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S P E C I A L: The Standoff with Iraq

The evidence: What weapons does Iraq have?

inspector and stockpile February 17, 1998
Web posted at: 11:06 p.m. EST (0406 GMT)

From World Affairs Correspondent Ralph Begleiter

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Intelligence sources familiar with weapons inspections in Iraq admit it has been almost impossible to obtain hard evidence of hidden weapons -- an absence of proof that bolsters the case for using diplomacy to resolve the standoff with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

However, a British government official says Hussein has access to enough biological and chemical weapons to kill a vast number of people.

"He has huge amounts of deadly substances that can kill almost unquantifiable numbers of people," said George Robertson, British defense secretary.

The evidence of Iraq's weapons possession is mostly found in documents and contradictory statements from the Iraqi government.

Hussein used chemical weapons on his own people in 1985  

Last September, Iraq denied its own previous admission to having more than 150 bombs filled with biological agents.

In 1996, after years of denials, Baghdad effectively admitted stockpiling about 4,000 tons of chemical weapons precursors and more than 100,000 empty munitions casings -- none of which have been accounted for by the inspection teams.

And, in 1985, Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people to put down an uprising.

But just what may be hidden in the presidential palaces that have been declared off-limits to weapons inspectors remains uncertain.

"We assess that Iraq continues to hide critical (weapons of mass destruction) production equipment and material from U.N. inspectors," said CIA Director George Tenet.

A former U.N. weapons inspector says Iraq has the capacity to produce biological weapons but does not have the weapons themselves.

"You don't have any biological weapons because the shelf life is very short in those things, so you are talking about potential," said Raymond Zilinskas. "Right now, there ... are no weapons of mass destruction readily available to the Iraqis."

Experts believe the equipment needed to produce chemical and biological weapons -- small, easily-moved pieces and vats of gelatin in which biological agents could be grown -- may be hidden in several of the off-limits locations.

"They still have the technicians and the scientists. ... The engineers who are working on the program are still there, and still in place," said Michael Moodie, of the Chemical and Biological Arms Control Institute. "If the international community pulls out, (Hussein) can gear up those people to go back to work."

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