Published March 13, 2003
AL-TAJI, Iraq – Iraq on Wednesday displayed a drone aircraft that resembled a large model plane, disputing U.S. claims that it represents a grave danger. Arab fighters, meanwhile, trained with Iraqi special forces for a war with America.
The U.N. mission that patrols the border between Iraq and neighboring Kuwait, where U.S. Army and Marines are deploying, said it would move some of its observers on both sides of the frontier to headquarters in Kuwait in response to an increased alert level implemented Saturday.
Part of Washington's rush is based on its fears that Iraq is developing weapons of mass destruction, and U.S. officials have cited as proof what they called an undeclared drone that Iraq was developing to spread chemical and biological weapons.
But Iraq showed journalists Wednesday what it said was the drone. Made mostly of balsa wood and held together with screws and duct tape, it had two small propellers attached to what looked like the engines of a weed whacker.
In New York, Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, said after inspectors examined photographs of the drone: "Yes, it would appear to be the drone with the 7.45 meter (24.5 foot) wingspan that was discovered by inspectors recently."
Officials of the Ibn Firnas State Company, in the al-Taji area just north of Baghdad, said the drone is a prototype designed for reconnaissance, jamming and aerial photography.
They said it couldn't possibly be used to spread weapons of mass destruction, and accused Secretary of State Colin Powell of misleading the world by saying it could. Powell told the U.N. Security Council that the drone "should be of concern to everybody."
"He's making a big mistake," said Brig. Imad Abdul Latif, the project director for the drone. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."
The aircraft is guided by a controller on the ground, who has to be able to see the plane to direct it, Latif said. He said the controls have a range of five miles -- a fraction of a U.N.-imposed limit of 93 miles.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, complained this weekend that Blix didn't mention the drone in his oral presentation to the Security Council on Friday.
Blix mentioned the drone in a 173-page written list of outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs last week. While small, Blix said, drones can be used to spray biological warfare agents such as anthrax. He said the drone hadn't been declared by Iraq to inspectors.
But Iraq insisted it declared the drone in a report in January, and Hiro Ueki, spokesman for the Baghdad inspectors, confirmed that. Ibn Firnas' general director, Gen. Ibrahim Hussein, said the confusion was the result of a typographical error: The declaration said the wingspan was 14.5 feet instead of 24.4 feet.
"When we discovered the mistake we addressed an official letter correcting the wingspan," he said.
Ueki confirmed that, saying Iraq declared a drone called the RPV-30A on Jan. 15 and pointed out what it called a typo on Feb. 18 -- a day after inspectors visited the airfield and saw the drone.
But Ueki said he couldn't confirm that the specifications Iraq declared matched what the inspectors saw, and said the drone issue was "under active investigation."
To the east of Baghdad, another military compound housed more obviously menacing activities: Several dozen men from across the Arab world training alongside Iraqi special forces. They claimed thousands of people were in such camps across Iraq.
"We came to fight alongside our Iraqi brothers against the Americans and the Zionists (Israelis)," said a man from Syria who, like most others, refused to give his name. "Today they attack Iraq. Tomorrow it will be Syria and the rest of the Arab nation," he said. "God willing, the soil of Iraq will be their graveyards."
The fighters, many of the bearded and some of them overweight, lumbered through calisthenics and a simulated battle for the benefit of journalists. They demonstrated their weapons techniques after kneeling in prayer.
"Allah Akbar! May God destroy the Americans and the Zionists!" one man shouted as he tossed a grenade and hit the ground.
Iraqi workers in another part of al-Taji destroyed three more Al Samoud 2 missiles Wednesday, banned by the United Nations because they can fly farther than allowed, and more components and materials used for the missile, Ueki said.
That would bring to 58 the number of missiles destroyed by Iraq, from an arsenal of about 100. Iraq also has destroyed 28 warheads, two casting chambers, two launchers and five engines associated with the Al Samoud 2 program.
Inspectors also interviewed an Iraqi involved in the unilateral destruction of chemical precursors, Ueki said. It was the 10th private interview since Iraq began pressuring scientists to grant them on Feb. 28. In the same period, five scientists have refused to grant interviews.