Weapons Team Find Chemical Warheads in Saddam Bunker
Hughes, David, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: DAVID HUGHES
THE threat of war in Iraq escalated sharply last night after warheads designed to carry deadly chemicals were found by UN weapons inspectors.
The 122mm warheads were empty but in 'excellent' condition, said the UN.
Both the U.S. and British governments were careful not to rush to judgment until they had more details. But Tony Blair made clear that he believed the find would start to swing public opinion behind his tough policy on Iraq.
'As people hear the arguments and see the work of the inspectors unfold, they will understand that, reluctantly and as a last resort, we will use conflict if Saddam refuses to disarm properly,' he said.
Washington described the warheads as a 'smouldering, not smoking gun', but Baghdad insisted that they were not part of a banned weapons programme.
The find could provide the first hard evidence that Saddam was lying when he submitted his 12,000 page weapons dossier to the UN before Christmas. That would put him in breach of UN resolution 1441 demanding a complete declaration of all his weaponry - and open the way to war.
Hiro Ueki, the weapons inspectors' spokesman in Baghdad, said tersely: 'It was a discovery. They were not declared.' The warheads were found at the Ukhaider ammunition storage area, a huge bunker built in the late 1990s about 75 miles south of Baghdad.
Thousands of artillery rounds filled with mustard gas were stored there during the 1991 Gulf War.
Mr Ueki said: 'The team discovered 11 empty 122mm chemical warheads and one warhead that requires further evaluation.
'The warheads were in excellent condition and were similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s. The team used portable Xray equipment to conduct preliminary analysis and collected samples for chemical testing.'
Chemical warheads can be distinguished from conventional ones by special linings to prevent the chemical corroding the metal.
During the late 1980s the Iraqis used 122mm rockets to carry warheads containing the deadly nerve gases sarin and VX.
Saddam has often denied that he still possesses chemical weapons as Iraq has been repeatedly ordered to give up all such weapons under UN resolutions dating back to 1991.
The find seems to vindicate Mr Blair's strong hints over the past few days that the inspectors would find evidence that Saddam is flouting the UN's wishes.
But Iraq dismissed the discovery as a 'storm in a teacup'. …