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imperialism & war

Iraq takes journalists on tour to expose Blair 'lies'

Britain's dossier on Iraqi threat evidence, "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction,"
exposed as fraud.
Iraq takes journalists on tour to expose Blair 'lies'
By Kim Sengupta in Baghdad
25 September 2002

At the al-Qa'qa complex, 30 miles south of Baghdad, one of Iraq's main centres for producing nerve agents ? according to Tony Blair's "dossier" ? the director-general, Sinan Rasim Said, declared yesterday he would welcome United Nations inspectors to expose the "lies".

Saddam Hussein's regime responded to the British report about its alleged acquisition of a nuclear, chemical and biological arsenal with accusations of "baseless fabrications and zionist conspiracy", and demanded that the document should be handed over to the UN monitors for examination.

Within two hours and 10 minutes of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction ? The Assessment of the British Government appearing on the internet, the Baghdad authorities were taking a group of British journalists to see the sites of alleged manufacture and storage named in the document.

One was the al-Qa'qa chemical complex, the site of the execution of British journalist Farzad Bazoft on spying charges in March 1990, and the other the Amariyeh Sera vaccine plant at Abu Ghraib, a suburb of the capital. We, the journalists, chose both locations and neither had been visited before by the media.

Al-Qa'qa, according to the British dossier, was severely damaged in the Gulf War but has "been repaired and (is) also operational. Of particular concern are elements of the phosgene production plant. They were dismantled under Unscom supervision, but have since been rebuilt. While phosgene does have industrial use, it can also be used by itself as a chemical agent or as a precursor for nerve agent," according to the dossier.

Unscom had established that the Amariyah Sera site "was used to store biological agents, seed stocks and conduct biological warfare associated genetic research prior to the Gulf War. It has now expanded its storage capacity".

At al-Qa'qa, a 26 square kilometer military establishment, Mr Said insisted that no part of the plant had ever been dismantled by Unscom.

He said that the work was solely to produce centralit, a stabliser for gunpowder used in a variety of legal, conventional weaponry from artillery to small arms. Phosgene, he claimed, was generated as a result of making centralit, and could not be extracted from the manufacturing equipment, let alone be used for making nerve agents.

"Unscom knew all along what we are doing, it was done with their authorisation, and they carried out regular inspections", he said sitting in the boardroom, beside a portrait of President Hussein. Producing an Unscom letter from "Harald Marhold, Chief Inspector CG-15", dated 13 August 1998 authorising maintenance work, he continued "they did not dismantle anything here. Mr Blair's report is totally wrong."

"We knew the Unscom people well, one was an English guy called Steve, all the British have to do is ask them. The UN keeps records, it would have been easy to find out." Al-Qa'qa was also bombed by the United States and British warplanes, during Operation Desert Storm, in 1998. "They destroyed boiler rooms and a storage area, They did not bother to bomb the part of the plant where there's phosgene, because they knew we can't make use of it," Mr Said said.

Orange smoke belched from chimneys at the plant. Vapours escaped through the pipes containing the phosgene, Mr Said pointed out, sloshing through pools of murky water on the floor. The phosgene was being stored in cooling tanks.

"Unscom put stickers on pieces of equipment to ensure that they cannot be used for dual use, and as you can see, we have kept them," he said. "We have given detailed reports every year since the inspectors left in 1998. They are available for the inspectors. We want them to come and expose these lies as soon as possible." However, like the majority of Iraqis we have spoken to, Mr Said did not believe war could be avoided. "I think the Americans will bomb this place again, and use this false report as one of the excuses," he said.

Amir al Sa'adi, a senior Iraqi weapons expert, accused Mr Blair of singling out the plant because it could produce propellant powder for weapons from pistols to artillery guns for Iraqi air defenses.

At Amariyah Sera, the director, Karim Obeid, disputed that Unscom had found it was used for biological warfare associated genetic research or store biological agents. "They were coming here ever since the Gulf War until they left, and they have never accused us of any of those things in that time," he said. "All our work was done with their supervision." The complex, he said, was used for "for testing typhoid fever".

These are all standard practices, the inspectors are welcome to see them," said Mr Obeid, who added he was morally opposed to biological warfare "both as a scientist and a human being".

The storage capacity had indeed been increased, as the report claimed, he said, showing us what he said were the two additional structures.

One was a large mostly empty room. The first room, said Mr Obeid was used to store solutions for blood tests, imported from the Melat pharmaceutical company in France. The second room was stacked with empty bottles of various brands of vaccine.