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Article from The Independent (25th June)


The Independent. 25th June 1998.

Baghdad scorns 'proof' of nerve gas

             By Patrick Cockburn 

             Iraq is categorically denying that it ever produced VX gas
             capable of being used in a missile warhead, while the
             United States says that its laboratory tests show traces of
             VX poison gas present at a site where Iraq destroyed

             The revelations about the VX are evidently the first shots
             in a propaganda battle waged by the US to persuade the
             United Nations Security Council to continue with sanctions
             on Baghdad when they come up for review in October. 

             "If this finding is borne out, it will mean the UN Special
             Commission [on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction] has
             found evidence that the Iraqis were not telling the truth," a
             Pentagon spokesman said. 

             Iraq admits experimenting with VX before the Gulf war, but
             says the tests failed and it never put the gas in a weapon.
             Baghdad says that if sanctions are not lifted it will pursue
             "an alternative strategy". 

             "This is not a new discovery," Colonel Terry Taylor, a
             former UN weapons inspector now at the International
             Institute of Strategic Studies in London, was quoted as
             saying yesterday. "This is old news, but it is a way of
             bringing to the fore realities that have been glossed over." 

             At the weekend, a report from a US army laboratory on
             missile fragments was leaked to the American press by an
             Iraqi opposition group called the Iraqi National Congress. It
             said pieces of missile from a site at Taji, just north of
             Baghdad, analysed at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in
             Maryland, had produced significant amounts of VX
             disulphide and stabiliser to allow the VX to be placed in a

             But the report is peculiar, as the INC, once a powerful
             umbrella group for the Iraqi opposition, no longer really
             exists. Jalal al-Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of
             Kurdistan, which is nominally one of the few remaining
             members of the INC, told The Independent that the group is

             The leaking of the story about VX is likely to anger
             members of the Security Council opposed to sanctions. The
             council met yesterday to discuss the latest visit of Richard
             Butler, head of the UN special team monitoring the
             elimination of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. 

             In the past, France, Russia and China have complained of
             leaks of information about which they have not been
             informed. Iraq is demanding that the tests conducted in the
             US be repeated in laboratories in neutral countries. 

             The US may wish to counterbalance recent remarks made
             by Mr Butler during a visit to Baghdad that progress was
             being made in certifying that Iraq has eliminated its
             strategic weapons. 

             Washington wants to return to a position where the burden
             of proof was on Iraq to prove it had done away with its
             weapons, rather than on the UN inspection team to produce
             evidence that Iraq still possessed such weaponry. 

             Washington is concerned that during the confrontation with
             Iraq in February, international support for sanctions was
             undermined by the realisation that the main victims of
             sanctions are ordinary Iraqis. Mortality among children
             under the age of one has tripled since 1989, according to
             the World Health Organisation. 

             But Iraq does not have many options. If it expels UN
             weapons inspectors it may simply prolong sanctions. It
             needs to show France, Russia and China, its potential
             supporters in the Security Council, that it is doing its best
             to co-operate with the UN. 

             Washington showed in February that it did not want to
             restart the Gulf war by bombing Iraq. It discovered that the
             failure to produce an Israeli-Palestinian agreement was
             eroding its influence among Arab states. US officials have
             since said privately that they will do everything to maintain
             sanctions, though they will be more flexible in allowing Iraq
             to spend money for humanitarian and development needs. 


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