Iraq plant inspection strained

Published: Sunday, December 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, November 30, 2002 at 10:20 p.m.
AL YUSUFIYAH, Iraq - After the first three days of international weapons inspections, Iraqi officials at suspect sites have already established a pattern sharply different from the hostility that prevailed during inspections from 1991 to 1998. They have been cooperative, have smiled a lot and have been genial, mostly, to reporters who have followed the U.N. inspection teams to the 11 sites visited so far.
But the pattern broke down on Saturday, at least as far as the smiles and the geniality were concerned, when the inspectors arrived in a drizzling rain at Al Furat, an industrial plant outside this town about 20 miles southwest of Baghdad.
The Iraqi military officer who is the plant's director general, Brig. Samir Ibrahim Abbas, had some irritated things to say about the inspectors interfering with the plant's work, along with much harsher words about the United States.
Last month, after President Bush issued one of his bluntest warnings of American military action if President Saddam Hussein persists in secret efforts to acquire banned weapons, the White House circulated satellite photographs of Al Furat with an arrow pointing to one of the sprawling buildings on the site.
A notation said new construction on the building appeared to signify an effort to revive the plant's past efforts - admitted by Iraq in the mid-1990s - to develop gas centrifuges required for enriching uranium, one of the steps it would have to take to build a nuclear arsenal.
Standing in that building on Saturday, Abbas said that there had been no construction work of any kind on the site since 1990 and that the bare concrete walls bristling with steel reinforcing rods that rise 20 feet or more above the building's second story were an integral part of the original construction, dating to 1988. If the walls looked like a new addition, he said, it was only because nobody had ever painted them.
"We want people to know that all that has been said about this place by the Americans is a lie," Abbas said. Asked why the Central Intelligence Agency would want to foster the impression that Al Furat was planning to get back into the nuclear weapons business, he replied, "Because they are very intelligent and they want to fake a story."
Why would they do that? Because the United States wanted to find a pretext for going to war with Iraq? he was asked. "Probably," he said, and walked off.
The Iraqis have been punctilious in meeting the central requirement set in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the 15-member Council earlier this month: that Iraq give "immediate, unimpeded, unconditional, and unrestricted access" to all suspected weapons sites.
After every inspection, U.N. officials in Baghdad have noted the cooperation extended to the inspectors by the Iraqis.

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