The former head of Iraqi military intelligence, General Wafiq al-Sammara'i, says that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein wants to persuade the UN to lift sanctions on Iraq but still keep enough weapons of mass destruction to dominate neighbouring states. Speaking to the Independent in the first face-to-face interview which General Sammara'i has given, he said: "I believe there are 40 missiles and 255 containers of biological and chemical weapons."
If he is right, then Saddam Hussein could allow the missiles which the UN believes he has hidden to be destroyed but still keep the core of his missile programme intact. That would pose a continuing threat to the states which neighbour Iraq - including Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iraq threatened to use weapons of mass destruction during the Gulf war in 1990- 1991, but - though it did fire missiles at Saudi Arabia and Israel - they used only conventional warheads.
The UN has been trying since the end of the Gulf War to destroy all Iraqi missiles as well as stores of toxic agents such as anthrax and botulinus. But it has repeatedly insisted that Iraq has not come clean on the remaining stocks of weapons that it possesses, and that it is keeping secret manufacturing facilities and stores. Rolf Ekeus, the head of the UN team monitoring the destruction of the weapons, says Iraq "may be concealing six to sixteen missiles with a long-range capability". But these revelations suggest the degree of deception goes much further than the UN previously assumed.
On fleeing to Iraqi Kurdistan 18 months ago, General Sammara'i said that the Iraqi leader was lying about the destruction of his most advanced weapons. This was later admitted by Iraq but it has claimed that the missiles and their warheads were destroyed after the Gulf war. General Sammara'i, at the centre of Iraq's intelligence operations for 20 years, says he learned about Iraq's hidden arsenal from an Iraqi intelligence officer in early June.
He also says that the bombing of United States military housing in Dhahran in Saudi Arabia last week, in which 19 American soldiers were killed, strongly resembles plans drawn up by a secret Iraqi committee on which he served after the invasion of Kuwait. He says operations considered by Iraq, but not carried out at that time due to shortage of reliable agents, included exploding large bombs near buildings where American soldiers were living.
US officials in Washington said this week that they had shifted away from their initial belief that the Dhahran bombing was entirely carried out and organised by Saudi dissidents.
General Sammara'i says that the committee in charge of sabotage on which he served, and which uses a special 600-strong military unit called 888 to carry out operations, still exists and he suspects it was involved in giving support to the bombers.
Despite the upsurge of in-fighting within Saddam Hussein's family in the last few days General Sammara'i says that it is unlikely that the regime is in real danger. Two of the President's half-brothers, who are both formerly senior officials, are reported to be under house arrest and one has been under interrogation for three months.
The revelation that Iraq is still concealing weapons, if confirmed, may put in jeopardy a plan for Iraq to resume selling limited amounts of oil for food for the first time for six years. The US has already protested that Iraq is trying to use the scheme to bring a total end to sanctions.
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