|Filed October 10, 2002 By Jeremy Scahill
|BAGHDAD—As the Bush Administration
continues to allege Iraq is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons,
Iraqjournal.org journalists gained entry to a site Washington claims
is at the center of a covert program. Earlier this week, President
George W. Bush referred to "declassified satellite photos" of the
Al-Nassr industrial compound while making a case for a new military
offensive against Iraq. On Thursday, dozens of journalists from around
the world were allowed to roam the plant with video equipment.
The impromptu invitation to inspect Al-Nassr, the "Great Victory Factory,"
came during a press conference given by Deputy Prime Minister Abdel
Tawab Mullah Huweish, head of Iraq's weapons programs. He criticized
the Bush Administration's portrayal of Al-Nassr as a nuclear weapon
factory, and pointed out that it was bombed repeatedly in the 1991
During the UN weapons inspections regime the plant was under near-constant
scrutiny. In 1998 the inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in preparation
for the Desert Fox campaign, where Al-Nassr was again bombed.
"I declare we have no mass destructions weapons whatsoever,"
Huweish said during the press conference, then invited "anyone from
the US" to immediately inspect the site, including members of the
Bush administration. Washington rejected the offer, saying it was
not Iraq's to make. Dozens of journalists from around the world obliged.
At Al-Nassr, journalists were taken on a tour of several of the buildings.
Some journalists separated themselves from the group and wandered
around the factories unaccompanied. General Hussam Muhammad Amin accompanied
the journalists and answered questions.
Despite the spectacle caused by the foreign journalists, many Iraqi
workers continued laboring over dirty machinery and flaming vats of
"This site has no involvement with so-called weapons of mass
destruction, and has no violations with regard to Security Council
resolutions," Amin said "All the capabilities which could help any
nuclear program, they were destroyed completely under the supervision
of IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and UNSCOM [the former
UN agency monitoring Iraq's disarmament]."
Amin called the recent allegations by the Bush Administration "blatant
The factories and warehouses of Al-Nassr were in full operation and
employ over a thousand workers. Built twenty years ago, Al-Nassr is
one of the largest steel and metal production factories in Iraq.
Before the Gulf War, Al-Nassr was involved in ballistic missile production
and nuclear research. During the weapons inspections regime, machinery
exported to Iraq from the US, with US government approval, was removed.
Journalists spent several hours at Al-Nassr, and did not inspect every
building. Iraqi officials said they knew inviting journalists to the
site would not prove the country was free of weapons of mass destruction
facilities. Instead, the goal was to highlight the fact that Iraq
wants UN weapons inspections to resume and that Washington is now
the greatest obstacle to their return.
In addition to journalists, Iraq has recently invited weapons inspectors
and officials from the US and UN, and even US congressmembers, to
the suspected sites to verify Iraq is in line with UN disarmament
"This is a message to Americans that we will open this site for
you," Amin said.
Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally
syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He is currently based
in Baghdad, Iraq, where he and filmmaker Jacquie
Soohen are coordinating Iraqjournal.org,
the only website providing regular independent reporting from the
ground in Baghdad.
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