weapons hidden: ex-iraq adviser

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    Weapons hidden: ex-Iraq adviser
    From correspondents in Manila
    A FORMER nuclear adviser to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein today said that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction which were being hidden from United Nations inspectors.

    "I believe these are still in Iraq and being moved around to avoid detection by the UN inspection team," Hussein Shahristani said in Manilla.

    The nuclear scientist once served as adviser to Saddam while Iraq was developing atomic energy capability to produce weapons of mass destruction.

    The London-based Shahristani escaped from Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War after he was jailed for 11 years when he refused to be part of his country's nuclear buildup.

    He is in Manila to hold a series of closed-door briefings with US embassy officials and academics.

    Shahristani said in an interview published in the Philippine Star newspaper today that he believed most of Saddam's nuclear weapon installations had been destroyed by US forces during the 1991 US-led Desert Storm blitz against Iraq.

    However, the "most lethal" weapons - the chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction - were left untouched and remain unaccounted for, he said.

    Among them, he said, were botulinum, which causes acute muscular paralysis and death in days, aflatoxin, a liver cancer element, gas gangrene, which eats away at skin and rots flesh, ricin, a castor bean derivative that kills by impeding blood circulation, and wheat smut, a mouldy growth that can devastate a nation's grain sources.

    Shahristani said they could be unleashed by artillery shells and strategic weapons, like aerial bombs and rocket warheads.

    On the possibility of a US-led strike on Iraq, Shahristani said US President George W Bush should allow the United Nations to supervise efforts to free Iraqis from Saddam's "oppressive regime".

    But he thinks Washington may launch a preemptive strike on Iraq with or without UN blessings.

    "Yes, it seems the Americans have already made up their mind about this war. They would go through with it, with or without the UN's blessings," he said.

    Shahristani said he had "strong reservations" against unilateral US action.

    This was because it was "in the interest of the Iraqi people that this thing be supervised by the UN and all its member countries, to take an active part that rights of the Iraqi people are observed".

    Looking back at his 11 year imprisonment, he said he was "more fortunate" than many of his fellow political prisoners in Iraq.

    "I did not have holes drilled into my bones. I did not have my limbs cut off by an electric saw. I did not have my eyes gouged out. My three children were not tortured to death in front of me to force me to make confessions to things I had not done.

    "Women of my family were not brought in and raped in front of me, as happened to many of my colleagues," Shahristani said.

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