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Monday, November 10, 1997 Published at 17:38 GMT

Special Report

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

A UN weapons inspector at work

What does Iraq have?

Nuclear weapons

Iraq is believed to have come close to developing a workable nuclear device shortly before the Gulf War, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to which it is a signatory.

Ballistic missiles

Between 1975 and 1990, Iraq imported over 800 Scud B missiles and 11 mobile launchers from the Soviet Union. Iraq has admitted to having produced 8 mobile launchers and 28 fixed launch pads itself, and an additional 28 fixed launch pads under construction were discovered by UNSCOM. It has evidence to suggest that since the Gulf War, Iraq had continued to develop its ballistic missile capacity. A shipment of advanced missile gyroscopes was intercepted in 1995 in neighbouring Jordan. It is thought that Iraq could still be hiding between 6 and 16 proscribed missiles.

Chemical weapons

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Iraq is known to have produced mustard gases and a deadly nerve gas called VX. In August 1988, Iraqi forces used both chemical and gas munitions against Kurdish civilians in the area around Halabja, in Iraqi Kurdistan. On November 2 1997, The Observer newspaper reported that the UN believed Iraq was holding secret stocks of the lethal VX liquid nerve agent. The paper said that UNSCOM was on the verge of uncovering the nerve agent when Saddam Hussain ordered US members of the team to leave. The chairman of UNSCOM, Richard Butler, said recently: " I think we're getting hot, and maybe that's part of the reason they (Iraq) took this decision".

Biological weapons

UNSCOM discovered that Iraq had sought to build a biological weapons capacity. In July 1995, Iraq finally admitted that it had sought to build a offensive biological warfare capability. In 1988 alone, it had imported 39 tonnes of growth medium for biological agents, such as anthrax and botulinum, only 22 tonnes of which could satisfactorily be accounted for as consumer production. UNSCOM destroyed 11 tonnes of the agent during 1996, leaving six tonnes unaccounted for. The US Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, has said that Iraq possessed, at one time, enough weaponised anthrax to kill the entire population of the world several times over.

Complaints about obstruction

UNSCOM was headed by a Swedish diplomat, Rolf Ekeus, until the end of June 1997. Shortly before he stepped down, he gave a warning about Iraq's continuing capability in weapons of mass destruction. He said: "We have documentary evidence about orders from the leadership to preserve a strategic capability...That means to keep the production equipment ready to produce at any given moment."

Mr Ekeus said that he felt that UNSCOM was closing in on Iraq's missiles programmes, and the IAEA is optimistic that it has shut down on potentially dangerous nuclear weapon projects. The concern is now over the production of chemical and biological weapons and delivery systems. Iraq is looking to Eastern Europe and Asia for equipment it cannot buy from the West. Iraq has been obstructive and non co-operative with UNSCOM, and Mr Ekeus described the situation as "frustrating and irritating sometimes, but also amusing, highly amusing. They tell the most incredible stories. It is like the 'Thousand and One Nights', where every night they tell a different story to save themselves."

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