Published December 19, 2002
BAGHDAD, Iraq – A second known snag for U.N. weapons inspectors took place Thursday, when they were delayed getting into a military guest house north of Baghdad.
Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite television channel, said the inspectors were kept out for 30 minutes because they had not given notice they would visit.
Another witness, however, said the inspection team was only delayed getting into the complex for about five minutes while Iraqi officials looked for the keys.
The standoff took place at a military industrial facility at Al Fao, one of four locations the Iraqi Information Ministry reported the inspectors visited Thursday.
A year ago, an Iraqi engineer who said he defected after having been arrested inside the country reported working for the Iraqi government's Military Industrialization Organization and an affiliated company, Al Fao.
In an interview with The New York Times, conducted in December 2001 in Bangkok, Thailand, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri said he visited at least 20 sites he believed were associated with Iraq's chemical or biological programs and that he had done repair or construction work in nuclear weapons facilities.
Al-Haideri claimed Iraq used companies to purchase equipment with United Nations blessing, then secretly used the equipment to further its program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
The inspectors were delayed as chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix prepared Thursday to tell the Security Council that Iraq's 12,000-page weapons declaration leaves unanswered questions and the U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei would report that further inspections were needed, U.N. diplomats and officials said.
Blix and ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, are scheduled to appear at a closed council meeting to give their preliminary assessments of Iraq's declaration.
Although Iraq steadfastly denies it has weapons of mass destruction, the United States and Britain contend it does and have called the Iraqi declaration incomplete.
The White House said Saddam Hussein missed his "last chance" to come clean on his weapons programs, but President Bush has decided he will not immediately assert that Saddam is in "material breach" of the United Nations — a finding that could trigger war.
Instead, Bush plans to launch this week what officials called a deliberative process that would push the prospects for military action several weeks into next year.
"My guess is that the United States will take some time and will talk to some of our friends and allies around the world about the (Iraqi) declaration and share ideas and thoughts about what's in it and what may not be in it," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told CNN's "Larry King Live."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said Baghdad's dossier an "obvious falsehood." But Straw said the Iraqi government would have to obstruct the work of United Nations weapons inspectors to be found in "material breach" of the U.N. Security Council's resolution — considered the trigger point for military action.
"The grounds for declaring that there has been a material breach are very clearly set out in the resolution," Straw told British Broadcasting Corp. radio. There would have to be "omissions in the declarations and failure by Iraq to comply and cooperate with inspectors," he said.
Al-Haideri, the defector interviewed by the Times, said several production and storage facilities were hidden at government companies and private villas in residential areas. The United States long has accused Iraq of deliberately placing weapons in residential areas as a civilian shield intended to lessen the likelihood that U.S. bombs would be trained on them.
Some, he said, were built underground in what were designed to look like water wells but were lined with lead-filled concrete and contained no water. He also said he was shown biological materials from a laboratory beneath Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad, but had not personally visited it.
"They brought me this material to ask me whether or not it had expired," he said, adding that he was told "where, and the conditions under which it was stored."
Also Thursday, inspectors went to Al-Hareth, in al-Taji area, a site 18 miles north of Baghdad that Iraq maintains is a food warehouse but U.S. officials have claimed may be a biological weapons facility.
Last summer, Iraqi officials took journalists to the site in an attempt to disprove the U.S. suspicions.
At the time, a sign at the entrance to the complex, which Iraqi officials claim was destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War and rebuilt by a French company, read: "The complex of al-Taji stores, the Trading state Company of Foodstuff."
Inside, sacks of sugar and rice and boxes of milk covered the floor.
Other sites visited Thursday were Ibn Firnas — its location and the reason for the inspection were not immediately known, and a pesticide lab at al-Tarik, 36 miles west of Baghdad.