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Indian firm helped Iraq missile plan: Blair

Washington, Sept. 24: Any Indian effort to play a proactive role in the growing crisis over America’s threatened invasion of Iraq may be stymied by British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s allegation today that Iraq has managed to rebuild much of its missile production infras tructure with the help of Indian companies.

In a 55-page dossier presented to the British parliament as part of his government’s efforts to drum up support for a US-led invasion of Iraq, Blair alleged that NEC Engineers Pvt. Ltd., an Indian chemical engineering firm, had helped Iraq in its missile programme in violation of a UN-imposed ban on Saddam Hussein’s weapons programme.

“Saddam remains committed to developing longer range missiles”, the dossier said.

“Iraq has managed to rebuild much of the missile production infrastructure destroyed in the Gulf war and in Operation Desert Fox in 1998. New missile related infrastructure is also under construction.

“Some aspects of this, including rocket propellant mixing and casting facilities at the Al Mamoun plant appear to replicate those linked to the prohibited Badr-2000 programme, (with a planned range of 700 to 1,000 km) which were destroyed in the Gulf war or dismantled by the (UN Special Commission) UNSCOM.

“A new plant at Al Mamoun for indigenously producing ammonium perchlorate, which is a key ingredient in the production of solid propellant rocket motors, has also been constructed”, the dossier said.

“This has been provided illicitly by NEC Pvt. Ltd., an Indian chemical engineering firm with extensive links in Iraq, including to other suspect facilities such as the Fallujah-2 chlorine plant.

“After an extensive investigation, the Indian authorities have recently suspended its export licence although other individuals and companies are still procuring for Iraq”, the document said in a serious charge which will not go down well in Washington or other Western capitals, even those opposed to Washington’s current Iraq policy. In July, the US imposed sanctions on an Indian, Hans Raj Shiv, for “knowingly and materially” contributing through the transfer of goods or technololgy to weapons programmes of America’s foes in the Gulf.

The US action was low key and did not provide details of what Shiv had done. He was sanctioned under the Iran-Iraq Arms Non-proliferation Act, which prohibits transfer of sensitive equipment to Iran and Iraq.

The law was invoked for the first time since it came into force 10 years ago to punish the Indian national, whom the state department described as “previously residing in India, and last believed to be in West Asia”.

Blair said facts outlined in the dossier were based on the work of Britain’s Joint Intelligence Committee, which he described as being at “the heart of the British intelligence machinery”.

Blair said it was unprecedented for the British government to publish this type of document, but “I wanted to share with the British public the reasons why I believe this issue to be a current and serious threat to the UK national interest”.

United Nations weapons inspectors will have unrestricted access to any site they want to inspect in Iraq, an adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein said today. The presidential adviser was speaking at a news conference called in response to a dossier issued by Britain.

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