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iraq shows off missile sites to rebut u.s. charges

  1. BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq took international journalists to two missile sites on Friday in an attempt to rebut U.S. charges that it was developing long-range missiles in violation of a U.N. ban.

    Secretary of State Colin Powell, during a presentation to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, produced a satellite pictures of what he said were illegal activities.

    One of the pictures showed two engine test stands at Falluja north of Baghdad. One of the stands, Powell said, was designed to test engines of missiles with a range of 1,200 km (750 miles).

    Under U.N. resolutions, Iraq is allowed to have missiles with a maximum range of 150 km (95 miles).

    Another picture showed trucks at Al Moatassem missile production facility south of Baghdad. Powell said Iraq was clearing up banned materials from the site shortly before U.N. weapons inspections.

    Iraq's Information Ministry took journalists to both sites.

    At the Falluja facility, run by the government's Al Rafah company, Ali Jassem, an official, said the site was the first visited by U.N. weapons inspectors when they resumed work in Iraq on November 27.

    "The inspectors visited this site and searched it. They found that everything inside falls under permitted activities," Jassem said.

    He said the inspectors had returned to the site several times since, the last of which was on February 4, a day before Powell's presentation.

    STATIC TESTS

    The official said the experts, who have attended four static tests for the al-Samoud missile with a range of 150 km, had looked at the stand and found it consistent with permitted activities.

    Reporters were taken to tour inside the facility and shown the two stands. The hulks of large missiles destroyed by previous inspection teams were strewn in the site.

    Jassem said the larger stand had not been put into operation yet and that it was large because it was designed to test engines horizontally. But, like Powell said, a roof had been built over it.

    Powell said the picture that he produced for the Security Council had been taken in April 2002.

    "Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what's going on underneath," Powell said, adding that the stand was designed for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 km.

    At Al Moatassem, chief engineer Karim Jabbar said Powell's charge was "a false allegation" and said the facility was producing parts for the short-range Al Fatah missiles.

    "We were surprised (by Powell's charge) because there is nothing banned at the factory. It is a declared site...The inspectors have already visited it 10 times," Jabbar said.

    He said there was constant activity around the site "because we deliver and receive parts all the time."

    Reporters saw many complete missiles lined up at the site.

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