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Inspectors Find Only Ruins at an Old Iraqi Weapons Site (NY TIMES) By JOHN F. BURNS BAGHDAD, Iraq 11/29/02) Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/11/29/international/middleeast/29IRAQ.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
BAGHDAD, Iraq, Nov. 28 — When United Nations weapons inspectors raced up to the gates of a scruffy industrial plant on the southern outskirts of Baghdad today they were met, amid the listless palm trees and acres of bare earth, by a large, green-painted sign at the gate with a deceptively innocuous legend.

"General Establishment for Animal Development," the sign read, in English and Arabic, and underneath: "Animal Health Development. Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Production Laboratory."

But the plant at Al Dawrah has as sinister a history as any on the weapons inspectors´ list of about 1,000 sites across Iraq — sites the inspectors plan to search painstakingly.

Al Dawrah´s story took a sharp turn in 1995, when Mr. Hussein´s son- in-law, Gen. Hussein Kamel, then in charge of all of Iraq´s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, defected to neighboring Jordan with millions of dollars of government money. Among the secrets he took with him was confirmation of a huge biological weapons program that Iraq had insistently denied, with Al Dawrah as one of the principal production plants.

General Kamel was later lured back to Baghdad, where within days, he and several members of his family, taking refuge in his sister´s luxurious villa, were killed in a furious shootout. But Al Dawrah became a focal point of the earlier round of United Nations weapons inspections. Those inspections were terminated in December 1998, over Iraq´s persistent noncompliance. By that time, however, the United Nations specialized teams had determined that Al Dawrah had produced, among other things, at least 1,425 gallons of botulinum toxin.

When the new round of inspections began on Wednesday, Al Dawrah was high on the list for an early-morning, unannounced, arrive-at-high- speed search. One reason was that the Iraqis never accounted for all the botulinum, which kills by paralysis and suffocation. Another was that a British government document issued this summer named Al Dawrah as a site where there was a suspicion of renewed activity.

By the time the inspectors left the plant today, after four hours, they had concluded that the plant was no longer operational — not for the production of toxins, and not for animal vaccines either. Reporters who were allowed to wander through the plant after the inspectors left found the place largely in ruins. Apparently, it had been abandoned by the Iraqis after 1996, when the weapons inspectors took heavy cutting equipment to the fermenters, containers and pressurized tubing and valves used in the toxin production.

The darkened rooms of the compound´s main building were little more than a garbage site, with mangled lengths of steel, document files strewn about to collect dust and piles of pressure valves and severed pipes. The inspectors, bearing clipboards, tape recorders, cameras and flashlights, spent much of their time scouring outbuildings, taking swab samples from air-filtration systems and, in the case of one inspector, clambering to the top of a 20-foot tank, then nodding to his colleagues as if to confirm that he had found what he expected. Equipment judged not to have been used in the toxin production, they found, had been left untouched.

Al Dawrah´s director, Montasser Omar Abdel Aziz, had been summoned to the plant by aides after the inspectors began their search shortly before 9 a.m. Later, he told reporters, somewhat testily, that the inspectors had found exactly what Iraq had predicted when it said, repeatedly in recent months, that it had abandoned all its banned weapons programs. "You can enter inside, all there are destroyed," he said, speaking in English. "Nobody can do nothing inside. Now, nothing. Just a store."

The weapons inspectors agreed with the Iraqi official, but only up to a point. As they had on Wednesday, when they began their inspections by visiting a missile-engine factory, an adjacent graphite plant and a motor production complex, the leaders of the inspection teams acknowledged that the Iraqis had placed no impediments in the way of their work.

It is a point much emphasized by Iraqi officials, who have encouraged foreign reporters to follow the inspection teams and roam freely about the plants afterward.

"We had no problem with access," said Demetrius Perricos, the 67-year- old Greek chemical engineer who is leading the field inspection teams deployed by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. That agency is responsible for inspections of sites with potential involvement in banned biological, chemical and missile programs. "We conducted all the activities we had to do, so as far as we are concerned this is a good start." Mr. Perricos dispatched 14 inspectors to Al Dawrah today and met with reporters later at a United Nations briefing.

A similar view was offered by Jacques Baute, the French nuclear physicist who leads the field inspection teams for the International Atomic Energy Agency. Nine of the nuclear agency´s teams today inspected the industrial complex at Al Nasr, 30 miles north of Baghdad, where sophisticated machine-tool equipment was identified during United Nations inspections from 1991 to 1998 as having been involved in producing rotors for centrifuges designed for enriching uranium, and engine parts for missiles. "We had no difficulty with access," Mr. Baute said. "We went into every technically significant building."

Al Nasr was heavily bombed by American and British aircraft after inspections were terminated in 1998, but has since been partly rebuilt. It was identified by American officials in October as one of the weapons sites the Iraqis were putting back into commission, but Mr. Baute said the new building shown in American intelligence photographs appeared to be inactive, at least during today´s inspections. "As far as we observed today, it seemed to be very empty," he said.

Both men gave the Iraqis credit for keeping an accurate inventory of equipment "tagged" by the previous inspectors. When one fermenter at Al Dawrah was missing, plant officials said it had been moved to a veterinary plant north of Baghdad. When the inspectors went on to the other plant in search of the missing equipment, they found it. Mr. Baute said his men had a similar experience at Al Nasr, identifying every tagged piece of equipment at the plant, other than some the Iraqis had acknowledged moving in earlier declarations to the United Nations.

But neither Mr. Perricos nor Mr. Baute was ready to comment, based on the initial inspections, on the issue behind the months of American threats that led to the United Nations Security Council´s action earlier this month in approving the tough new weapons-inspection mandate: whether Iraq still has banned weapons programs, or has abandoned them, as senior Iraqi officials have insisted. A key test of Iraq´s intentions will come on Dec. 8, when the Baghdad government must make a full, formal declaration of all its banned weapons programs, if any, and of civilian work in related fields.

The inspectors said their work was not a matter of reaching conclusions from visits to individual sites, but of building a "mosaic" by visiting groups of related sites, then re-visiting some of them. Mr. Perricos described this process as "trying to make an assessment of what happened in the dark years" after 1998, when the inspections ceased.

Mr. Baute said the work could take "weeks or months" — longer, possibly, though he did not say so, than the Bush administration might be prepared to wait as it weighs its options for war. (Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company 11/29/02)


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