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Within “two hours and ten minutes” of the British dossier’s publication (see September 24, 2002), Iraqi government officials invite British journalists on a tour of the sites named in the document as suspected weapon sites. The journalists are permitted to choose which facilities, of those mentioned in the dossier, they want to visit.
Al-Qa'qa complex - The first site they visit is the al-Qa’qa complex, located 30 miles south of Baghdad, which according to the British government’s paper has “been repaired” and is now “operational.” “Of particular concern are elements of the phosgene production plant,” states the dossier, which makes two claims. The first is that the substance, phosgene, is being produced at the facility and can be used “as a chemical agent or as a precursor for nerve agent.” The second claim is that the facility’s phosgene production plants had been “dismantled under UNSCOM supervision, but have since been rebuilt.” (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) Both claims are disputed by the Iraqis. Director-General Sinan Rasim Said concedes that the plants produce phosgene as a byproduct of centralit, a stabilizer for gunpowder (which is not illegal), but denies that it can be used “as a chemical agent or as a precursor for nerve agent,” as alleged in the British document. He explains to reporters that phosgene can “not be extracted from the manufacturing equipment, let alone be used for making nerve agents.” To support his claims, he says that during the Gulf War, the US had never attempted to destroy the phosgene plants “because they knew we can’t make use of it.” Instead they had bombed the boiler room and the storage area, he says. Said also disputes the claim that UNSCOM had attempted to dismantle the facility’s phosgene production plants. There was no reason to, he explains, because the plant was not in violation of any laws. He tells reporters that if the British had simply requested the relevant documents from the UN they would have seen that they were wrong. (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Amir al Sa’adi, a senior Iraqi weapons expert, offers his own opinion as to why the facility was referred to in the dossier. He suggests that Blair singled out the plant “because it could produce propellant powder for weapons from pistols to artillery guns for Iraqi air defenses.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) UNMOVIC weapons inspectors will visit the site in February 2003 and find nothing. (CNN 2/3/2003; Financial Times 2/14/2003; Oliver 2/14/2003)
Amariyah Sera - The second site they visit is Amariyah Sera, a facility which the British say UNSCOM inspectors had concluded “was used to store biological agents, seed stocks and conduct biological warfare associated genetic research prior to the Gulf War.” (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) It is also claimed by Downing Street that the facility “has now expanded its storage capacity,” implying that the expansion is related to biological weapons. (United Kingdom 9/24/2002; Sengupta 9/25/2002) But the facility’s director, Karim Obeid, disputes the dossier’s claim that UNSCOM had earlier determined the plant was used for genetic research and storing biological agents. He tells the Independent of London: “They were coming here ever since the Gulf War until they left, and they have never accused us of any of those things in that time. All our work was done with their supervision.” He says the facility is being used “for testing typhoid fever.” Moreover, he adds that he is morally opposed to biological warfare “both as a scientist and a human being.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Obeid also explains that the storage capacity of the facility has been increased, as the dossier states, but that the additional rooms are not being used in a way that violates international law. A reporter from the Independent, who visits the additional rooms, reports that one of the added areas is “a large mostly empty room” which the director says is being used “to store solutions for blood tests, imported from the Melat pharmaceutical company in France,” while a second area is “stacked with empty bottles of various brands of vaccine.” (Sengupta 9/25/2002) Weapons inspectors will visit the site on December 15, 16, and 22 and find no evidence of biological weapons. (UN News Center 12/15/2002; UN News Center 12/16/2002; UN News Center 12/22/2002; Financial Times 2/14/2003; Oliver 2/14/2003)
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