Saddam hides huge germ war arsenal

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The Independent Online

Diplomatic Editor

Iraq is certain to face indefinite United Nations sanctions after a devastating report yesterday revealed it may still be holding enough biological weapons to kill the world's population several times over.

The head of the UN Special Commission, Rolf Ekeus, told the Security Council that President Saddam Hussein's regime had concealed vast amounts of data on its chemical, biological and nuclear programmes for years after the Gulf war of 1991.

The new information only came to light after the defection to Jordan in August of President Saddam's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal Hassan, head of Iraq's military industrial complex.

The revelations are likely to put an end to pressure from Russia and France to ease UN sanctions on Iraq when the issue next comes up for consideration around 15 November.

"Iraq had made a formal but essentially false declaration of its biological weapons," Mr Ekeus said.

The extent of Baghdad's biological weapons programme had not hitherto been made available to the Security Council. It is understood to include the discovery that Iraqi scientists made 10 times as much anthrax virus as they had declared to UN weapons inspectors. They also were researching botulism, which causes paralysis, and alfatoxin, a carcinogen which triggers kidney and liver failure.

Among other biological compounds in the Iraqi arsenal were ricin, which damages the lungs, and enterovirus, a cause of blindness and haemorrhage. Mr Ekeus told the Security Council that there was no proof that Iraq had destroyed any of these weapons.

The US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, has described the new findings as "chilling". A British official said they showed that "the Iraqis have made a nonsense" of previous UN efforts to investigate their non-conventional weapons.

The new information about Iraq's weapons programmes will change the climate in the UN Security Council over the future of UN sanctions on the country. There is evidence that sanctions are causing intense suffering to ordinary Iraqis. A senior UN official recently said a generation of children was at risk from malnutrition.

The US and Britain, the toughest advocates of continued sanctions, say President Saddam has refused to take advantage of a UN resolution allowing limited oil sales to provide funds for humanitarian needs. In private, many Arab governments favour keeping sanctions to maintain pressure on the Baghdad regime and encourage its eventual demise.

In another sign of instability within the regime, Iraqi opposition activists have announced the defection to Britain of an official who was President Saddam's head of protocol.

But there could be embarrassment for Britain and other European countries in future claims about the alleged involvement of Western businesses in supplying Iraq with resources for chemical research. One British company is to be sued by US armed forces personnel who allege the company negligently sold Iraq up to 18 tons of special "growth media" chemicals.