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Thursday, 5 September, 2002, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Iraq: Is there any new evidence?
Iraqi bombs
Biological weapons were discovered in 1998
Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has gone further than most British politicians in outlining the threat allegedly posed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.


Iain Duncan Smith is George Bush's secret weapon in Great Britain

Simon Henderson, Iraq expert
The Tory leader claims Iraq is developing ballistic missiles, which would have "the capacity to strike most of Europe, including London".

He also claims Saddam has an active nuclear weapons programme.

He wants prime minister Tony Blair to publish evidence of these alleged threats as soon as he returns from this weekends meeting with US President George Bush.

But opinion remains deeply divided over whether Mr Blair's long-promised dossier will live up to expectations.

'Nothing new'

Since UN weapons inspectors withdrew from Iraq in 1998, gathering concrete evidence on its weapons of mass destruction programme has been virtually impossible.

Much of the available evidence is already on the United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) website.

Plans earlier this year by the British government to publish a dossier of evidence against Saddam were reportedly shelved after it was decided it would contain nothing new.

But Simon Henderson, a leading Middle East analyst and biographer of Saddam Hussein, believes Mr Blair will be able to produce enough new evidence to convince sceptics.

He said there were "10 or 20 examples of "Iraqi agents up to no good in different parts of the world".

He also claims the reason Mr Duncan Smith has been so vocal in his calls for the evidence to be published is that he has been given a sneak preview of its contents by contacts in the Bush administration.

Mr Henderson told BBC News Online: "Iain Duncan Smith is George Bush's secret weapon in Great Britain.

"They (the Bush administration) tell him what is going on because they see he is politically correct."

'Contacts in Washington'

Mr Henderson argued: "Tony Blair is politically correct in US eyes, but his party is incorrect.

"So they are using Duncan Smith to push Blair in the right direction."

He claimed Mr Duncan Smith was "party to the same information as Tony Blair, that the Americans are deliberately telling him".

A spokesman for Mr Duncan Smith would "neither confirm or deny" that the Tory leader was being fed information from Washington.

He said it was well known Mr Duncan Smith "had contacts in the American administration".

Labour former defence minister Peter Kilfoyle said: "It would be entirely consistent with their (the Bush administrations) MO to try and undermine any hostility in the UK against their proposals."

But he said Mr Duncan Smith could just be "riding on Mr Blair's coat tails" by calling for the dossier's publication, without any real idea of its contents.

Biological weapons

One thing most analysts agree on is that any new evidence is likely to be in the area of biological, chemical and ballistic missiles programmes, rather than nuclear weapons.

Weapons inspectors in Iraq in 1998
Weapons inspectors remain at the heart of the debate
In 1995, Iraq owned up to having a biological weapons research programme.

It is believed to have produced 19,000 litres of botulinum, 8,400 litres of anthrax, 2,000 litres of aflatoxin and clostridium.

Bhagdad also owned up to producing 191 biological bombs for use in the Gulf War, although it later claimed to have destroyed them.

UNSCOM weapons inspectors monitored 86 biological sites between 1994 and 1998.

In early April 2001, Iraq told the UN it wanted to re-furbish a laboratory destroyed by weapons inspectors in 1996 in order to make vaccine for foot and mouth disease.

Bhagdad also claims that a newly refurbished plant making castor oil - which can be used to make biological agents - is for brake fluid.

Chemical weapons

Iraq has also admitted manufacturing chemical weapons including mustard gas and the nerve agent sarin.

Recent US government reports to Congress claim Iraq has rebuilt some facilities that could easily converted to producing chemical agents.

Missile capability

Estimates of Iraq's missile capability are also sketchy, with some reports claiming it possesses as few as nine outdated Scud weapons, of the type used on Israel during the Gulf War.

A January 2002 report by the CIA claims Iraq is making progress in its limited range missile programme.

Jeremy Binnie, Middle East Editor of Jane's Sentinel Securities Assessments, said "There are serious problems with the proliferation of missile technology.

George Bush
George Bush claims 'doing nothing is not an option'
"North Korea has been one of the main offenders. One of its chief export earners is selling missile technology to other rogue states," Mr Binnie told BBC News Online.

He said he was "not sure" how much co-operation there had been between Iraq and North Korea, but North Korean technology had been to extend the range of Iraqi Scud missiles.

Iraq could, in theory, develop the capability to attack the UK, but Saddam's "motivation was more local".

He said "wild claims" about the UK becoming a target were "quite often made when support needs to be drummed up for war."

Nuclear threat

New evidence of any nuclear threat posed by Saddam is also expected to be thin on the ground.

During 1991 to 1994, despite Iraq's initial declaration that it had no nuclear weapons facility or unsafeguarded material, UNSCOM uncovered and dismantled a previously undeclared network of about 40 nuclear research facilities.

Some analysts, including Simon Henderson, claim there is evidence that Iraq has been attempting to buy nuclear material from former Soviet states.

But this may not be released for security reasons.

The US government believes Iraq retains the capability - about 7,000 scientists and engineers - to rebuild its nuclear programme and that intends to do so.

In 1999, it emerged that Iraq had imported equipment that could be used as triggers for nuclear devices.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith
"Saddam Hussein poses a very direct danger"

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See also:

04 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Politics
03 Sep 02 | Politics
04 Sep 02 | Middle East
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