Iraq weapons questions may set war deadline

2019-03-03 02:06:07

By Debora MacKenzie With a last-ditch vote looming at the UN Security Council over war with Iraq, British diplomats are pushing for a list of “defined tests” that would clearly determine if Iraq is complying on disarmament – and set a deadline for military action. The benchmarks will be taken from a list of 29 outstanding disarmament issues compiled by UN weapons inspectors, and made public after chief inspector Hans Blix’s report to the UN on Friday. They include the attempted conversion of fighter and training aircraft into drones carrying chemical and biological weapons, missing anthrax and botulinum stockpiles and missing growth media for the plague and brucellosis bacteria (see below). The tests are aimed at giving a clear way for Security Council members to agree whether Iraq should be declared in breach of UN resolutions. France and Russia have threatened to veto any declaration, saying the inspectors need more time. But the US and Britain argue Iraq is not cooperating fully with inspectors and so more time is useless. The proposal now is to agree a set of outstanding questions about Iraq’s weapons that Saddam should be able to answer by a certain deadline. The Security Council should then be able to agree on whether he is cooperating, or whether the UN should sanction a US-led military invasion. A spokesman for the British Prime Minister says Tony Blair spoke to Blix on Monday about creating a list of tests from Blix’s document. The latter is 173 pages long and details 29 “clusters” of unanswered questions about Iraqi weapons. But this “could be pared down to key areas,” said the spokesman. The deadline now being proposed by the British, 17 March, could well slip to 31 March, which was the date in an initial proposal made by Canadian officials on 19 February. The critical questions that will underpin the tests are: Drone aircraft. Iraq tried to turn the MiG-21 fighter jet, which can travel 1800 kilometres and carry a four-tonne load, into an unmanned drone for spraying chemical and biological weapons. Iraq says it gave up in 1991, but has provided no evidence. Iraq must explain a drone aircraft recently discovered by inspectors, with unknown capabilities and a wingspan of 7.45 metres. The US reacted angrily after Blix did not mention its discovery in his speech at the UN on 7 March. But Blix says the drone could be legal, and that this was being checked. Iraq was also working on converting a Czech training aircraft, the L-29, into a drone until “at least 2000”. Blix wants Iraq to account for all its L-29s and produce spray devices for chemical and biological weapons mentioned in documents but not accounted for. VX nerve agent. Iraq insists it never succeeded in making useable nerve agent VX, but inspectors found evidence to the contrary in seized documents, and on warheads. Blix wants to see either the remaining stocks of five imported precursor chemicals, or “credible evidence” that they were destroyed. He also wants to know why inspectors found large amounts of a VX stabiliser chemical at a disposal site after Iraq claimed it had made only a few grams. Anthrax suspension. The inspectors have a “strong presumption” that the Iraqis did not destroy 10,000 litres of liquid anthrax suspension. They want to see either the remaining stocks or evidence for its destruction, as well as an explanation for why inspectors found weapons-strain anthrax at a site where Iraq said no production took place. Botulinum toxin. Iraq says it destroyed its production records for botulinum toxin. It admits to 19,000 litres, but inspectors say it had the means to make much more. Blix now wants all the fermenter logs. Plague and brucellosis. Blix also wants Iraq to account for “significant” amounts of peptone and tryptone soya broth. This imported growth media is needed to breed the bacteria that cause plague and brucellosis – which Iraq has never admitted producing. Missiles Iraq says it destroyed many of the missiles it acquired before the 1991Gulf War, but inspectors say they need to see melted remnants and documentation. They want to know why Iraq has not declared any work at the Al Sadiq base,