Top secret Iraqi documents strewn across missile facility Americans haven't visited

Tuesday, June 3rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) -- More than a decade of suspicions about Iraq's missile industry and its capabilities for delivering weapons of mass destruction could be investigated quickly now that American forces control the country.

But no U.S. weapons hunters or intelligence officials have visited the heart of Iraq's missile programs -- the state-owned al-Fatah company in Baghdad, which designed all the rockets Saddam Hussein's troops fired in 1991 and again this year. Not only that, it's not even on their agenda.

"We have the most sensitive documents here," said Marouf al-Chalabi, director-general of al-Fatah. "We were sure the Americans would target us but they haven't even dropped by."

Looters, however, have ransacked the place. The three-building complex has been stripped of everything from drafting tables to light switches.

Among the few things left behind, though, are what U.N. inspectors long believed existed but never obtained: design plans and test results for every missile system and warhead the Iraqis developed.

Plans for rocket engines, guidance systems and even missile warheads are strewn across the dusty office floors and swirl in the parking lot outside. Some have been blown into nearby bushes. "They're scattered everywhere," al-Chalabi said, marveling at the mess.

American missile experts who have accompanied U.S. weapons teams in Iraq expressed astonishment this week when told that the design plans and engineers behind the Iraqi Scuds and other missile projects were available.

The experts, who couldn't be identified for security reasons, said the al-Fatah company wasn't on any target list they had seen.

The Pentagon referred queries about the al-Fatah missile plant to the U.S. military in Baghdad, which does not comment on such operations.

Al-Fatah drew the attention of the United Nations long ago.

After reviewing a Dec. 8 weapons declaration submitted by the Iraqis, U.N. inspectors began inquiring about two newer missiles: the al-Samoud and the al-Fatah, which was under al-Chalabi's direct authority.

Test results for the al-Samoud showed that it could be fired beyond the 93-mile range limit set by the U.N. Security Council after Iraqi troops were forced from Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War.

Although the Iraqis claimed the results were flawed because the tests were done without the missile's heavy payload, a panel of experts determined otherwise, and chief weapons inspector Hans Blix ordered them destroyed March 1.

Less certain about the al-Fatah, inspectors asked for more information. It wasn't forthcoming.

"We still needed more test data from the Iraqis to make a final determination," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for Blix's U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. "We never got it before we left."

U.S. weapons hunters have found a few al-Samouds and about a dozen other missiles. But searches for the kind of long-range Scud missiles the Iraqis fired at Saudi Arabia and Israel in 1991 have been unsuccessful.

On Monday, two search teams traveled 21/2 hours northwest of Baghdad to a suspected Scud storage site but found no evidence any missiles had been stored there recently.

U.N. inspectors were always suspicious of Iraq's aims in the missile field, so much so that they visited al-Fatah -- located among large homes in Baghdad's Amariyah neighborhood -- four times during the 31/2 months they were in Iraq before the war.

The facility also was inspected in the 1990s, and the visits paid off. Buchanan said U.N. inspectors repeatedly caught the Iraqis violating sanctions over the years when it came to rocket development.

"There were several projects which the Iraqis did ultimately disclose in the 90s, which had been aimed at producing missiles with ranges up to 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles). Iraq always said those were only paper plans, but we had our doubts," Buchanan told The Associated Press.

Whatever plans the Iraqis did have could be found today scattered inside -- and outside -- the al-Fatah offices.

Raad Mahmoud, who created the al-Samoud's guidance system, said the missile was never designed to exceed U.N. specifications.

"I was really angry when the U.N. started destroying them," he said outside the offices of the National Monitoring Directorate, a Saddam regime bureaucracy stacked with former weapons chiefs and set up to deal with U.N. inspections.

The directorate's top official, Hosam Amin, is in U.S. custody. Several of his deputies who worked on chemical and biological weapons have been questioned by intelligence agents but, according to al-Chalabi, no one from the missile programs has been approached.

By the time the war began March 20, about 75 percent of the deployable al-Samouds had been destroyed under U.N. supervision. During the first days of fighting, the Iraqis launched several missiles toward Kuwait and advancing coalition forces -- far fewer than the dozens it fired in 1991.

The Bush administration said it went to war to destroy the banned weapons U.N. inspectors couldn't find and the Iraqis long claimed they didn't have.

Over the past 11 weeks, U.S. search teams have visited more than 230 suspected sites from a list drawn up U.S. intelligence but found no weapons.

Al-Chalabi, who studied engineering at the University of Colorado from 1964 to 1969, is convinced none will be found. He said he showed U.N. inspectors everything he had and was ordered by Saddam not to violate U.N. resolutions.

"We don't have those weapons. I think they must know this by now," al-Chalabi said. "I even signed a paper that said I would be executed if I violated the range fixed by the U.N. resolutions."