AT the beginning of the Gulf war, Iraqi poison gas figured
prominently in Pentagon planners' concerns. Mystery surrounded
Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons arsenal: How much gas did he
have, and what kinds? Could he deliver it with bombs? Shells? Scud
Fortunately for the United States-led coalition forces, no
chemical nightmares came true. Iraqi military leaders never
resorted to poison gas use. Perhaps they feared retaliation, or
lacked defensive equipment. Perhaps the war just ended too soon.
Since the war's end, dogged United Nations inspection has done
much to strip away the veil surrounding Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction. While attention has focused on nuclear revelations, in
many ways information gathered about Iraqi chemical weapons has
been just as important. Among key UN findings:
* Iraq did, indeed, have a stockpile of some 46,000 chemical
munitions of various types.
* Although they were never fired, Iraq had at least 30
chemical-filled warheads for Scud ballistic missiles.
* The quality of Iraqi chemical weapons is very poor. The Scud
warheads might have broken up in flight; hundreds of poison
munitions are now leaking and dangerous.
UN inspectors have taken the Western world's first extensive
look at the Al-Muthanna State Establishment, the major
chemical-weapons facility known outside Iraq as Samarra. Many of
the installation's buildings were heavily damaged by allied
bombing, but Western intelligence agencies still worry about Saddam
Hussein's chemical weapons potential. (Western officials ponder
control of former Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal, Page 5.)
"Much of the hard-to-get production equipment was removed and
hidden before the bombing started," said Robert Gates, director of
central intelligence, last week. "If UN sanctions are relaxed, we
believe Iraq could produce modest quantities of chemical agents
almost immediately, but it would take a year or more to recover the
chemical-weapons capability it previously enjoyed."
Under the terms of the cease-fire agreement ending the Gulf war,
chemical-arms inspection teams of a UN special commission have been
visiting Iraq since the middle of last year.
In December, a UN team found metal-working machinery from a
chemical-weapons bomb plant hidden at a sugar factory in Mosul. The
inspection work has proved hazardous. The large Al- Muthanna
facility was littered with unexploded bombs and damaged chemical
drums when UN teams first entered it last fall. …