A senior Iraqi general contended Thursday that the new round of U.N. weapons inspections has disproved "groundless" allegations by Western intelligence agencies that 10 Iraqi sites may be engaged in banned weapons production.
Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin called the intelligence reports "just a lie." The inspectors have not yet issued their findings, however, from visits to the 10 installations.
At a news conference, Amin also was asked about an unconfirmed U.S. report that an Iraqi chemical weapon was delivered to an Islamic extremist group affiliated with Al Qaeda.
"This is really a ridiculous assumption from the American administration," he said.
The general, the Iraqi government's chief liaison to the inspectors, spoke with reporters after a day in which the greatly reinforced corps of U.N. monitors -- quadrupled to 100 this week -- observed a test launch of a short-range Iraqi missile to verify it does not exceed U.N. range limits, and paid unannounced visits to a half-dozen other sites.
The U.N. inspections have resumed, after a four-year gap, under a new U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Iraq to report on nuclear, biological, chemical and missile research and production. It filed that 12,000-page U.N. declaration last weekend.
The resolution also mandates that Iraq surrender any weapons of mass destruction -- which it denies having. The U.S. government says it is sure Baghdad retains such weapons, and threatens war if Iraq fails, in Washington's view, to comply with U.N. disarmament demands.
In a round of inspections in the 1990s, after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, the United Nations destroyed tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Iraq's nuclear weapons program.
The U.N. monitors suspected they may not have traced all the weapons, however, and recently published British and U.S. intelligence reports said new construction at old weapons sites and other activities suggest the Iraqis may have resumed making weapons of mass destruction.
In their 58 site inspections since the U.N. operation resumed, the arms monitors have visited some of the sites considered suspect, including a chlorine plant whose product could be used in chemical weapons and an animal-vaccine plant linked to Iraq's previous biological weapons program.
Ten of the sites newly inspected "were allegedly said to practice and conduct some prohibited activities," Amin told reporters, without identifying the locations. "The visits of the inspection teams proved that those allegations are groundless."
The inspectors have generally not reported the results of their visits, including to the chlorine and vaccine plants. But after an inspection Wednesday at a nuclear site questioned in the intelligence reports, the nuclear monitors reported they had verified it was not involved in revived weapons work.
Amin also was asked about an article in The Washington Post on Thursday quoting unnamed sources as saying the Bush administration had received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with Al Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon -- suspected to be the nerve agent VX -- in Iraq in October or November.
Amin dismissed the report as "ridiculous," and said of the U.S. government, "They know very well we have no prohibited material or activities, and all the stockpile [of chemical weapons] have been destroyed."
The sources were said to be "two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source." But other unnamed U.S. officials cited by the newspaper suggested the "report" may have been based on a hypothetical case raised in a recent U.S. military communication.
"We are used to hearing such reports from the enemies of Iraq," Amin said, naming U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies.
In a wrap-up report in 1999, after U.N. inspectors withdrew from Iraq, the United Nations said the Iraqis had not adequately explained the disposition of 1.5 tons of 3.9 tons of VX nerve agent they acknowledged producing in the 1980s, all of which Iraq said it had destroyed.
The U.N. inspectors said they found VX traces in a plot of ground where the Iraqis said they had neutralized the chemical agent, but the inspectors could not confirm the amount.
Amin said the Iraqis thus far are satisfied with the "professionalism" of the inspections, and he hoped the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq since it invaded Kuwait in 1990 could be lifted within eight months.
Under U.N. resolutions, if the inspectors ultimately report full Iraqi cooperation in their disarmament work, the Security Council is supposed to consider lifting those sanctions.