Powell distorted evidence

John O'Neill johnfergaloneill at eircom.net
Tue Feb 11 12:59:51 MST 2003

Iraqi site managers say Powell distorted evidence

  US: In his speech to the UN last week, Colin Powell identified Iraqi sites
where, he said, suspicious activities were taking place. Two days later,
John Daniszewski went to see them. This is what he found

After Colin Powell's speech to the UN Security Council, the Iraq government
said it has something it wanted to show the world media.

So Iraqi officials escorted scores of reporters and photographers to two of
the top-secret sites mentioned in Mr Powell's indictment and let them
scramble up, down and around the facilities.

Managers at both sites said Mr Powell had misconstrued the evidence
entirely. They vehemently denied having any banned equipment or operations
and pointed out that since November, they had been under close monitoring
and inspection by the UN teams that have not found any evidence of weapons
of mass destruction.

As is so often the case in Iraq, it was impossible for the journalists at
the sites, both fenced off and protected by heavy sand berms, to know
anything conclusively. It was also clear that Iraq still puts considerable
effort into building better rockets and missiles, even if they do - as
officials say - obey the requirements that no weapon exceeds a range of 150
km, about 90 miles.

Satellite imagery from the two sites - the Al-Rafa'h liquid-fuel
rocket-engine testing station in Falajah, about 30 miles west of Baghdad,
and the Mutasim missile assembly plant in Al-Musayyib, 30 miles south of the
capital - were prime exhibits in Mr Powell's dramatic address to the UN
Security Council.

At Al-Rafa'h, Mr Powell alleged that the Iraqis were in the process of
constructing a larger test pad in preparation for developing powerful
long-range rockets which would exceed the 150-km limit and could conceivably
threaten neighbouring countries by delivering banned chemical or biological

In the satellite photo, he showed the new structure, about five times larger
than the test pad it is to replace and noted that a new roof has since been
put up over it so that satellites could not see what was going on below.

For the Al-Musayyib plant, he presented a satellite photo taken on November
10th of what he said was the loading of a cargo truck with missile
components. "Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before
inspections?" he asked.

In Al-Rafa'h, plant manager Mr Ali Jassem offered a simple explanation for
the size of the new test pad. It was designed, he said, to test the rocket
engine lying down rather than standing straight up, so that the blast from
the test would be pointed away from the technicians and workers for greater
safety if something went wrong.

"How can we be blamed for anything?" he asked. "The inspectors have been
here five times since November 27th. They have seen the blueprints. They
have seen our plans. They have found no problem with it. They were satisfied
by everything."

The inspectors had been at the site just one day before Mr Powell's speech,
he added. The new test pad had never been used, he said, because it still
lacked measuring equipment which Iraq has had a hard time acquiring due to
UN sanctions.

The rocket-testing facility has been bombed twice, in 1991 and 1998, Mr
Jassem said. Photographers who ambled over to some crumpled rockets lying
derelict in one corner of the site found them shading a watermelon patch.

At the Al-Musayyib plant, the factory chief, Mr Kareem Jabbar Youssef, said
the factory was involved in assembling and refurbishing solid-fuel Fattah
rockets - seven-meter long weapons carrying warheads packed with explosives.
There have never been, he insisted, banned chemical or biological

Mr Jabbar said the plant worked around the clock, except Fridays (the
Sabbath). Completed rockets were shipped on to the army while faulty
components were returned to their originating plants as a matter of routine.

"We were very surprised when we heard that Powell said our site was evidence
of illegal activities," said Mr Jabbar, noting that the inspectors had
visited the site 10 times since November and had verified that the missiles
assembled there were permissible. Missiles stacked up in front of the
building bore UN stickers showing they had already been inventoried.

The photo which Mr Powell showed the Security Council, he said, was taken of
a truck which had carried 10 defective components back to a sister factory.
The very same tractor-trailer was now parked right outside the door, he

Additional Reporting : Los Angeles Times

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