to cooperate and disarm.

In a closed Security Council meeting Monday, Blix defended his handling of the issue, saying he does not report on all new findings by inspectors. Although the newly designed RPV should have been declared, he said, it was not certain it would be proscribed since it still may be just a “prototype.”

The first public indication of the new RPV came Monday when UNMOVIC put on its Web site the 173-page document Blix gave privately to Security Council members last Friday, entitled “Unresolved Disarmament Issues, Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programs.”

In that document, Blix outlined dozens of other unresolved issues involving Iraq’s weapons, and possible ways the Baghdad government could solve outstanding issues.