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EDITIONS
Thursday, 8 August, 2002, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
'I tracked Iraq's biological weapons'
UN inspectors
Inspectors oversee destruction of materials in 1996
As speculation grows that the US plans to take action against Saddam Hussein, Terry Taylor, a retired British colonel who became a UN weapons inspector, recalls searching for Iraq's biological weapons.

We were trying to discover all the sites which had equipment which could be used to support a biological weapons programme, everything from dairy factories upwards. It was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Terry Taylor
Terry Taylor, now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies
I was employed mostly on surprise inspections, ones that were rather challenging, ones that perhaps merited a UN commissioner being the chief inspector. This made the Iraqis pay a bit more attention even though they still tried to hide as much as they could.

We also looked for people we thought had the right qualifications and capabilities to make weapons. We didn't know for sure they were involved, but we felt it would be worth calling on them.

The UN special commission's name has been somewhat sullied by allegations that it was involved in spying. But I only knew people dedicated to uncovering weapons of mass destruction.

Iraqi protest
Iraqis protest against possible US strikes
We had some successes but it took four-and-a-half years to produce enough evidence to force the Iraqis to admit that they did indeed have a biological weapons programme. That just shows how difficult and challenging the task was, the enormous effort the Iraqis took in hiding this programme.

After all, a biological programme is easier to keep out of the eyes of the inspectors than a nuclear or missile one, as you can embed it in civilian facilities.

Intimidation tactics

During each inspection I had a team of Iraqis following my every move - I was photographed, videotaped, sometimes almost having the video pushed in my face. That was not only to record everything but to destabilise me.

Inspecting a building for signs that it might be a production facility
UN inspectors search a building in Iraq
I had papers snatched from my hands, I was pushed and shoved. But I tried to be polite and respectful at all times, I tried never to lose my temper.

I kept my eyes and ears open, and if I found something that I knew was important, I couldn't show my reaction until I had my hands on it.

One of our successes was to uncover the main production facility at Hakam, about 60km outside Baghdad, which appeared to be making an additive for animal food and a biological pesticide.

We managed through documentation to prove that they were actually producing anthrax and botulinum toxin, two of the most deadly agents. Much of this work we did outside Iraq - looking at invoices and export documents, talking to the companies that had exported materials to Iraq.

One of my final tasks in Iraq was blowing up that building.

Taylor's team install cameras at Hakam biological warfare production facility
Taylor's team install cameras at the Hakam facility
We eventually cracked the case, but sadly by the time the inspectors were effectively thrown out in 1998, there were still important parts of the programme about which we needed to learn more.

The empty UN headquarters in Baghdad
Iraq has put conditions on the return of UN inspectors
We didn't really manage to discover all that we needed to know about the personnel, nor did the Iraqis satisfy us on what they had done with some of the essential materials for the production of such agents.

Now, of course, we have no monitoring system in place so it is extremely worrying.

The Iraqis did lose a lot of valuable equipment and buildings, but they could recreate such facilities elsewhere because they've got the personnel - there was not a lot we could do about that.

Worldwide panic

During the anthrax scares in the United States last autumn, I was not surprised. I knew that someone would do this eventually, but I was not one of those who sprang to an Iraqi connection.

Anthrax clean-up team in Washington
Anthrax tainted letters were sent to Capitol Hill
If these attacks had been part of a state programme, far more people would have been affected. They would have used a far more effective weapon than the relatively crude method of delivery through the mail.

Biological weapons have great potency, especially when you take into account the advances in biotechnology over the past 10 years, advances the Iraqis had been exploiting.

I believe there is a sufficient case to do something about Iraq on the weapons of mass destruction basis alone. To do nothing, or to do little, or to attempt to negotiate with the present regime could be more dangerous than trying to do something more dynamic.


Some of your comments so far:

We are here in Kuwait with the RAF enforcing the no-fly zone. We have seen the after-effects of the Iraqi invasion. The British people back home say they don't want UK troops to attack Iraq and that Blair is Bush's poodle. We are here, we are British troops and we are ready and willing to help bring peace and hope to the region. We won't start World War III. We will prevent it.
Doni and Matt, Kuwait

Are we really prepared to pay the price for such a move against Iraq? The environmental and political fallout will be devastating. How long did it take to put out the fires in Kuwait after the Gulf War? It would make sense to try and negotiate on a diplomatic level before we get dragged into World War III.
Frank, Canada

This man Saddam is the same man that the US and UK gave all sort of weapons to destroy my country. Now you are trying to destroy him. What you people are after is oil.
Katighetchi, Canada

The argument that the US is only after oil is laughable. If that were the case, the US would demonise Israel in order to appease the Arab world, there would have not been intervention in Kosovo, Bosnia or Somalia among others. The reasons for toppling Hussein are clear: He WILL sell bio-weapons to al Qaeda, if he hasn't done so already.
Adrian Franco, Oxford, England

The US and UK have created the law of the jungle and indeed a very dangerous world. Both have nuclear arms, yet want to attack Iraq because they have biological weapons. So there is one rule for the bullies and another one for the poor countries. I am very glad that France, Germany, Egypt, Saudi etc have distanced themselves from this.
Simon Cousin, France

It is one thing to be a responsible possessor of weapons of mass destruction. It is quite another still for someone like Saddam Hussein who has a history of attacking other countries (Iran, Kuwait) to possess them.
John, US

With their talk of war, the US has managed to bring Iraq back to the negotiation of inspections. That is a win. And if meaningful inspections are still not possible, then something pretty dangerous is going on. Then to strike first would be the safe way.
Rafael, Germany

History suggests that the US is as likely to use nuclear, biological and chemical weapons as much as anyone else. I don't trust Saddam but I don't trust the rationale for getting rid of him either. The West doesn't have a good record when it comes to supporting and undermining other countries' leaders.
Bob, England

And who is going to stop the US, Britain and others from making biochemical weapons - remember Porton Down facilities that did not exist on any map.
Waheed, UK

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See also:

02 Aug 02 | Middle East
08 Aug 02 | Politics
08 Aug 02 | Middle East
07 Aug 02 | Middle East
15 Feb 99 | FORCES AND FIREPOWER
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