Thursday, January 16, 2003

Well, looks like the inspectors found something: specifically 11 empty warheads that could have contained chemical or biological weapons in the past.

U.N. arms inspectors say they have found a number of empty chemical warheads and another one that is still being evaluated.

The U.N. spokesman said Thursday the warheads were regarded to be in "excellent condition."

A U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team visited the Ukhaider ammunition storage area, at a site 150 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, to inspect a large group of bunkers constructed in the late 1990s.

They discovered 11 empty 122 mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation.

The warheads were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. The spokesman said the team used portable X-ray equipment to analyze one of the warheads and collected samples for chemical testing.

Diplomats at the United Nations took a cautious stance on the finding.
Now, let's not turn this into another "uranium on the border" debacle; while the warheads are interesting, both U.S. and U.N. officials are not calling this the smoking gun, and nor should they.

The Iraqis were dismissive:

Hossam Amin, head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate, dismissed any allegation that the find is significant, calling the material "forgotten."

"It is neither chemical, neither biological," Amin said. "It is empty warheads. It is small artillery rockets. It is expired rockets. They were forgotten without any intention to use them, because they were expired since 10 years ago."

He added that "this type of rockets were declared in 1996 and again in the new declaration."
Personally, this smells of spin control; I'm pretty sure that the Iraqis might be right in it being forgotten, but it's an embarassment either way, and yet another possible excuse that the United States might glom onto when and if it decides to invade Iraq.

Actually, in some respects, this information is somewhat good news. Not because it's a justification for invasion (it isn't), but because it shows that the inspectors can indeed find the sorts of things they're looking for, should it happen to be present. One of the key criticisms of the whole inspection process from the "invade now and ask questions later" brigade is that the inspectors are (apparently) too weak, powerless, and dimwitted to find anything the Iraqis don't want them to find. This little embarassment of the Iraqis shows that that is hardly the case. As someone who would prefer a successful inspection regime to a preemptive (and, in light of North Korea, somewhat opportunistic) invasion, I'm actually somewhat pleased.

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