Iraq issues explanation for discovered warhead

Tuesday, February 4, 2003

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Iraq took the unusual step of issuing an explanation for a missile warhead discovered Monday by U.N. arms inspectors -- before the monitors themselves made the news public.

The inspectors found the abandoned case of a small rocket and a "modified, damaged and abandoned warhead" at a missile parts factory south of Baghdad, the Iraqi News Agency said, describing it as a Russian-made Luna -- a short-range rocket permitted under U.N. resolutions.

Iraq, however, rarely reports on what the inspectors find. The report appeared timed to give Iraq's version of events before the discovery was publicized by the United Nations.

The discovery last month of 12 empty chemical warheads -- which the Iraqis considered an oversight on their part -- was cited by the United States as an example of Baghdad failing to comply with terms of U.N. Resolution 1441.

Sensitive allegations

Iraq is especially sensitive to such allegations ahead of Secretary of State Colin Powell's appearance before the Security Council on Wednesday. Powell plans to present evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has retained his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.

Photographs of mobile biological weapons installations and transcripts of overheard conversations among Iraqi officials are part of the evidence Powell will present to the council Wednesday, a Bush administration official said.

Iraq denies holding any banned biological, chemical or nuclear weapons but is under pressure to improve cooperation with U.N. inspectors.

The United States and Britain insist Saddam still is hiding banned weaponry and say they will disarm Iraq by force if necessary

. The United States has deployed almost 90,000 troops in the Gulf region, a number that may double soon.

Hoping to avert war, the two chief U.N. weapons inspectors travel to Iraq later this week in an attempt to win meaningful concessions from the Iraqis on reconnaissance U-2 flights and private interviews with Iraqi scientists -- two of the issues the inspectors say have stalled progress so far.

Saturday's talks will come just before chief inspector Hans Blix and chief nuclear inspector Mohamed ElBaradei make their next important report to the Security Council on Feb. 14.

Iraq, meanwhile, suggested that it may offer a compromise on the question of allowing private interviews with its scientists.

A senior adviser to Saddam said Iraq was exploring the possibility of having non-Iraqi witnesses sit in on the private interviews. The inspectors believe the scientists will be more candid if they can meet with them alone -- but not a single scientist has agreed to a meeting.

The Iraqis say they fear their words will be twisted unless a government representative is present. U.S. officials say the scientists face death if they agree to meet independently with U.N. inspectors.

A final decision, however, would be left to the experts themselves, Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi said.

In a separate potential compromise, al-Saadi said Iraq and the United Nations are discussing the use of unmanned drones to support the inspectors' work. The drones would be supplied by Germany, he said.

Still, Iraq remained defiant amid building international pressure and a senior Iraqi official said Baghdad never would surrender to the United States, vowing it would fight U.S. forces fiercely and throw every man into battle.

"American aggression will end up in a catastrophe for them," he said. "They will incur casualties beyond their imagination."

Monday developments in the Iraq crisis:

Photographs of mobile biological weapons installations and transcripts of overheard conversations among Iraqi officials are part of the evidence Secretary of State Colin Powell will present to convince allies that Saddam Hussein is defying the United Nations, an administration official said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Saddam's time is running out. "Eight weeks have now passed since Saddam was given his final chance," he told the House of Commons. "The evidence of cooperation withheld is unmistakable."

Blair hoped to persuade French President Jacques Chirac to support a second Security Council resolution seen as the go-ahead for use of force against Iraq. They meet today.

Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Moscow with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and said a new U.N. Security Council resolution might be needed if weapons inspectors are not satisfied with Iraq's cooperation.

Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul said he would ask parliament this week to allow foreign troops in his country -- a motion that could open the way for basing U.S. troops for war in neighboring Iraq.

Kuwait's two main American schools announced they are shutting their doors from Feb. 10 to March 22, and foreign companies considered evacuating personnel in anticipation of a possible U.S.-led attack on Iraq.

A third U.S. Navy aircraft carrier reached striking distance of Iraq, joining the USS Constellation and the USS Harry S. Truman, and a fourth will head there soon, defense officials said.

The U.S. Army started training a group of Iraqis opposed to Saddam for support roles in the event of war.

Iraq plans to keep producing and exporting oil if the United States wages war, Iraqi Deputy Oil Minister Hussein al-Hudaithi told The Associated Press.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a strong supporter of the U.S. hard line on Iraq, said he will go to Washington, New York and London next week for talks about the crisis with President Bush, the United Nations and Blair.

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