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Experts: Iraq has tons of chemical weapons

Experts: Iraq has tons of chemical weapons

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- As some in the Bush administration press the case for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq, weapons experts say there is mounting evidence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has amassed large stocks of chemical and biological weapons he is hiding from a possible U.S. military attack.

"Iraq continues to possess several tons of chemical weapons agents, enough to kill thousands and thousands of civilians or soldiers," said Jon Wolfsthal, an analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

U.N. weapons experts have said Iraq may have stockpiled more than 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin. Some 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells with chemical agents are also unaccounted for, the experts said.

The Iraqis also have biological weapons, according to U.S. officials. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently that Iraq has mobile biological weapons laboratories, which would be nearly impossible for U.S. forces to target.

"The concern is they either have on hand -- or could quickly re-create the capability to produce -- vast amounts of anthrax, tons of material, compared with the several grams of material that literally shut down the U.S. postal system last year," said Wolfsthal, the deputy director of Carnegie's Non-Proliferation Project, which does research and analysis on the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

"This is something that could kill thousands upon thousands of people, depending on the means of distribution."

While President Bush has said he hasn't made up his mind on what to do about Iraq's growing arsenal, it appears that two members of his administration have made up theirs.

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Vice President Dick Cheney has pushed for a pre-emptive strike, warning that the "risk of inaction is far greater than the risk of action." Secretary of State Colin Powell has urged that U.N. weapons inspectors be given one last chance before an attack is launched. (Full story)

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer downplayed reports of any rift in the administration, telling told reporters Monday that "there is no difference in position between Cheney, Powell and President Bush." (Full story)

Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz said over the weekend the Bush administration is wrong about Iraq's weapons capabilities.

"They are telling wrongly the American public opinion and the world that Iraq is reproducing weapons of mass destruction," he told CNN's "Late Edition."

"That's not true. We are ready to prove it. We are ready to prove it by technical and viable means." (Full story)

U.N. arms inspectors were in Iraq more than seven years. Complaining that Iraq was uncooperative, they left in December 1998 on the eve of a U.S.-British bombing raid.

Without certification by the inspectors that Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction, the United Nations will not lift economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait.

Iraq has met three times this year with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan but failed to arrange for the return of weapons inspectors.

The United States and the United Nations argued the inspectors must have unfettered access to be effective. But the White House dismissed any possibility of that actually happening.

"Iraq changes positions more often that Saddam Hussein changes bunkers," Fleischer said.

Sources close to Annan told CNN that Aziz and Annan plan to meet Tuesday, and one topic could be the inspections.

But in an interview Sunday with CNN, Aziz said return of the inspectors would be pointless.

"It's a non-starter because it's not going to bring about a conclusion to the controversy," he said.

Iraq told the United Nations in 1995 it had produced 30,000 liters of biological agents, including anthrax and other toxins it could put on missiles.

U.N. officials say the actual amount may be three or four times greater.

As Bush mulls how to go about accomplishing his stated goal of a regime change in Iraq, Wolfsthal said the Iraqis are doing everything they can to hide their assets from a possible attack.

"We know Iraq has already begun moving troops around. We know they've begun to hide valuable assets underground," he said.

"They can read the writing on the wall. They know that President Bush and his administration are out to get him and he is trying to protect as much as he can as quickly as he can."




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