United Nations, Feb. 5 (Reuters): US secretary of state Colin Powell today played tapes and showed satellite pictures which he said proved the Iraqi military had conspired to conceal banned weapons from UN weapons inspectors.
In a high-stakes address at the UN to win over countries sceptical of the US view that force may be needed soon if Baghdad fails to cooperate, Powell said Iraqi officers hid weapons, gave orders to sanitise documents referring to “nerve agents” and cleaned up chemical weapons sites.
Iraq also harboured people linked to al Qaida, Powell told a tense Security Council facing a massive US military build-up for a possible imminent attack on Iraq.
Speaking at a horseshoe table in the UN council, Powell played audio tapes of Iraqi officers discussing the possibility that UN inspectors might find “modified” vehicles and “forbidden” ammunition.
“We have this modified vehicle.... What do we say if one of them sees it'” says one voice identified as an Iraqi colonel.
“You didn’t get a modified ... you don’t have a modified,” replies an incredulous general. “I’ll come to see you in the morning. I’m worried. You all have something left.”
“We evacuated everything. We don’t have anything left,” the junior officer replies.
In another intercepted conversation, which Powell said took place as recently as January 20 between officers of the elite Iraqi Republican Guard, Iraqi officials discussed cleaning up sites where inspectors might find “forbidden” weapons.
“We sent you a message yesterday to clean out all of the areas, the scrap areas, the abandoned areas. Make sure there is nothing there,” said an officer at headquarters.
“This is part and parcel of a policy of evasion and deception,” Powell said.
“We wrote (UN resolution) 1441 to give Iraq one last chance. Iraq is not so far taking that one last chance. We must not shrink from whatever is ahead of us. We must not fail in our duty and responsibility,” Powell said in conclusion.
Iraq was now in danger of suffering “serious consequences”, Powell said in diplomatic jargon for a possible US-led military invasion.
In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi member of parliament dismissed Powell’s evidence as “lies”.