U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday the most detailed case yet that Iraq has attempted to hide from U.N. weapons inspectors its existing stocks of chemical and biological weapons and its continued attempts to produce more.
"Iraq's behavior demonstrates that (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort -- no effort -- to disarm as required by the international community," Powell told foreign ministers and ambassadors gathered at the United Nations in New York. His 90-minute audiovisual presentation included diagrams of biological mobile weapons labs, satellite photos of chemical weapons facilities and recordings of intercepted phone calls between senior Iraqi military officials.
Powell also gave new details of the alleged link between the Iraqi regime and the al Qaida Islamic terror network, and reiterated U.S. claims -- disputed by some experts -- that Iraq had sought materials to build uranium enrichment equipment to help make nuclear weapons.
The British Broadcasting Corp. reported Wednesday that a leaked document showed that -- as recently as three weeks ago -- British intelligence was unconvinced about any link between Baghdad and al Qaida.
During the presentation, Powell played a recording he said was of a conversation on Nov. 26, 2002, between a colonel and a brigadier general from Iraq's elite Republican Guard about the evacuation of what they called "modified vehicles" from a site inspectors planned to visit the next day. On the tape the colonel says the vehicles are from the al Kindi company, which Powell said was "well-known to have been involved in prohibited weapons system activity."
At a press conference in Baghdad, Gen. Amir al-Saadi a close aide to Saddam Hussein, said the intercepts were forgeries and could be produced by any "third rate intelligence service."
According to the German Magazine Stern, the al Kindi research complex -- also known as Sa'ad 16 -- is in the city of Mosul in northern Iraq. The magazine said it is where Iraq worked on the Condor II missile, with additional research conducted on chemical and nuclear weapons. The Condor II was a two-stage missile system designed for a range of around 1,000 kilometers. It was a joint development project between Iraq, Egypt and Argentina.
It is unclear whether Iraq was successful in developing the missile. The Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group that wants to overthrow Saddam Hussein, claims that al Kindi is also the site of an effort to produce enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.
On the recording, the colonel is asked twice if he evacuated the vehicles in question. After playing the intercept Powell remarked, "Note what he says: 'we didn't evacuate everything.' We didn't destroy it. We didn't line it up for inspection. We didn't turn it in to the inspectors. We evacuated it, to make sure it was not around when the inspectors showed up."
On Jan. 16, U.N. inspectors in Iraq found 12 artillery shells modified to hold chemical agents. Iraq -- saying that the shells were abandoned ones they had missed in their previous efforts to destroy such weapons -- promised to look for more. But Powell said another intercept on Jan. 30 revealed instructions from Republican Guard headquarters to an officer in the field to check that all areas in another installation are free of forbidden ammunition. "We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there," the voice on the tape says.
Powell said that such instructions to remove illegal munitions and weapons from sites which the inspectors were expected to visit is part of a pattern to deceive the United Nations and constitutes yet another material breach of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, which required Iraqis to cooperate fully with the inspectors.
Powell named for the first time the senior officials on a committee that reports directly to Saddam Hussein to "monitor the inspectors who were sent in to monitor Iraq's disarmament." This panel is headed by Iraq's Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan and includes Saddam's son Qusay Hussein, as well as the man who met with chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix in the fall and pledged his country's full cooperation with the inspections regime -- Gen. Amir al-Saadi.
One example he gave of how Iraq's military -- under the supervision of this committee -- has deceived the inspectors is in Taji, one of 65 facilities in Iraq Powell said store chemical weapons. Pointing to a satellite photo of four bunkers in the facility, Powell showed the presence of special security units to monitor the leakage of munitions and a decontamination truck, both what he called "signature item(s)" of facilities that store and produce chemical weapons. These photos were taken in the fall of 2002, but by Dec. 22 -- with inspectors in the country -- the truck and the security unit were gone. "This sequence of events raises the worrisome suspicion that Iraq had been tipped off to the forthcoming inspections at Taji," Powell said.
Powell said he estimated that Iraq has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent, including the deadliest nerve gas known to man, VX. This is enough for 16,000 battlefield rockets. Only 100 tons of an agent gives Saddam Hussein the capability to contaminate a 100 square mile area, he added.
"Under the guise of dual use infrastructure, Iraq has undertaken an effort to reconstitute facilities that were closely associated with its past program to develop and produce chemical weapons," Powell said. To prove his point, Powell showed a satellite photograph of the Al Mussayib facility which houses chemical weapons and ships them to military units in the field. The photo showed cargo vehicles at the facility, indicating it had been used as recently as last May. "What makes this picture significant is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time," Powell said. Powell also played a tape of two military officers speaking to each other with one instructing the other not to use the word nerve agents on wireless phone calls, assuming the United States would be listening.
Defectors and individuals speaking to U.S. intelligence officials have also confirmed the existence of at least 7 mobile biological weapons labs that are moved on roads and railway tracks, Powell said. While senior U.S. officials have talked about the existence of these labs in the past, he provided the most detail on their design and capabilities to date.
In the case of those designed to move on roads, the labs are comprised of three flatbed trucks. "In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf War," Powell said of the labs which have perfected the art of drying biological toxins, making them more lethal to a larger number of people. Reconstructing their design from four sources, including an Iraqi major, Powell displayed a diagram of flat bed trucks and rail cars with pumps, compressors and tanks. "It took inspectors four years to find out that Iraq was making biological agents. How long do you think it will take the inspectors to find even one of these 18 trucks without Iraq coming forward?" Powell asked.
Evidence of Iraq's biological weapons program is not limited to the existence of these mobile labs. Powell said human intelligence and intercepted communications shows for example that Iraq has sought filters, growth media, sterilization equipment, glass lined reactors and specialty pumps that handle corrosive material. "Now of course Iraq will argue that these items can also be used for legitimate purposes. But if that's true, why did we have to learn about them by intercepting communications and risking the lives of human agents?" Powell asked, pointing out that the Iraqis were required to reveal details of dual use technology under the terms of the U.N.'s mandate.
Powell said last fall, while the United Nations was debating Iraq, a missile brigade outside of Baghdad was dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological agents and distributing them to various locations in Western Iraq. Powell said the Iraqis were also developing unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs equipped with sprayers. Many of these UAVs were developed by modifying existing aircraft such as the Soviet MiG 21, but Powell showed a diagram of a much smaller camouflaged plane with a the capacity to fly 500 kilometers without refueling.
The U.S. secretary of state also presented some new details on Iraq's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. He said that Iraq had negotiated with firms based in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of magnets between 20 and 30 grams, the same specifications for magnets used in Iraq's gas centrifuge program prior to the Gulf War. Powell also took on critics of the administration's argument that aluminum tubes ordered in 2000 and seized later by U.S. authorities were for the construction of rocket launchers allowed under Resolution 1441 and subsequent sanctions programs. "What we notice in these different batches is a progression to higher and higher levels of specification, including in the latest batch an anodized coating on extremely smooth inner and outer surfaces," Powell said. "Why would they continuing refining the specification, go to all that trouble for something that, if it was a rocket, would soon be blown into shrapnel when it went off?"
Powell ended his presentation by discussing Iraq's links to international terrorism and specifically al Qaida. He said that Iraq is now harboring a cell run by Abu Massad al-Zakawi, a veteran fighter in the Afghan War, a poisons expert and the director of a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan as recently as 2000. In May 2002, when al-Zakawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment, two dozen al Qaida operatives descended on Baghdad, where they remain to this day. Al-Zakawi is also the man U.S. authorities believed ordered the assassination in Amman of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in October.
Powell showed an overhead photo of a camp in North Eastern Iraq for the Zakawi cell, showing what he called a "poison and explosives training center camp." The camp trains al Qaida operatives in the production of ricin, a derivative of castor beans, and a poison which causes shock and circulatory failure in the body within 72 hours.
"From his terrorist network in Iraq, Zakawi can direct his network in the Middle East and beyond," Powell said. Indeed, 116 people associated with this web have been apprehended in the United Kingdom, France, Spain and Italy and other places.
But the links between bin Laden and al Qaida go beyond merely the al-Zakawi network. Powell said Iraqi intelligence agents traveled to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s to assist al Qaida in training on document forgery. Osamma bin Laden himself met with the director of Iraqi intelligence in Khartoum in 1996. The contacts between Iraq and al Qaida strengthened after the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and later with the 2000 attack on the USS Cole off the port of Aden, Yemen.
"Ambition and hatred are enough to bring Iraq and al Qaida together, enough so al Qaida could learn how to build more sophisticated bombs and learn how to forge documents, and enough so that al Qaida could turn to Iraq for help in acquiring expertise on weapons of mass destruction," Powell said, refuting doubts in some intelligence circles that al Qaida would never cooperate with a secular Arab regime.
Powell was accompanied by CIA Director George Tenet. Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Aldouri also spoke at the historic session.
Twelve countries sent foreign ministers to the extraordinary session. Angola sent a vice minister and Guinea and Syria no ministers. The permanent representatives, ambassadors, were in the chairs for those two nations.
Among Washington's allies, Britain is the only permanent, veto-wielding council member to have publicly supported the U.S. position that force must be used, if needed, to disarm Saddam, even without the authorization of the United Nations.
On Tuesday in France, British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with French President Jacques Chirac to try to win support for military action against Iraq if Saddam didn't disarm. He wasn't successful. France holds a veto on the council.
"War is always the worst possible solution," Chirac told reporters after five hours of talks with Blair. "In that region above all others we do not need any more wars."
Since resuming searches on Nov. 27 after a four-year hiatus, more than 100 inspectors from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency have visited over 500 sites across Iraq that are suspected of involvement in Iraq's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq maintains that it possesses no weapons of mass destruction and denies any links with terrorist groups.