The Washington Times

A thousand sites to be inspected for banned weapons

April 12, 2003
Section: NATION

Page: A07


U.S. military specialists in Iraq have inspected about 12 possible chemical, biological and nuclear weapons sites in Iraq and have a list of 1,000 sites to be checked in the coming days now that organized Iraqi military resistance has collapsed.

Defense officials said members of a 200-soldier team, the Army's 75th Intelligence Exploitation Unit, are working on finding Iraq's banned weapons.

Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday a special "sensitive site exploitation" team recently checked a facility at Al Qaim and is waiting for test results.

Al Qaim has a fertilizer plant that U.S. officials suspect could be part of Iraq's chemical arms program. It also is the location of a facility that in the past refined uranium ore, which could be part of Iraq's nuclear arms program.

A defense official said the 75th is a combat support unit that is working under the U.S. Central Command to investigate chemical and biological weapons sites, to recover and use Iraqi documents on the subject, and to find prisoners of war.

The group also provides interrogators who can question captured Iraqis.

"They're looking for actionable intelligence on anything to do with [weapons of mass destruction] and POWs," the defense official said.

In addition to the 75th, another large team of intelligence and weapons specialists is in the Middle East waiting to go to Iraq once the country is stabilized, the official said.

In Vienna, the U.N. nuclear agency said it has asked the United States to secure Iraq's nuclear facility at Tuwaitha, about 11 miles south of Baghdad.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement that until inspectors return to Iraq, "the U.S. has responsibility for maintaining security at this important storage facility."

U.S. Marines near the research center reported high levels of radioactivity and found drums containing radioactive material.

A Marine Corps combat engineering unit uncovered an underground network of laboratories, warehouses and bombproof offices beneath the 70-building complex.

Three warehouses containing some 2,500 barrels of uranium that could be enriched to make nuclear weapons were found unguarded at Tuwaitha, where looters sacked a residential compound in the complex, the Los Angeles Times reported yesterday.

Fox News reported yesterday that between seven and 15 Iraqi military vehicles are being tested for chemical and biological weapons on suspicion of being mobile weapons laboratories.

A refrigerated military truck at a construction site also is being probed as a possible biological weapon component.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said searching for weapons is not as high a priority as defeating the remaining pro-Saddam military and guerrilla forces.

"The first task is to prevail in this conflict and to stop the forces of Saddam Hussein in the areas that they continue to operate in and to reduce the violence," Mr. Rumsfeld said.

Other priority missions, including finding banned weapons, will follow, he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld said those searching for weapons are seeking out Iraqis who can provide information on the locations of hidden arms. The CIA and the Pentagon have launched a program to offer cash rewards to Iraqis who can help locate banned weapons.

Mr. Rumsfeld said he expects the search for weapons to be difficult because the Iraqis were good at hiding banned weapons from international inspectors.

"We are not going to find them, in my view, just as I never believed the inspectors would, by running around seeing if they can open a door and surprise somebody and find something because these people have learned that they can live in an inspection environment the Iraqis did; they functioned in that environment, they designed their workplaces to do that," he said. "Things were mobile, things were underground, things were in tunnels, things were hidden, things were dispersed."

Several suspicious materials have been found so far, including an explosives factory south of Baghdad, where thousands of vials of white powder were found.

A training center for nuclear, chemical and biological warfare was uncovered recently in Iraq's western desert. Numerous chemical protection suits also have been found at several military facilities.

A defense official said dual-use equipment and other goods capable of producing unconventional weapons were found there.