Baghdad officials on Wednesday dismissed Secretary of State Colin Powell's anti-Iraq case before the U.N. Security Council as a collection of "stunts," "special effects" and "unknown sources" aimed at undermining the work of U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq.
"What we heard today was for the general public and mainly the uninformed, in order to influence their opinion and to commit the aggression on Iraq," Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, a presidential adviser, told reporters.
Al-Saadi suggested that tapes Powell presented as monitored Iraqi conversations were fabricated, that defector informants were unreliable, and that satellite photographs Powell displayed "proved nothing."
He noted that similar photos were checked previously by U.N. teams, which found allegations of suspicious activities to be unfounded.
Al-Saadi, who reiterated Baghdad's flat denial that it possesses banned weapons, spoke in a government conference room teeming with hundreds of journalists, Iraqi officials and visiting European Parliament members, who closely followed Powell's 75-minute address on live satellite television. Powell's New York appearance was not broadcast on Iraqi TV.
Powell's presentation cited several examples of Iraqi activity he said was suspicious. However, he did not mention that such locations are under regular monitoring by U.N. inspectors.
One example was a missile-engine test installation where, U.S. analysts say, a new structure might test engines that break a U.N. limit on missile range. "A roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what's going on underneath," Powell said. U.N. inspectors visit the facility regularly.
Other installations cited as suspicious by Powell but which have been under U.N. scrutiny include the al-Taji munitions storage facility, the Mussayib pharmaceutical complex and the Tariq pesticide plant.
Of the Tariq plant, Powell said, "Iraq has rebuilt key portions of the Tariq state establishment. Tariq includes facilities designed specifically for Iraq's chemical weapons program." U.N. teams have inspected that complex several times, without reporting finding any such violations.
Al-Saadi described Powell's approach as a "a deliberate attempt to undermine the credibility and professionalism of the inspection bodies ... by making allegations which directly contradict their assessments or cast doubt on their credibility."
Under U.N. resolutions adopted after Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, the Baghdad government is forbidden to have programs for production of weapons of mass destruction. During the 1990s, inspection teams oversaw destruction of the great bulk of such chemical and biological weapons, and dismantled Iraq's unsuccessful nuclear bomb program.
The new inspections, resumed after a four-year gap, are aimed at finding leftover weapons and determining whether the Iraqis resumed their production in the inspectors' absence.
The Bush administration contends Iraq does still possess banned weapons. Repeatedly signaling impatience with the U.N. inspection process, Bush has threatened a military attack on Iraq if, in Washington's view, it has not sufficiently disarmed.
Powell's appearance Wednesday was intended to marshal more support in a skeptical Security Council for the tough U.S. line and possible U.N. endorsement of military action.
A key focus of Powell's allegations — that Iraq has mobile biological-weapons labs — had been raised by Washington before, and was rejected as "totally unfounded" by Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohamed Amin, chief Iraqi liaison to the U.N. inspectors.
On Jan. 18, U.N. inspectors examined two Iraqi mobile food laboratories at a Trade Ministry site. Chief inspector Hans Blix later said they were determined not to be connected with weapons-making. He called on Washington to provide any solid information it has on such labs.
On Wednesday night, al-Saadi repeatedly cited statements by Blix rebutting U.S. allegations — for example, that Iraqi scientists were being sent out of the country to avoid questioning, and that Iraqi intelligence agents were posing as scientists.
On other points, al-Saadi:
—Said "any third-rate intelligence outfit" could have created the tape recordings presented by Powell as intercepts of conversations between Iraqi officers.
—Noted that documents found in an Iraqi nuclear scientist's home, which Powell suggested were incriminating, were determined by inspectors to have been unimportant or obsolete.
—Branded as "ridiculous" Powell's assertion that Iraq had faked death certificates of scientists in order to hide them. "If he thinks any of those scientists marked as deceased is still in existence, let him come up with it," he said.
The senior Iraqi official did not address Powell's allegations of links between Iraq and terrorism, saying it would be dealt with later.
Al-Saadi centered his rebuttal, ironically, on a defense of the U.N. inspectors who have been investigating the Iraqi government and its military-industrial operations since last Nov. 27.
"He should give time for the inspectors to do their job," he told reporters.
The inspectors were back on the job Wednesday, paying surprise visits to, among other sites, missile plants; a food research center in the capital; a dairy company to the west of the capital, and the Laser Institute at Baghdad University.