Iraq Charges Tampering
on US Tests of Nerve Gas
By Evelyn Leopold

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iraq claimed Friday that traces of the deadly nerve gas VX found by a U.S. Army laboratory in warhead fragments were the result of ``deliberate tampering.'' Baghdad officials did not say who did the tampering. However, the implication was that it was done by U.N. inspectors or by the American laboratory at Aberdeen, Md. It was the first time Baghdad had made this accusation in writing. The VX tampering accusations came in a letter to Richard Butler, executive chairman of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM), in charge of Iraqi disarmament. They were followed by two more letters indicating Iraq's willingness to work with his teams. All the letters were from Riyadh al-Qaysi, the undersecretary in Iraq's foreign ministry. He asked UNSCOM to help Iraqi experts probe the fate of 155-mm shells filled with mustard gas and look into the ''precise location'' of pits once used to store special warheads at Fallujah Forest and the Tigris River canal.
Al-Qaysi also said he had handed over to the U.N. center in Baghdad a 42-page report, drawn up on Sept. 10, on chemical analyses of samples from special missile warhead fragments taken in July. These fragments are at the center of the VX dispute. But in answer to information on missile engine components produced by Iraq, he said all documents had been handed over to UNSCOM and its ``request for analysis is not justified on technical or scientific grounds.'' The controversy over VX flared in June when the American laboratory reported it found traces of the deadly chemical agent VX in warhead fragments UNSCOM retrieved in Baghdad and sent out for analysis. Later swipes were sent from different fragments to laboratories in France and Switzerland. The Swiss found no traces of VX and the French tests were inconclusive. Al-Qaysi said that Iraq filled aerial bombs with VX but was unable to stabilize the compound, which then degraded within a short period of time.
``It follows therefore that there is no way that al-Hussein warheads could be contaminated with VX at any time,'' he said. ``The straightforward answer from Iraq's point of view, is that the contamination could not but have been the result of a deliberate act of tampering with the first set of samples taken out from Iraq to the United States on May 8, 1998,'' he said. The Swiss, French and the second round of American tests showed some kind of decomposed decontamination compound not evident in the earlier U.S. tests, suggesting that Iraq may have cleansed the fragments. UNSCOM has said it had no definitive proof of this and al-Qaysi did not touch on this finding in his letter. Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for UNSCOM, said arms experts were still studying the letter before they could respond. Iraq turned down all but two of 12 requests Butler made for documents on its weapons of mass destruction that UNSCOM has to verify have been destroyed. In his letters, al-Qaysi also said Iraq had never undertaken a policy of concealment of its banned weapons and that some items withheld from U.N. inspectors were the sole responsibility of President Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, who defected from Iraq in 1995 and was later killed.
Butler also asked about a report on the investigation of Kamal, an army lieutenant general, and actions he took to conceal biological, chemical and ballistic weapons. Kamal, the former head of Iraq's Military Industrial Corporation, was killed when he returned to Iraq. During his defection, Iraq handed over to UNSCOM thousands of documents it said Kamal had hidden on his farm that became known as the ''chicken coop'' papers. In his reply, al-Qaysi said, ``There was no policy of concealment by Iraq for proscribed weapons. The Iraqi side has explained all the details of retaining some items for a limited period and the circumstances thereof.''
He said that Kamal's action ``to coerce some of the past programs' staff not to declare some activities'' had been explained to the commission in 1995, without using the word ``concealment.''