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Weapons Story Called 'All a Lie'
Published on Thursday, June 12, 2003 by Reuters
Weapons Story Called 'All a Lie'
Former Saddam aide says there are no banned arms
by Hassan Hafidh
 

BAGHDAD—Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were all destroyed years ago, a former senior official at the Iraqi information ministry during Saddam Hussein's rule said yesterday.

Amir al-Helou, previously editor-in-chief of the Baathist government weekly Alif Baa magazine, has resurfaced since the U.S.-led war as a contributor to Iraq's mostly widely read newspaper, the London-based daily Azzaman.

"The story of weapons of mass destruction is all a lie and the Americans know that very well," Helou said.

No such weapons have been found since the United States and Britain attacked Iraq on March 20 to oust Saddam. They also targeted for destruction his suspected arsenal of chemical and biological poisons.

The failure to find the arms the two powers cited as the main justification for the war has fuelled controversy over whether they misled the world over the threat posed by Iraq.

"We swallowed the (U.S.) bait and launched a campaign to defend ourselves against accusations that we had weapons of mass destruction," Helou said.

Although he now writes articles critical of Saddam's government, he reiterated its line on banned weapons.

"Iraq used to have weapons of mass destruction in 1991 but did not use them against the (U.S.-led) coalition forces in the war that drove Iraqi troops out of Kuwait."

All such weapons, he added, had been destroyed either by U.N. arms inspectors or U.S. air strikes during the 1991 war.

"Washington and London knew all about Iraq's banned weapons because the West helped Iraq to acquire them," Helou said.

It was not clear how much access Helou had enjoyed in the past to information on Iraq's arms programs.

Helou lost his old job, as did more than 5,000 staff, when Iraq's U.S.-led administration dissolved the information ministry last month. He criticized the decision, saying many employees had nothing to do with Saddam's media machine.

Helou's columns now appear in Azzaman, owned by Saad al- Bazzaz, a former information ministry director-general, who broke with Saddam a few years ago and defected to Britain.

In other developments:

U.S. troops staged a crackdown north of Baghdad on suspected Saddam loyalists believed to be behind a spate of attacks on Americans, the U.S. Central Command said, adding 397 suspects had been arrested in a sweep near the town of Balad, 65 kilometres north of Baghdad. Assailants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a weapons collection checkpoint outside Baghdad, killing one U.S. paratrooper and wounding another.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said neither he nor his staff will appear before a parliamentary committee investigating the use of intelligence to justify the war in Iraq. Yesterday, he said there is not "a shred of truth" in allegations the government manipulated evidence about Iraq's weapons programs to make a stronger case for war, Associated Press reported.

The U.S. military is investigating whether American troops were responsible for the death of an Iraqi prisoner of war. U.S. authorities found the corpse of a 52-year-old prisoner Friday at a camp run by the 1st Marine Division near Nasiriya. The man had been held in the camp since his capture May 3.

Reuters Limited 2003

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