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Iraqis Allow Missile Factory Tour

February 18, 1998

TAJI, Iraq (AP) _ Iraqi officials gave reporters a rare glimpse inside a missile factory Wednesday, trying to show they are complying with U.N. rules for building weapons.

The tour of the sprawling al-Nasser factory, where high-tech lathes turn out metal casings for missiles, was hastily organized a day after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced he would go to Baghdad to try to mediate a peaceful solution to the crisis over U.N. weapons inspections.

Reporters also visited two ``dual-use facilities″ _ factories that make ordinary products but, U.N. officials maintain, could be used to make chemical or biological agents.

However, the tour did not include stops at any of the eight presidential compounds at the heart of Iraq’s dispute with U.N. officials and Washington. Iraq has refused to let U.N. weapons inspectors into the palaces, which it maintains are symbols of national sovereignty.

Production was almost at a standstill Wednesday at the al-Nasser missile factory, 40 miles north of Baghdad, because of lack of spare parts and raw materials, factory director Aref Qadouri said.

Only two of the facility’s eight German-made machines were operational; the rest were ruined by bombs during the 1991 Persian Gulf War or have been cannibalized for parts because Iraq cannot buy new ones under U.N. resolutions, Qadouri said.

Fourteen remote-control cameras were prominently displayed at the factory, sending back video images to U.N. weapons monitors in Baghdad. Rules were posted ordering workers never to interfere with the cameras or turn off the lights.

Similar cameras and warnings were posted at the animal vaccine factory and biological research lab on the tour. Like the missile factory, they appeared to have mostly aging German-made equipment.

The al-Nasser factory churns out metal casings for a domestic missile known as the Ababeel, or Fire Bird, with a 31-mile range _ permissible under the terms of the U.N. resolutions that ended the Persian Gulf War.

Iraq is required by the resolutions to eliminate all missiles with ranges greater than 90 miles and the means to produce them.

As reporters toured the sprawling facility Wednesday, a group of U.N. weapons inspectors arrived. The experts, who continue to work at undisputed sites despite the crisis, refused to speak to reporters.

Qadouri said he expected the factory to be a main target of any U.S. air campaign against Iraq.

During past crises over U.N. inspections, the factory’s lathes were removed for safekeeping. Qadouri said he has not received orders to do so this time.

``We are tired of taking equipment in and out. Since they monitor us, why would they bomb the factory?″ he asked.

Jaafar Najem Aboud, director at the animal vaccine factory in Abu Ghraib, 19 miles west of Baghdad, said he, too, feared his factory would be targeted.

``It will mean no more vaccines for Iraqi poultry and cattle. That will be a real tragedy,″ he said.

Aboud said he has never removed equipment for safekeeping in the past. ``We have huge machines.... We cannot move them,″ he said.

In any case, U.N. monitors, ``record every movement. They have records of everything we do,″ he said. The factory produces about 400 million doses of poultry vaccine and 2 million of cattle vaccine each year.

At the Ibn Baytar biological research center, on Baghdad’s outskirts, officials said two fermenters were removed during last October’s crisis over Iraq’s expulsion of American weapons inspectors.

That action drew criticism from chief U.N. weapons inspector Richard Butler, who said the equipment could be used to make biological warfare agents.

Displaying the fermenters Wednesday, lab manager Safaa Abdullatif disputed that claim.

``Here they are. Look at them,″ he said. ``They are pieces of scrap. They need extensive repairs to work again.″

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