Experts doubt claims of Iraqi WMDs

Some senior intelligence analysts who inspected Iraqi trailers suspected of being used to make biological weapons disputed US claims that they were for making deadly germs, a US-based newspaper reported on Saturday.

The US claims this trailer was
used to produce deadly germs.

Intelligence analysts cast serious doubts about recent US conclusions that the trailers were evidence that the ousted Iraqi regime was secretly developing a programme for biological warfare, The New York Times reported.

“Everyone has wanted to find the ‘smoking gun’ so much that they may have wanted to have reached this conclusion”, said one intelligence expert who has seen the trailers.

“I am very upset with the process”, he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.


At least three teams of Western experts have examined the mobile units and evidence from them, which US-led occupation forces found in Iraq in April and May.


Most experts in the first two groups believed the trailers were used for making biological weapons.


But the third team of more senior analysts had sharp disagreements over the function of the trailers, the newspaper reported.


“I have no great confidence that it’s a fermenter”, a senior analyst with long experience in unconventional arms said of a tank for multiplying seed germs into lethal swarms.


He said that the government’s public report “was a rushed job and looks political”.


Last week, the Bush administration publicly detailed its argument in a white paper. But it admitted that there were discrepancies in the evidence and a lack of hard proof.


Prerequisites lacking


The sceptic experts pointed out that the mobile plants had no gear for steam sterilisation, a necessary prerequisite to produce biological agents, whether for peaceful or military purposes.


But even if that step was circumvented, each unit would make only a small amount of germ liquid.


The amount produced would require further processing at another factory to concentrate and prepare it for use as a weapon, the paper reported.


In addition, the experts said that the trailers did not have an easy way for technicians to remove germ fluids from the processing tank.


Iraqi scientists have said the trailers were used to produce hydrogen for weather balloons, an assertion dismissed by the United States as a cover story.


But some analysts said they considered the Iraqi explanation as potentially credible.


Despite the growing doubts of US claims, a spokesman for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Bill Harlow, affirmed that the US government stood by the allegations it made in the white paper.


He said, however, that sceptic experts “are entitled to their opinion”.


UN inspectors’ return


As the debate over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction continued, UN nuclear experts were preparing to inspect a looted nuclear plant.

Seven inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) who had arrived in Iraq on Friday, headed Saturday to al-Tuwaitha site to conduct inspections.

Their return came after chief UN arms inspector, Hans Blix, made sharp comments on Thursday criticising the way US-led occupying powers were handling the issue.


Blix publicly questioned the credibility of the experts commissioned by the occupying powers to search for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction.


Another US fatality


The growing debate on whether Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction came as the number of fatalities of US soldiers in Iraq continues to rise.


On Friday, a US Navy engineer died and three others were injured when unexploded ordnance that they were handling blew up south of Baghdad.


A US Central Command statement said an investigation had been launched into the incident.


By Tuesday, eight Americans had been killed since 1 May by a recent spate of military operations against the occupation forces, according to the Pentagon.


Another 30 had died in accidents.

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