Iraq Crisis: Blair warning of Saddam's Armageddon armoury

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The Independent Online
Iraq still has a vast armoury of chemical and biological weapons, Britain said yesterday, as Robin Cook left for meetings with his counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

"Iraq has built up an appalling stock of weapons," he said. "We must be certain that they are totally eradicated and cannot be rebuilt." In Commons exchanges with William Hague - who backed the Government - Tony Blair said there was evidence the Iraqis had lied and tried to deceive the world about their weapons of mass destruction. "This isn't a test of international virility or machismo. It is a genuine desire to make sure we enforce the conditions necessary for peace. If we don't stop him doing this, there is every possibility he will develop these weapons of mass destruction and ... use them."

The Foreign Office gave MPs a briefing document on the Iraqi armoury, based on the latest work by the UN Special Commission (Unscom), responsible for overseeing the destruction of Iraqi weapons. The paper showed Iraq might still have at least two Scud-type missiles with chemical and biological warheads.

Unscom inspectors also failed to account for 600 tonnes of VX nerve-agent precursors which could be used to produce 200 tonnes of the agent, enough to wipe out the world's population. In addition, the Iraqi chemical-weapons programme, which Foreign Office sources said was operating on "an enormous scale" before the last Gulf conflict, was not fully accounted for: 4,000 tonnes of precursors used in the production of the weapons have not been found or destroyed. Most alarmingly, the inspectors have not been able to find an estimated 17 tonnes of growth media used for biological warfare agents, enough to produce 25,000 tonnes of anthrax.

Foreign Office sources said a relatively small amount of anthrax released from the top of a tall building could wipe out the population of a large city.

They said the work of the Unscom inspectors had been hampered by "constant Iraqi deceit, concealment, harassment and downright obstruction".

Nevertheless, they admitted they had no positive evidence that the Iraqis were currently engaged in any production of chemical or biological weapons at specific sites. - Ian Burrell