No weapons of mass destruction have turned up in Iraq, nor has
any solid new evidence for them turned up in Washington or London.
But what about Baghdad’s patchy bookkeeping – the gaps that led
U.N. inspectors to list Iraqi nerve agents and bioweapons material
as unaccounted for?

Ex-inspectors now say, five months after the U.S. invasion, that
the “unaccountables” may have been no more than paperwork glitches
left behind when Iraq destroyed banned chemical and biological
weapons years ago.

Some may represent miscounts, they say, and some may stem from
Iraqi underlings’ efforts to satisfy the boss by exaggerating
reports on arms output in the 1980s.

“Under that sort of regime, you don’t admit you got it wrong,”
said Ron Manley of Britain, a former chief U.N. adviser on chemical
weapons.

His encounters with Iraqi scientists in the 1990s convinced him
that at times, when told to produce “X amount” of a weapons agent,
“they wrote down what their superiors wanted to hear instead of the
reality,” said Manley, who noted that producing VX nerve agent, for
example, is a difficult process.

American ex-inspector Scott Ritter said he, too, was sure
Baghdad’s “WMD” accounts were at times overstated.

“There was so much pressure put on scientists to produce
world-class systems, they would exaggerate their reports back to
authorities,” he said. As inspectors scrutinized factories and
interrogated Iraqi specialists, “you suddenly realized they weren’t
as good as they said they were.”

Ex-Marine officer Ritter, who sounded alarms about possible
hidden Iraqi weapons in the 1990s, stirred controversy the past two
years by accusing U.S. officials of having failed to make a case
for war on Iraq.

Chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, as he left his post this summer,
became more open in discussing discrepancies.

After the mid-1990s, “hardly ever did (inspectors) find hidden
weapons,” Blix reminded one audience. “What they found was bad
accounting.

“It could be true they (Iraq) did destroy unilaterally in 1991
what they hid.”

The discrepancies, disputed for years between U.N. inspectors
and Iraqi officials, may be of more interest now that U.S. weapons
hunters are failing to find Iraqi chemical or biological arms.

Those weapons hunters, the Iraq Survey Group, say they still
expect to find evidence of such programs. Their first interim
report is expected in mid-September. Through spokesman Kenneth
Gerhart, they declined to comment on the role of the U.N.
discrepancies list in their current work.

Some of the “bad” accounting on the final U.N. list of
unresolved disarmament issues:

-Although U.N. inspectors in the 1990s verified destruction of
760 tons of Iraqi chemical warfare agents, including 2.5 tons of VX
nerve gas, Iraq never came up with convincing evidence for its
claim that it had eliminated a final, additional 1.5 tons of
VX.

-A discrepancy between Iraqi documents left open the possibility
Baghdad’s military retained 6,526 more chemical-filled bombs from
the 1980s than inspectors first thought.

-The amount of biological growth medium obtained by Iraq
suggested it was capable of producing thousands of liters more
anthrax than the 8,900 liters it acknowledged.

Earlier this year, U.N. teams were working with Baghdad to pin
down such loose ends. The Iraqis had begun scientific soil
sampling, for example, to try to confirm the amount of VX dumped
long ago at a neutralization site, and had filed an initial report
on March 17. Three days later, however, the U.S. invasion
intervened.

Some such efforts had taken on a “for-the-record” character
since, experts note, any old VX or “wet” anthrax, for example,
would have degraded into ineffectiveness anyway.

The Iraqis never dried anthrax to make it last longer, says the
former head of their biological weapons program. Nassir Al-Hindawi
also reaffirms that Iraq never made more than 8,900 liters of
anthrax. His postwar statements have added credibility at a time
when any fear he felt of the Saddam Hussein regime would have
subsided.

American officials at times used paperwork gaps to paint an
ominous picture. President Bush last October spoke of “a massive
stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for
and is capable of killing millions.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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