Tape has Iraqis deceiving inspectors
By Colin Brown
LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell will present transcripts of conversations in which Iraqi officials gloat over their success in deceiving U.N. inspectors when he addresses the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday.
One U.S. official said of the tapes, which were obtained by American electronic interceptions: "They're saying things like, 'Move that,' 'Don't be reporting that,' and 'Ha. Can you believe they missed that?' "
Electronic surveillance is one of the most jealously guarded sources of information by the intelligence services, but President Bush has approved the release of the transcripts to prove that Iraq has willfully thwarted efforts to enforce U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 on eliminating its weapons of mass destruction.
A senior British government official confirmed that the intercepts were genuine and that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had been consulted before their release. American officials say the intercepts are so damning that their release outweighs any damage that would be caused to the intelligence sources.
Mr. Powell is also expected to give evidence to the Security Council that Iraq has systematically hidden weapons, equipment and documents from inspectors and intimidated scientists whom the inspectors wish to interview.
Sources in Washington say one of the more dramatic claims that will be advanced by Mr. Powell is that al Qaeda officials have approached Iraq about cooperating on chemical and biological weapons. He is expected to outline direct Iraqi contacts with Osama bin Laden and with Ansar al-Islam, an affiliated group based in an area of northern Iraq under Kurdish control.
A separate British document claims that Iraqi intelligence officers sought to exert psychological pressure on the inspectors by gathering information on their families.
"We have no evidence that a threat was made, but the threat was there," said a spokesman for Mr. Blair. The document also claims the Iraqis used ground-penetrating radar to check that buried weapons could not be detected by the inspectors.
An Arabic-language newspaper reported over the weekend that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein intends to use the U.N. weapons inspectors themselves as "human shields" in the event of war with a U.S.-led coalition.
The tactic was discussed by Saddam at recent crisis talks with high-ranking aides, including Saddam's son Qusay and Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, the London-based newspaper quoted "a senior Iraqi official" as saying.
The newspaper, Al-Sharq al-Awsat, reported that Saddam ordered the names of inspectors working in Iraq to be circulated in preparation for using them as hostages on the eve of war. The task of rounding up the inspectors would go to the Special Republican Guard, under Qusay's command, the newspaper reported, only when Iraq was certain it faced imminent attack.
During the 1991 Gulf war, Saddam took hundreds of Western civilians hostage in an attempt to delay conflict.
Terry Taylor, a senior U.N. weapons inspector after the Gulf war, said that during the 1990s there were detailed evacuation plans for U.N. workers. "The danger of hostage-taking was recognized and planned for," he said.
U.N. officials said Saddam would be "ill-advised" to attempt to use inspectors or any of the 1,000 U.N. workers in Iraq as hostages. "Like any U.N. organization anywhere in the world, we have contingency plans to effect a withdrawal in the event of a crisis," a spokesman said. He said the agency had received no specific information that inspectors were targets.
Mr. Blair, talking to reporters on his way home from Washington after his talks with Mr. Bush, expressed confidence that the U.N. Security Council would approve a second resolution on military action against Iraq. He will make a statement to parliament today on the meetings in Washington.
Mr. Blair will meet French President Jacques Chirac tomorrow to urge the French to back a second resolution. British officials said the French have privately indicated that they will not veto a second resolution, in spite of their misgivings.
Mr. Blair is said to prefer that more time be allowed for Hans Blix, the head of the U.N. weapons inspectors, to make two or three additional reports to the Security Council after his statement on Feb. 14. Mr. Blix said Saturday, however, that he was not asking for more time for the weapons inspectors to carry out their tasks in Iraq because he was not confident that it would achieve anything.
"To ask for [more time] I think I would need to feel confident that we would really make significant advances in the solution of the issues before us. And so long as Iraq's attitude on substance, as distinguished from process, remains what it is I don't feel that confidence, and that is why I don't ask for it," he told BBC Radio.