The U.S. government believes Iraq has hidden small stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, but it has only a murky view of their location and a limited capability to destroy them with air strikes, officials say.
It is Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction that the Clinton administration says constitute the main danger of allowing Saddam Hussein to foil U.N. weapons inspections.
“This is the crux of the problem,” Army Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Friday. “Weapons of mass destruction - and by this I mean the deadly nerve gases and the contagious diseases - are a serious threat not only to the countries of the region but also the U.S. and coalition forces serving there today.”
Because Iraq has a large capacity for storing weapons in deeply buried bunkers, U.S. intelligence has extremely limited knowledge of how many weapons of mass destruction are still available to Iraq’s army and where they are located.
The Pentagon believes Iraq has 80 to 100 chemical weapons facilities, about 100 such facilities for biological weapons and about 20 nuclear weapons facilities, a senior defense official said Friday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was “not logical to believe” U.S. bomb strikes could destroy all those facilities, which are sprinkled throughout Iraq.
Iraq denies it has any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. The United States disputes this and maintains that it was Iraq’s fear of being found out by the United Nations that triggered its latest blockage of U.N. inspections.