Iraqi mobile labs nothing to do with germ warfare, report finds
Peter Beaumont, Antony Barnett and Gaby Hinsliff
Sunday June 15, 2003
An official British investigation into two trailers found in northern Iraq has
concluded they are not mobile germ warfare labs, as was claimed by Tony Blair
and President George Bush, but were for the production of hydrogen to fill
artillery balloons, as the Iraqis have continued to insist.
The conclusion by biological weapons experts working for the British Government
is an embarrassment for the Prime Minister, who has claimed that the discovery
of the labs proved that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction and justified
the case for going to war against Saddam Hussein.
Instead, a British scientist and biological weapons expert, who has examined
the trailers in Iraq, told The Observer last week: 'They are not mobile germ
warfare laboratories. You could not use them for making biological weapons.
They do not even look like them. They are exactly what the Iraqis said they
were - facilities for the production of hydrogen gas to fill balloons.'
The conclusion of the investigation ordered by the British Government - and
revealed by The Observer last week - is hugely embarrassing for Blair, who had
used the discovery of the alleged mobile labs as part of his efforts to silence
criticism over the failure of Britain and the US to find any weapons of mass
destruction since the invasion of Iraq.
The row is expected to be re-ignited this week with Robin Cook and Clare Short,
the two Cabinet Ministers who resigned over the war, both due to give evidence
to a House of Commons inquiry into whether intelligence was manipulated in the
run-up to the war. It will be the first time that both have been grilled by
their peers on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee over what the Cabinet was
told in the run-up to the war.
MPs will be keen to explore Cook's explanation when he resigned that, while he
believed Iraq did have some WMD capability, he did not believe it was
The Prime Minister and his director of strategy and communications, Alastair
Campbell, are expected to decline invitations to appear. While MPs could
attempt to force them, this is now thought unlikely to happen.
The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, is expected to give evidence the week after.
The revelation that the mobile labs were to produce hydrogen for artillery
balloons will also cause discomfort for the British authorities because the
Iraqi army's original system was sold to it by the British company, Marconi
Command & Control.