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Iraq Hints U.N. Team Not Welcome, Says Chemical Gas Use Was ‘Impossible’

September 15, 1988

BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) _ Iraq indicated Thursday that it may not allow the U.N. to come to Iraq to investigate allegations that Iraq used poison gas on Kurdish rebels.

It also said it was ″impossible″ for the Iraqi army to use chemical weapons in the Kurds’ mountainous region.

But in Washington, Reagan administration officials said intercepted military radio conversations between Iraqi forces helped convince U.S. officials that Iraq had gassed the Kurds.

Turkey meanwhile said it would not agree to a U.N. request to send experts into Turkey to investigate the poison gas claims.

Iraqi Defense Minister Adnan Khairallah told a news conference in Baghdad that he didn’t understand why the United Nations should be involved in any investigation.

″If the Kurds are Iraqis, it’s an internal issue. So what is the role of the United Nations in this case?″ he said.

On Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar asked the Iraqi government to let U.N. chemical experts conduct an investigation about chemical weapons use against the Kurds in Iraq.

The United Nations and other international bodies have several times censured Iraq and Iran for using chemical weapons in their 8-year conflict.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz acknowledged on July 1 that his country had used deadly chemical weapons against Iran, but he said the Iranians used them first.

Khairallah on Thursday reiterated Iraqi claims that no such gases have been used against the Kurds.

He said it was technically impossible for the Iraqi military to use gas against the Kurds during the anti-rebel offensive Aug. 27 to Sept. 3, shortly after last month’s cease-fire with Iran began.

The offensive caused 60,000 thousand Kurds to flee into neighboring Turkey.

About 20 million Kurds who live in a region where the borders of Turkey, Iran and Iraq converge have been fighting for independence for the past century.

The minister said chemical weapons create a heavy gas that would have clung to the valleys of the mountainous region and made it impossible for Iraqi troops to enter the area.

The U.N. investigation request, prompted by the United States, Japan, Britain and West Germany, also called for a team of experts to be sent to Turkey.

But in Ankara, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Turkey wouldn’t accept the team.

″We trust our own experts and we expect others to do so,″ said Inal Batu, the spokesman.

He said the presence of a U.N. team of experts here would signify that Turkey had a ″direct part in the affair.″

In Washington, Reagan administration officials said Iraqi radio conversations involving the use of gas turned up in the course of ″routine electronic surveillance″ in the Persian Gulf region.

The radio conversations were between Iraqi aircraft and ground bases and between different Iraqi aircraft, the sources said on condition of anonymity.

One official said the United States did not have what he would call ″incontrovertible evidence″ like used gas canisters to prove that chemical weapons had been used.

″But the intercepted radio messages and other signs make it clear to us what is going on,″ said another source.

Secretary of State George P. Shultz said this week he was ″quite confident″ that Iraq had used chemical weapons in its efforts to put down a rebellion by the Kurds. But he refused at the time to spell out the basis for the assertion.

That assertion prompted the U.S. Senate to vote to impose economic sanctions against Iraq. The bill must also pass the House of Representatives before it goes to President Reagan.

Dan Howard, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, refused to discuss the matter on Thursday, saying he never discussed intelligence matters.

Update hourly