Iraq could be back in the poisonous chemicals business even before the United Nations agrees to bar it from building offensive weapons, Mideast policy experts said Friday.
These officials caution that the production of chemicals is only a first and finite step toward the procurement of dangerous weapons. But the existence of such an industry is a critical building block in the production of chemical or biological weapons grade material.Recent reports have suggested that massive allied bombing attacks may not have destroyed all their targets, primarily buried Iraqi storage sites.
Several days ago, the Financial Times of London reported that an Iraqi oil refinery in central Iraq was unharmed by the allied attack.
The refinery, about 15 miles north of Baiji, produces petroleum products that are a critical component of chemical weapons, but the United States detected no significant evidence of such weapons in its war with Iraq.
"One of the troubling aspects of the war is that we're finding out that the allies destroyed less of Iraq's capability than we thought," said James Phillips, deputy director of foreign policy studies at the Heritage Foundation.
In addition to unharmed storage facility sites and the Baiji refinery, Pentagon officials acknowledged last week that they had overcalculated the number of tanks and artillery pieces destroyed by the air raids.
It remains uncertain whether President Saddam Hussein still holds up to 50 pounds of weapons-grade uranium that he possessed before the war. That amount of uranium could be used in one of more atomic bombs.
Allied fighters destroyed a research reactor in January thought to contain the uranium. But officials are unsure whether the attacks destroyed the substance.
In 1981, Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor at Tuwaitha. The uranium apparently survived the attack and was moved to a different location.
Iraq has refused inspection requests by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors all nuclear materials and was set to visit the country in April.
In other gulf-related news:
- The Bush administration refused on Friday to intervene to help Iraqi rebels fighting Saddam, even to the extent of trying to limit civilian bloodshed.
The U.S. decision to stand by is drawing increasing criticism, but administration officials said intervening could have the unwanted effect of leading to a protracted American occupation.
The United States has little to gain by aiding either Kurdish rebels in the north or pro-Iran Shiite rebels in the South, despite President Bush's call for Iraqis to overthrow Saddam, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
- International relief programs, hampered by Iraq's civil strife, are being overwhelmed by the extent of the devastation wrought in that country, officials say.
"The problem is so complex," said Inga Bruggemann, head of the World Health Organization's New York office. "Since the magnitude is so enormous, it's obvious that the distribution can't be done only by the international organizations."
"Now we would be very happy if someone were to come to OUR rescue," said Fred Isler of the International Red Cross' New York office.
Not only are relief agencies struggling to come to grips with what one U.N. official recently described as "near apocalyptic" conditions, but they also are finding that financial contributions for Persian Gulf relief programs are coming in more slowly than expected.
- Iraqi military commanders have begun moving Republican Guard forces northward, apparently after concluding that the Kurdish rebellion poses a greater threat than the sputtering Shiite insurrection in southern Iraq, U.S. military sources said Friday.
Surviving elements of the Tawalkana, Medina and Hammurabi armored divisions - which were mauled by the allied coalition in the Persian Gulf War a month ago - are repositioning to combat the Kurds, although some Republican Guard officers have been transferred to regular army units to try to ensure political loyalty to Saddam, according to U.S. intelligence.
- The Iraqi government admitted a group of foreign journalists for the first time in more than a month Friday, promising to escort them to northern and southern cities where anti-government riots erupted in late February.