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Iraq hiding weapons, deploying decoys, officials say

WASHINGTON—Iraq is hiding its weapons of mass destruction in anticipation of renewed United Nations inspections and has begun fielding decoys and taking other deceptive measures in preparation for a possible U.S. invasion, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The officials provided few details of the efforts they said Iraq is now making to conceal its illicit weapons, military installations, hardware and positions. To elaborate further, they said, would alert Iraqi troops to flaws in their camouflage techniques.

But John Yurechko, a Defense Intelligence Agency official who specializes in analyzing such "denial and deception" techniques, said that the measures included deploying decoys to confuse the commanders of a potential U.S. invasion force.

"That's part of their practice," he said, noting that Iraqi forces employed similar deceptive tactics during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Such tactics are standard military practice for the United States and virtually every other country.

Yurechko briefed reporters on the history and methods of Saddam Hussein's efforts to hide his nuclear, biological and chemical warfare programs from detection before the 1991 war, through seven years of U.N. inspections and today.

The briefing was part of a Bush administration drive to convince Congress, the American public and foreign governments that Saddam poses an imminent threat to international peace and that military action may be the only way to stop his illicit weapons programs.

"We think they are fairly accomplished masters" at denial and deception, said Yurechko.

The briefing came as U.S. and British diplomats in New York continued to seek U.N. Security Council approval of a resolution approving U.S. military action if Saddam balks at renewed weapons inspections under tougher rules. In Washington, the Senate and House of Representatives debated giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq.

Iraq denies that it has weapons of mass destruction.

Yurechko said the Iraqis have improved their denial and deception techniques with the help of U.N. reports obtained from the Internet and from news media leaks, and have begun taking measures to foil renewed U.N. inspections.

Iraq, he said, is mounting a "deliberate, methodical, extensive and well-organized national-level strategic effort which aims at deceiving not just the United States, not just the United Nations or even the public media, but . . . the entire world."

He said Saddam's younger son, Qusay Hussein, the head of the Special Security Organization, the regime's most powerful security service, supervises Iraq's denial and deception program.

Using satellite photographs, Yurechko detailed various methods Iraq has used to conceal chemical, germ and nuclear weapons equipment and facilities.

Iraq, he said, has tried to camouflage weapons plants by placing them in nondescript buildings in civilian neighborhoods or by constructing them as parts of civilian chemical or food-production facilities. Some facilities that were destroyed by allied bombs during the 1991 war or by U.N. inspectors have been rebuilt, said Yurechko.

He said the al Qaim phosphate plant, where Iraqi technicians also produced uranium, was destroyed in 1991 but has been rebuilt and declared a chemical production facility. He could not say whether uranium extraction had resumed there.


(c) 2002, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.