UNITED NATIONS – Iraq's arms declaration fails to provide new answers to key questions on stocks of biological agents such as anthrax, the nutrients used in their production and the means to deliver them, according to U.N. officials and an Associated Press review of the dossier.
In response to many of the questions, the Iraqis enclosed photocopies of 4- and 5-year-old answers long considered insufficient by inspectors.
The biological declaration, part of a 12,000-page package the Iraqis handed over to the United Nations on Dec. 7, is virtually identical to ones submitted in 1996 and 1997, according to U.N. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. The earlier declarations were rejected by inspectors as "deficient in all areas."
The only differences between the previous reports and the new one, the inspectors said, related to equipment now being used in civilian areas.
Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, has said he plans to confront the Iraqis about unanswered questions in Baghdad next week. He is also expected to raise the matter in the Security Council on Thursday, when he provides his second assessment of the Iraqi declaration.
Inspectors had hoped the Iraqi declaration — which also includes sections on chemical, nuclear and missile programs — would address hundreds of questions that inspectors outlined in a January 1999 report to the Security Council. According to the 1999 report, Iraq had failed to account for thousands of pounds of nutrients needed to produce anthrax, as well as materials used in the production of mustard gas and aflotoxin.
One weapons inspector who serves under Blix and also worked for the previous inspections regime, which ended in 1998, said anthrax remains the No. 1 concern for the biological weapons teams. "They could have provided new answers, new information, but they didn't," the inspector said.
"During the last round of inspections we found more anthrax-filled warheads than they had declared. We found seven and they declared five, so material had to be produced to make seven and they still haven't told us where that is," the inspector said.
According to U.N. Resolution 1441, crafted by the Bush administration and approved by the Security Council on Nov. 8, any omissions or false statements in Iraq's declaration, coupled with a failure to cooperate with inspectors, could open the way for military action against Saddam Hussein's regime.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has already said, based on an early assessment of the declaration, that Iraq is in "material breach" of its obligations under the resolution.
Baghdad claims it hasn't been working on weapons of mass destruction since the 1991 Gulf War. A submission of anything new would have contradicted that claim.
A team of weapons analysts on the 30th floor of U.N. headquarters in New York have been poring over several thousand pages in the biological declaration and comparing it to earlier, incomplete submissions, which were a source of intense frustration for the previous inspection regime.
The AP reviewed Iraq's 1996 biological declaration and the 2002 dossier and found them to be virtually identical although the new report includes information Iraq provided in 1997 and 1998 in response to inspectors' questions. Neither report has been made public.
For the first four years of inspections, which began at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Iraq denied it had a biological weapons program. Only in the face of irrefutable evidence gathered by inspectors, did Baghdad finally acknowledge the program in 1995, but inspectors were often unable to verify Iraq's claims then to have destroyed its program.
"There were a lot of unanswered questions about the material balance and the types and quantities of agents they had produced," said Jonathan Tucker, a former biological weapons inspector. "Even though Iraq claimed to have eliminated its biological program in '91, there was evidence, even while inspectors were operating in the country, that it continued to develop capabilities for that program," he said.
Soon after U.N. inspectors left Baghdad in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes to punish the Iraqi government for its lack of cooperation, former chief weapons inspector Richard Butler produced a 280-page report on Iraq's disarmament.
Butler said inspectors remained strongly convinced that Baghdad had documents that would reveal "the full picture" of its weapons programs — but had refused to hand them over.
But Iraq claims in its latest report that it has no such documents and can only reconstruct events based on the memories of those involved in the program. In some cases, the Iraqis wrote there was no way to provide fuller answers since they had unilaterally destroyed all the evidence and the documents related to the biological weapons program, which they claim ended after the Gulf War.
The Butler report cites Iraq's failures to account for all stocks of biological agents and the nutrients used in their production. Inspectors said, for example, that they believe Iraq produced three times the amount of anthrax and 16 times more gas gangrene than Baghdad declared.
Butler's report, submitted to the Security Council in January 1999, concluded that Iraq's declaration had been "deficient in all areas."
Another U.N. official said inspectors were surprised that the Iraqis "didn't even make an effort to make the answers look new. It's the same old stuff."
For example, many of the answers are addressed to Butler's inspections regime, known as UNSCOM, rather than to Blix's U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection team, which uses the acronym UNMOVIC.
In one section, Iraq claims that it has destroyed all records of any tests it conducted with biological weapons.
"Therefore any discrepancies found between the accounts given in this declaration and the reports and visual records are entirely due to failure of recollecting exact details rather than withholding information, contrary to what UNSCOM may seem to think," the declaration said.
An international panel that made recommendations to the Security Council on Iraq's disarmament in March 1999 said "critical gaps" in Iraq's biological program "need to be filled to arrive at a reasonably complete picture."
It noted that biological warfare agents can be produced using simple equipment and Iraq possesses the capability and knowledge to make them "quickly and in volume."
The panel said Iraq needs to account for 500 R-400 aerial bombs equipped for chemical and biological agents, for 550 artillery shells filled with mustard gas that it claimed to have lost shortly after the Gulf War, and for its military plans to use the deadly nerve agent VX.