AMMAN, Jordan ó Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's air force has developed a more sophisticated delivery and detonation system for chemical weapons
than previously known to United Nations inspectors, a former officer has disclosed.
The former officer, who was fairly senior in the air force hierarchy when he fled Iraq last year, said Baghdad was still pursuing the chemical
armaments program when he left Iraq ó despite its insistence that it had abandoned its weapons of mass destruction project after the 1991 Persian Gulf
The officer ó who did not want to be identified because of fears for his safety and that of his relatives still in Iraq ó said he was trained to
handle binary-system bombs, which mix lethal chemicals moments before detonation for maximum effect.
"Saddam will never surrender these weapons," he said. "They are as much a part of his life as eating and drinking."
He described in detail how the chemical bombs and sprays were fitted and operated, backing up his testimony with drawings and graphics, during
meetings lasting several hours in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
The former officer's claims, if true, would indicate a clear breach of U.N. resolutions and fuel fears that Saddam may use chemical weapons against
U.S. and British forces in the event of war.
"What he describes is a logical development of the techniques we know the Iraqis were working on," a former senior weapons inspector told the Sunday
"If what he says can be confirmed, then this is a very big discovery. It would be proof that Iraq has continued with the development of a new type of
weapon," another former weapons inspector said.
A spokesman for UNMOVIC, the U.N. weapons inspections agency, said in New York that inspectors would be interested in interviewing the former Iraqi
The chemical weapons previously known to inspectors were less advanced, their lethal contents mixed on the ground before the bombs were loaded on to
At the time the Iraqi officer was trained, he was working at military bases at Habbaniyah 50 miles west of Baghdad, and al-Qaqa, 20 miles south of the
He last witnessed the new bomb mechanism being tested ó with water and oil rather than chemicals ó at Habbaniyah in 2000, before the tests were
switched to a different location. However, he said former colleagues with whom he remains in contact confirm that the program is still running.
He said that the bombs were partitioned into two compartments. When loaded with chemicals, the bombs had a black liquid in one compartment and a
yellowish one in the other.
The pilots were trained to hit a switch to open the partition when they approached their targets, allowing the two substances to combine and reach
their strongest potency. A few seconds later, outer doors on the bottom of the weapon would open automatically, releasing the mixture.
These weapons were intended for the Iraqi air force's more modern jets, but an alternative delivery method was developed for slower planes, such as
the Russian Sukhoi-25s and for helicopters, he said.