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Wednesday, 5 February, 2003, 07:47 GMT
Analysis: 'Exposing' Iraq
Weapons inspectors in Iraq
Is Iraq blocking weapons inspectors?

The evidence against Iraq to be presented to the Security Council by the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, on Wednesday is likely to be a dramatic one hour show with photos and even transcripts of telephone conversations.

It will deal with the alleged effort by Iraq to hide weapons it is not supposed to have; at the same time a parallel effort is being made by the United States to indicate that Iraq has possible links with Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

But Mr Powell will have to be more than dramatic -- he will have to be convincing.

Colin Powell
Powell faces a tough task at the UN

The telephone recordings will give a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the National Security Agency, which was once so secret that it was known among officials as "No Such Agency".

From its sprawl of buildings in the Maryland countryside between Washington and Baltimore, it listens in to the world, sharing its work with the blandly named Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham in England.

In 1986, US President Ronald Reagan used NSA intercepts of links between the Libyan embassy in East Berlin and Tripoli to blame Colonel Gaddafi for the bombing of the La Belle café used by American service personnel.

Libya was bombed shortly afterwards.


The results of NSA eavesdropping in Iraq are expected to be part of Mr Powell's presentation as he seeks to convince doubters that Iraq has been trying to hoodwink weapons inspectors.

According to the US Newsweek magazine, he will reveal conversations between Iraqi officials who congratulate each other for evading discovery.

There is also an expectation that he will show some satellite photos of Iraqis moving illegal weapons from buildings shortly before inspectors arrive. There may be photos of the "mobile biological laboratories" which the US and Britain have said that Iraq possesses and has not declared.

NSA ability revealed

The presentation is regarded as so important by the United States that the ability of the NSA to monitor individual conversations will be revealed in the wider interest of mobilising support for a possible second resolution authorising force against Iraq.

UN inspectors in Iraq
The US claims Iraq is one step ahead of the inspectors

However, it remains to be seen whether the evidence is as conclusive as that produced by the US UN Ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, who showed photos of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Mr Powell himself has said that he will not be able to present a "smoking gun".

He said that his evidence would be "straightforward, sober and compelling."

Much of it might be circumstantial (especially what happened to "unaccounted for" material) and even the more dramatic elements might not convince everyone.

Intercepted conversations might be open to interpretation.

Satellite pictures might not tell a clear enough story.

American and British documents

Some of the evidence has already been laid out in two documents issued recently by the US and British Governments.

In one report... material was buried in the banks of the Tigris river

British document

The American document, called "What does Disarmament look like?" compares Iraqi attitudes to those countries which have openly got rid of their nuclear weapons - South Africa, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

Unlike them, it says, Iraq has not co-operated.

One paragraph gives a flavour: "We have many reports of material being buried, concealed in lakes, relocated to agricultural areas and private homes or hidden beneath mosques or hospitals.

"In one report such material was buried in the banks of the Tigris river during a low water period."

The British document is called "Iraq - its infrastructure of concealment, deception and intimidation."

This paper presents a picture of an oppressive Iraqi security apparatus monitoring and obstructing the work of the inspectors.

Car crashes

One section gives examples: "Escorts (for the inspection teams) are trained to start long arguments with other Iraqi officials 'on behalf of Unmovic [UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission]' while any incriminating evidence is hastily being hidden behind the scenes.

"Al Mukhabarat [the Iraqi security organisation] have teams whose role is to organise car crashes to cause traffic jams if the inspectors suddenly change course."

Expect more of that kind of stuff from Mr Powell.

Links to al-Qaeda?

The other half of the American case is about Iraq and al-Qaeda and the claim now is that there could well be links between the two. To what extent Mr Powell will go into this before the Security Council is not clear. But it is an important element of Washington's overall argument.

Osama Bin Laden
Has Iraq aided al-Qaeda?

It seeks to reinforce the allegations made increasingly frequently by both President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair that there is a danger that Iraq might give weapons of mass destruction to international terrorists.

To make such claims credible, you have to establish a link in the first place.

There has been considerable scepticism about any links between the secular Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the fundamentalist Islamist Osama Bin Laden.

According to a new article in the New Yorker magazine by Jeffrey Goldberg, that scepticism was once shared by the CIA.

It felt that there was no commonality of interest between two such different manifestations of Arab nationalism despite the fact that they shared a common enemy in the United States.

Out of the box thinking

However, Mr Goldberg says, the US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Pentagon demanded more "out of the box" thinking and this, coupled with interrogations of high level al-Qaeda prisoners in Guantanamo, led to a change of perception.

At a meeting with the CIA, the defence department managed to convince analysts that a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda might exist.

"The Defense team had expected resistance from CIA officials but, to the surprise of many in the room, Tenet (the CIA director) was open to the Pentagon analysis," wrote Mr Goldberg.

Shadowy figures

The analysis is based on some shadowy figures, one of whom is Abu Musab Zarqawi, also known as Ahmed al-Khalayleh, said to be a leading al-Qaeda chemical and biological weapons expert.

He is believed to have gone to Baghdad for medical treatment after the war in Afghanistan.

There is also an Islamic group in northern Iraq called Ansar al-Islam, which some reports say is supported by Baghdad, though its leader says it is not.

Of course, sceptics will argue that Mr Rumsfeld's "out of the box" thinking is simply a convenient way of hardening up very flimsy evidence and preparing a reluctant public for war.

But it is this re-assessment which lies behind the fears expressed by Mr Bush and Mr Blair and which is helping to drive their policy forward.

The BBC's Jon Leyne
"The Americans might unveil intelligence intercepts"

Key stories





See also:

02 Feb 03 | Middle East
27 Jan 03 | Americas
03 Feb 03 | Americas
01 Feb 03 | Middle East
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