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Wednesday, January 21, 1998 Published at 15:21 GMT

World: Middle East

Cook issues Iraq anthrax warning
image: [ Iraq admits having had anthrax warheads before the Gulf War in 1991 ]
Iraq admits having had anthrax warheads before the Gulf War in 1991

The UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, says Iraq is creating enough anthrax every week to fill two missile warheads.

Speaking in Hong Kong, Mr Cook said the confrontation with Saddam Hussein over UN weapons inspections remained very serious and he refused to rule out the use of military force.

[ image: Some American cities have been practising their response to chemical attack]
Some American cities have been practising their response to chemical attack
Mr Cook said Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to decide which sites the UN inspectors could or could not visit in order to do their job.

He said it strained credulity for the Iraqi president to claim that he had to have 45 presidential palaces.

It was difficult to see, Mr Cook continued, why Saddam Hussein required so many palaces for himself, when so many of his people were living in great hardship.

Mr Cook said the situation was very serious, not simply because Saddam Hussein was defying the clearly stated will of the UN Security Council, but also because of suspicions about what the Iraqi leader was doing while the weapons inspections were blocked.

'Hidden stocks'

Weapons inspectors have said many times that Iraq retains a capacity to manufacture biological and chemical weapons and may indeed have hidden stocks that it could quickly load into munitions.

[ image: Some of the germs may have originated from the US]
Some of the germs may have originated from the US
But this is the first time a senior political figure has charged that Iraq is actively manufacturing such agents on a routine weekly basis.

Iraq admits to having had anthrax warheads for its long-range missiles before the Gulf War. What happened to these weapons is far from clear.

A slow and painful death

Anthrax is an especially-deadly toxin.

If fired against a large target like a city, one missile with a warhead containing anthrax toxin could kill hundreds of thousands of people under the right weather conditions.

Anthrax kills its victims over several days. Many would effectively drown in fluid produced by their own internal organs in response to the anthrax invasion.

Ironically, some of the germs needed by the Iraqi biological warfare programme may well have come from a scientific centre in the United States, sold to the Iraqis quite innocently during the late 1980s.

Today, the guidelines for such sales are much tighter.

The BBC's Defence Correspondent, Jonathan Marcus, says the British Foreign Secretary's latest comments will undoubtedly increase pressure on the UN Security Council to pursue an ever tougher line against Iraq.

"The stage is being set for a confrontation, which in terms of forcing Iraqi compliance, has no guarantee of success," he said.

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