UN arms inspectors found Thursday 11 empty chemical warheads at an Iraqi munitions dump, but the Iraqis claimed they were not linked to any prohibited weapons and a UN source called them insignificant.
UN spokesman Hiro Ueki said the empty warheads, found in one of a large group of bunkers built in the late 1990s, appeared in "excellent condition" and were undergoing X-ray and chemical analysis.
He would no comment on the significance of the find by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) team, saying the warheads were "similar to ones imported by Iraq during the late 1980s."
But a UN source told AFP that the discovery, at the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area 70 kilometres south of the southern city of Kerbala, was "not a significant issue by itself." Additionally, a U.S. official said the latest discovery did not amount to that: "A smoking gun would be if you found a big stockpile with chemicals."
General Hossam Mohammed Amin, chief of the Iraqi National Monitoring Directorate which is liaising with UN inspectors, conveyed the empty warheads were "just artillery rockets imported in 1986...they are expired, they cannot be used since a long time ago."
The US government said it was not surprised at the discovery. "Chemical munitions were one of the major areas we said was unaccounted for" in Iraq's weapons declaration to the United Nations in December, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher. "So I'm not too surprised."
Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld weighed whether to deploy as many as four additional US aircraft carriers to the Gulf in the next phase of a massive US buildup, a US defense official said, according to AFP.
The carriers were part of a raft of new deployment orders before the secretary, the official said, adding that Rumsfeld could delay a decision. "It's on his table," the official said Thursday. (Albawaba.com)
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