UNITED NATIONS -- Iraq acknowledged for the first time Monday that it has conducted research in germ warfare, but ended the program and destroyed the material to avoid an attack by U.S.-led allied forces, a U.N. commission reported.
The U.N. Special Commission said Iraqi officials revealed details of their biological warfare program to U.N. inspectors, who began investigating the program Saturday.
The commission, charged by the Security Council with destroying Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in line with the cease- fire in the Persian Gulf War, said Iraqi officials said the germ warfare research began in 1986 for 'defensive military purposes.'
The commission did not provide any information about the investigation itself beside making public the Iraqi admission of their biological weapons program. Until Monday, Iraq had consistently denied that it possessed a biological weapons capability.
The biological research plant, located at Salman Pak, 22 miles southeast of Baghdad, was shut down after the Aug. 2, 1990, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and 'the agents on which the research was being carried out were destroyed,' the commission said in a statement.
'Iraqi officials further told the team (of U.N. inspectors) that this declaration had been withheld now because it would have been misconstrued by the world at large,' the commission said. '(The Iraqis) said that no production or weaponization of biological agents had taken place.'
The commission said its 28 inspectors from nine countries will remain in Iraq to pursue their investigation despite the Iraqi admission. But it said the inspection at Salman Pak was hampered by 'large amounts' of unexploded ordnance in spite of the 'excellent' cooperation extended to the team by Iraqi authorities.
The U.N. inspection team now in Iraq is the fourth sent there since May by the commission and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. The first three teams uncovered 46,000 chemical weapons in central Iraq and around air fields -- four times as many as Iraq had declared.
British U.N. Ambassador David Hannay said Security Council members briefly discussed the Iraqi germ warfare program during a private meeting Monday morning, which was called to review the economic sanctions against Iraq.
Hannay said Iraq's concealment of the weapons program was part of a 'long, long series of cheating by Iraq.'
The council remained deadlocked on whether to allow more humanitarian aid to Iraq before all of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons are accounted for, diplomats said. They said the council will resume discussion on the issue Wednesday.