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Secretary of State Colin Powell today presented the United Nations with satellite photos of biological and chemical weapons facilities, diagrams of mobile weapons laboratories and transcripts of overheard high-level Iraqi conversations in an effort to persuade other nations that diplomacy has run its course.
Powell made his case that Iraq had defied all demands that it disarm – violating 16 resolutions over 12 years – and that it is concealing weapons of mass destruction.
“Clearly Saddam will stop at nothing until something stops him,” Powell told members of the U.N. Security Council assembled in New York.
“With all the information the United States now has, leaving Saddam Hussein with weapons of mass destruction for months or years is not an option – not in a post-Sept. 11 world,” he said.
The secretary of state said his “irrefutable and undeniable” evidence was culled from U.S. and foreign intelligence sources and “people who have risked their lives to let the world know what Saddam Hussein
is really up to.”
Evade and conceal
Early in his speech, Powell offered evidence that Iraq had resumed its 1990s “cat-and-mouse” game of hiding illicit weapons from inspectors by playing an audiotape of an intercepted call between two senior officers in Iraq’s elite military unit, the Republican Guard. The conversation took place on Nov. 26, 2002, just days before U.N. inspectors were due to arrive.
The transcript of the conversation includes the following statements:
- “We have this modified vehicle.”
“What do we say if somebody sees it?”
“I’ll come to see you in the morning. I’m worried you have something left.”
“We evacuated everything.”
A second intercepted conversation was recorded after weapons inspectors found 12 empty chemical warheads on Jan. 16.
The transcript of this intercept includes the following statements:
- “They’re inspecting the ammunition you have for the possibility you have forbidden ammo.”
“We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there.”
“Remember the first message.”
“After you have carried out what is contained in this message, destroy the message because I don’t want anyone to see this message.”
Powell also presented a series of satellite photographs of weapons facilities and bunkers where
chemical munitions were stored that demonstrate a spike in what he calls “house cleaning” activity – spotted at close to 30 sites – in the days leading up to U.N. inspections. The images show caravans of trucks moving equipment and the presence of special decontamination vehicles associated with the production of biological agents.
The activity returns to “normalcy” upon the arrival of the inspectors.
One satellite image shows a “sanitized” bunker as having been bull-dozed.
“Iraq literally removed the crust of the earth in these locations in order to conceal evidence of biological and chemical weapons production,” said Powell.
“Where did Iraq take all of this equipment? Why hasn’t it been presented to inspectors?” he asked.
The secretary also exhibited diagrams of examples of the 18 mobile bio-weapons laboratories carried on trucks and railways. He said information about the labs came from Iraqi civil and chemical engineers and an Iraqi army major who defected and were now hiding in a foreign country.
According to the defectors, the mobile labs can produce in a matter of months the total amount of biological agents Iraq claimed to produce in the years prior to the Persian Gulf War.
Echoing comments made earlier by other U.S. officials, Powell said Iraq had a special high-level committee that monitors the activities of the inspectors. He said the committee reports directly to Hussein, is headed by Iraq’s vice president and includes officials such as Saddam’s son, Qusay, and presidential adviser Lt. Gen. Amir al-Saadi, who serves as the contact person for Blix.
Citing both British intelligence and the report of U.N. inspections chief Hans Blix, Powell described how Iraqi intelligence agents have tapped inspectors’ phones to get advance warning of inspections, posed as workers at weapons facilities, removed computer hard drives and documents from inspection sites and even issued a false death certificate for a scientist who was sent into hiding.
The British government report indicates Iraqi intelligence pulled out all the stops to delay inspectors from arriving to sites by causing traffic accidents along their travel route.
“While we were here in this council chamber debating Resolution 1441 last fall, we know from sources that a missile brigade outside Baghdad was dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological warfare agent, distributing them to various locations in western Iraq,” said Powell.
He said the launchers and warheads had been hidden in large groves of palm trees and were to be moved every one to four weeks to escape detection.
Powell repeated Blix’s concerns that Iraq was blocking U-2 reconnaissance flights, impeding U.N. interviews with scientists and hiding documents pertaining to its weapons programs – all in violation of its obligations under Resolution 1441.
The secretary called Iraq’s 12,000-page weapons declaration submitted Dec. 8, 2002 as a “false declaration” designed to give council members the “false impression that inpsections were working.”
Powell then reminded council members that the resolution they unanimously voted for in November held that false statements in Iraq’s declaration and Saddam’s failure to comply with the implementation of the resolution would “constitute a further material breach.”
“We wrote it this way to give Iraq an honest test,” he said. “They failed that test.”
“Resolution 1441 gave Iraq one last chance, one last chance to come into compliance, or face serious consequences. No council member present … on that day had any illusions about the nature and intent of the resolution or what ‘serious consequences’ meant if Iraq did not comply,” said Powell in an apparent needling of members who demand another resolution before military force is used against Iraq.
Weapons of mass destruction
Largely repeating the information delivered by Bush in his address, Powell said the Iraqis had failed to account for the organic materials sufficient to produce more than 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard and VX nerve agent, 550 artillery shells filled with mustard and 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents.
To put this in context, Powell pointed out that a single teaspoon of anthrax slipped into an envelope had shut down the Senate in the fall of 2001, forced several hundred people to undergo medical treatment and killed two postal workers.
A single drop of VX on the skin, he said, will kill in minutes. Iraq has admitted producing four tons of the nerve agent.
Powell said Iraq perfected a drying technique as early as 1998 to successfully weaponize anthrax and other biological agents to cause a myriad of diseases.
Powell said intercepted communications and human sources tell the U.S. that Iraq had procured equipment and chemicals necessary to produce weapons of mass destruction.
One intercept recorded two weeks ago consists of instructions from one Republican Guard commander to another to “remove the expression ‘nerve agents’ wherever it comes up in the wireless instructions.”
Powell said Iraq has been experimenting with these weapons on human beings since the 1980s and that in 1995, 1,600 death-row prisoners were subjected to experiments and autopsies were performed to confirm the effects of biological agents on prisoners.
“Saddam Hussein has used these horrific weapons on another country and on his own people. In the history of chemical warfare, no country has had more battlefield experience with chemical weapons since World War I than Saddam Hussein’s Iraq,” he said.
“Saddam has chemical weapons … has used them and has no compunction about using them again,” said Powell.
“We have sources who tell us that he recently authorized his field commanders to use them. He wouldn’t be passing out the orders …. if he didn’t have the weapons or the intent to use them.”
In regards to Hussein’s ability to produce nuclear bombs, Powell said there was no evidence that Iraq ever abandoned its billion-dollar nuclear weapons program detected by inspectors in the 1990s, and that indications are that he’s actively trying to reconstitute the program by securing the “key missing piece” to building a nuclear bomb.
Powell said Iraq has been working since 1998 to procure sufficient fissile material to produce a nuclear explosion. This requires the ability to enrich uranium. According to Powell, Hussein has made repeated covert attempts to acquire banned aluminum tubes to be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium.
He said Iraqi officials in 1999 and 2000 had negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia to purchase a production plant that manufactures the magnets used in gas centrifuges.
Citing “numerous” intelligence reports over the past decade from sources inside Iraq, Powell said Baghadad also retains a few dozen SCUD-variant ballistic missiles with a range of 650 to 950 kilometers, which is longer than the U.N. permitted range of 150 kilometers.
UNMOVIC also reported that Iraq illegally imported 380 engines likely to be used in these missiles.
Powell shared another satellite photograph that showed the al-Rafa’h liquid-engine test stand under construction in April 2002 that was “clearly intended” to launch long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers.
Iraq and al-Qaida
As promised by President Bush in his State of the Union address last week, Powell also fleshed out the administration’s claims that Hussein is harboring and aiding terror groups linked to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida terrorist network.
Powell referred to it as a “sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaida terrorist network.”
“Our concern is not just about illicit weapons but the way they can be connected to terrorists. … Iraq and terrorism goes back decades,” said Powell.
Citing al-Qaida sources, Powell said Iraq’s ties with al-Qaida date back to the early to mid-1990s when bin Laden was based in Sudan and reached an understanding with Hussein that al-Qaida would no longer support activities against Baghdad.
Powell said early al-Qaida ties were forged by secret high-level Iraqi intelligence service contacts, who have met with al-Qaida members repeatedly since the early 1990s. According to the Foreign Security Service, a senior Iraqi intelligence official met with bin Laden in 1996. A defector claims Iraqi agents have continued to visit bin Laden.
A senior al-Qaida terrorist now detained said bin Laden and his top lieutenants in Afghanistan went to Iraq for chemical and biological weapons training.
In 2001, after coalition partners ousted the Taliban regime from Afghanistan Iraq offered itself as a safe haven to al-Qaida.
Detainees say some members accepted the invitation. Among those, was a bin Laden collaborator named Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi who set up a terrorist training camp in northeastern Iraq where operatives are trained in the use of the poison, ricin.
Powell said Zarqawi runs a deadly terror network that was responsible for the assassination of U.S. ambassador Lawrence Foley in Amman, Jordan last October. He said the captured assassin says his cell received money and weapons from Zarqawi for the murder.
According to Powell, Zarqawi traveled to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, staying for two months. During that time, Powell said nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations.
Powell also cited the presence of another al-Qaida affiliated group called Ansar al-Islam dug in the Kurdish corner of northern Iraq.
WorldNetDaily reported the Islamic group is led by an Iraqi Kurd named Nejmeddin Faraj Ahmad (also known as Mullah Krekar) who trained with bin Laden in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Powell said these al-Qaida affiliates based in Baghdad coordinate movement of people, money and supplies to and throughout Iraq and have been operating freely in Baghdad for more than eight months.
Powell said Zarqawi’s network plotted terrorist actions against countries including France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia. He said it was this cell that was behind the ricin plots uncovered in London which have led to the arrest of some 116 operatives since last year.
Powell was accompanied by CIA Director George Tenet, who sat behind him as an endorsement of the intelligence information offered.
Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, were present for Powell’s presentation but did not speak. The two are scheduled to deliver a second status report on inspections to the Security Council on Feb. 14.
Powell warned the Security Council that it “faced the danger of irrelevance” if it failed to act decisively against Hussein.
The secretary’s 90-minute multimedia presentation today was the latest attempt by the U.S. to enlist support – or, at least reduce objections – from France, China, Russia and other governments still protesting any use of force against Iraq.
But comments from the other 14 members following Powell’s speech proved he failed to win over the veto-wielding skeptics, as reaction fell along the usual fault lines with Britain applauding the U.S. stance and France, China, and Russia maintaining stiff opposition.
UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called Powell’s speech “powerful and authoritative” and called on the council to “face its responsibilities” after next week’s report by U.N. weapons inspectors.
“For now, we must reinforce the inspection regime,” said French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. “The use of force can only be a final resort.”
“We should respect the views of the two agencies and support the continuation of their work,” Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan echoed.
“We often hear that time is running out,” said Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. “The inspectors alone can recommend to the Security Council how much time they need to carry out the tasks entrusted to them.”
In turn, the representatives of Germany, Mexico, Angola, Guinea, Syria and Cameroon also called for the inspections to continue.
Spain and Bulgaria threw their support behind the U.S., while Chile and Pakistan remained neutral.
Meanwhile, Iraqi officials began dismissing Powel’s speech even before he had given it today.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Al-Douri, who was invited to speak even though Iraq is not a council member, panned the presentation and called Powell’s allegations that Iraq was hiding banned weapons and had links to terrorists “utterly unrelated to the truth.”
“No new information was provided, merely sound recordings that cannot be ascertained as genuine,” Al-Douri told council members.
“This was a typical American show complete with stunts and special effects,” Iraqi presidential adviser al-Saadi added and accused the U.S. of violating Resolution 1441 by failing to provide evidence to U.N. inspectors.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri said he intends to respond to Powell’s “lies and allegations” in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tomorrow.