Small Clues to the Big Picture in Baghdad - U.N. Inspections Run Gamut, From Top Secret to Seemingly Mundane (WASHINGTON POST) By Peter Baker ABU GHRAIB, Iraq 12/17/02 Page A01)
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ABU GHRAIB, Iraq -- U.N. inspectors, wearing baby-blue baseball caps
and armbands, were roaming through a missile factory the other day
when they came across a room with a couple of ominous warning signs
posted outside: "Caution," the signs said. "Risk of Ionizing
What´s in there? the inspectors asked.
Just an X-ray machine, the plant director answered.
Show us, they said.
So, as the plant director recalled, he escorted the team into the
room and put some metal into the machine. Out came the film familiar
to anyone who has been X-rayed, he said.
In the three weeks they have been scouring Iraq for evidence of
weapons of mass destruction, U.N. arms experts have been poking and
prodding everywhere they can, testing seemingly innocent
explanations, rifling through files, taking soil and water samples,
measuring the air for radiation. At a distillery suspected of
developing biological weapons, they smelled the alcohol. At a missile
factory, they had a rocket test-fired to make sure it did not exceed
The inspectors in Iraq, whose ranks increased over the weekend to
105, have accelerated their schedule to full speed and now fan out
early each morning to facilities throughout the Baghdad area and
beyond, from a cement factory to a pesticide store, from the most
secretive of military bases to government research centers. They
visited 13 sites yesterday, their busiest day yet, as they worked to
collect and collate information to report to the U.N. Security
Council on the status of Iraq´s banned weapons programs.
So far, the inspectors have disclosed few findings and drawn no
conclusions. That is the work of higher-ups at U.N. headquarters in
New York, where diplomats are keenly aware that the outcome of the
searches could bring a decision by the Bush administration on whether
to wage war on Iraq.
"It will take us some time to come up with a bigger picture," said
Hiro Ueki, Baghdad spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification
and Inspection Commission, or UNMOVIC.
But as they settle into a routine, the inspectors have begun focusing
more attention on a handful of the most critical facilities. Nuclear
experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, for instance,
have learned the route to the town of Tuwaitha all too well. About 15
miles southeast of Baghdad, it is home to the Tuwaitha Nuclear
Research Center, the heart of Iraq´s nuclear program.
Iraq has said it halted its nuclear weapons development program a
decade ago. Inspectors have combed through the sprawling Tuwaitha
facility six times so far to inventory nuclear materials, most
recently on Sunday when they took samples of water and silt.
Inspectors have also spent considerable time at the Qaqaa complex not
far from Tuwaitha, where they have searched for indications of
nuclear or chemical weapons. They first showed up there on Nov. 30 to
remove an air sampler, and then returned five more times, including
yesterday, to examine an explosives production plant and a sulfuric
More and more, inspectors are choosing to return to facilities they
had already inspected. Most of the inspections yesterday, for
example, were repeat visits.
However, since making a visit to a presidential palace to test their
ability to get in, they have not gone to any of the dozens of others,
sticking at least for now to more conventional and less provocative
To avoid becoming too predictable, however, the inspectors have tried
to maintain the advantage of surprise. Over the weekend, for
instance, nuclear specialists showed up after dark at the Muahaweel
military base south of Baghdad.
So far, they have encountered none of the intransigence that marked
their predecessors´ experience in Iraq during the 1990s, which led to
their withdrawal in 1998 and a subsequent four-day U.S.-British
bombing campaign. Iraqi officials have kept to their word in opening
the gates when the U.N. teams arrive. The one time a lone duty
officer did not have a key, the inspectors sealed rooms and returned
the next day to find no sign of tampering.
Recognizing that demonstrating openness may be the best way to
undercut international support for war, Iraqi officials urge foreign
journalists to cover the inspections each day instead of turning to
"The weapons inspections carried out so far have uncovered the lies
of Britain and the United States, and Iraq will continue cooperation
with the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission to
ensure the success of its mission," Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, head
of the National Monitoring Directorate, the Iraqi liaison to the
United Nations, told the official Al-Iraq newspaper last week.
To test that further, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, Hans Blix,
has asked Iraq to produce a list of scientists associated with its
weapons programs by the end of the year, possibly so they can be
interviewed outside the country. During an interview on Lebanese
television yesterday, Amin reiterated that Iraq would comply.
The inspection process has taken the U.N. experts far and wide. Not
long ago, they showed up at the gate of the Al Abraj distillery,
which produces about 100 cases of gin, whiskey and arrack a day.
About six inspectors toured the factory, 12 miles south of Baghdad,
checking out the bottling conveyor belts and the steam cleaners and
the storerooms filled with labels, cardboard cartons and jugs of
Alber Poulus Younan, the plant director, pulled a rubber hose from
the machines, let a liquid that was 96 percent alcohol spill over his
hand and held it up for the inspectors to smell, as he did again
yesterday for a couple of visiting journalists. Whatever else it
might be, a look around left no doubt that the Christian-owned Al
Abraj produces many bottles of booze.
"It´s a factory for drink," Younan said. "They´re looking for
something special. I don´t know what it is."
The answer came in what the inspectors showed most interest in -- the
fermenters. Five giant, rusting 40-cubic-yard vats sat in a building
with labels that were attached to the vats by other inspectors four
years ago. The new inspectors checked the bar codes against their
records and moved on.
Fermenters can be critical to the weaponization of such biological
pathogens as anthrax. But Younan and the distillery´s owner, Shakir
Easa, laughed at the notion that their machines produce killer
spores. "It´s funny, because any simple citizen of the world comes to
this place and he can tell it´s just an alcohol factory," Easa said.
Another team of inspectors spent nearly three hours last weekend at a
missile factory in Abu Ghraib, 25 miles west of Baghdad. The plant
director, Hussein Mohammed, told the inspectors that he produces only
al-Samoud liquid-propellant rockets that travel less than the 93-mile
limit imposed by U.N. sanctions, contrary to assertions by the U.S.
With the sound of clanging metal and the odor of industrial cleaning
fluid in the air, men in white smocks and women in head scarves
stared at the inspectors as they examined the 18 buildings surrounded
by a fence topped with concertina wire. Hanging above them in the
courtyard was a massive tile portrait of President Saddam Hussein.
Mohammed said he had no warning the inspectors were coming. "Even as
they were arriving, I learned they were here," he said. But neither,
he added, did he have anything to hide. "We want the inspectors to
show that we´re not making any such weapons and we hope that the
Security Council will take a decision to lift the blockade against
the Iraqi people," he said.
(© 2002 The Washington Post Company 12/17/02)
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