Indian documents suggest Iraq violated U.N. resolutions
By Satinder Bindra and Amol Sharma
NEW DELHI, India (CNN) -- Two chemical plants on the outskirts of Baghdad might provide evidence that Iraq has been developing chemical weapons and long-range ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. resolutions, according to Indian court documents and experts on Iraq's military programs.
The court documents were filed in the case of a company under investigation for violating India's export regulations.
Investigators say NEC Engineers Private Ltd. illegally shipped consignments of sensitive dual-use equipment -- that is, materials that can be used for civilian or military purposes -- to Iraq between 1998 and 2001, a period when no U.N. inspectors were inside Iraq.
The documents indicate the firm also helped construct facilities at the two chemical plants.
In statements to Indian investigators, obtained by CNN, a senior official at NEC Engineers Private Ltd. said large amounts of chlorine were removed from the Fallujah chemical complex, which was constructed by Indian engineers. Experts say chlorine can be used in the production of chemical weapons like mustard gas and nerve agents.
"You worry that somehow this can become part of a chemical weapons program," said David Albright, physicist and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.
The Iraqi government, however, denies the chlorine was put to any military or improper use.
The Fallujah chlorine facility was controlled by Iraq's military bureaucracy, according to the statement by N. Katturajan, NEC Engineers Private Ltd's project manager in Iraq when Fallujah was built in 1999.
"The chlorine plant at Fallujah was directly under control of Ministry of Military Industries of Iraq government," Katturajan said in his statement. "The engineers of Iraqi government also told us that chlorine produced in the plant is for their ministry use."
According to Jane's Intelligence Review, the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization operated dozens of facilities associated with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs as late as 1998.
"Anything this ministry does is militarily related," said Ibrahim al-Marashi, an expert on Iraqi weapons procurement strategies at the Center for Non-Proliferation Studies in Monterey, California.
According to Katturajan's statement, the Fallujah plant was producing 22 tons of chlorine per day, bottling it in "tonners."
"It exceeded the storage capacity, hence the tonners will be [sic] removed every day," he said.
Katturajan is a chemical engineer with more than 25 years of experience at some of the world's leading engineering companies. He has not been charged in the NEC Engineers Private Ltd. case, and says his statement was made voluntarily, without pressure from Indian authorities.
Experts concede that chlorine has civilian applications and is often used to purify drinking water. They say Iraq has found it difficult under U.N. sanctions to import the necessary equipment for a chlorine plant, and may have illicitly imported banned materials to take care of legitimate civilian needs.
But given the alleged involvement of Iraq's military apparatus in the Fallujah plant and the large quantities of chlorine removed, Albright and other experts believe Iraq must thoroughly clarify the situation.
"The evidence points to the need for a very tough discussion with Iraq, where they have to produce evidence that this chlorine was truly for civilian purposes, and I think they are going to have a tough time," Albright said.
The court documents obtained by CNN also describe a sodium chlorate and sodium perchlorate plant built by NEC Engineers Private Ltd. in November 1999, almost a year after inspectors left Iraq.
According to Katturajan's statements, the chemical compounds produced at Al Rashid facility were diverted to another facility for the production of missile fuel.
"The sodium perchlorate ... was meant for another facility hardly 500 meters away ... which was also in the military controlled area and where they were in a process of installation of another facility for manufacturing of ammonium perchlorate for missile fuel," Katturajan said.
Several leading experts contacted by CNN say ammonium perchlorate is a highly explosive material that Iraq would most likely use to develop long-range ballistic missiles, with ranges above 600 kilometers, or about 360 miles.
U.N. regulations preclude Iraq from developing missiles with ranges beyond 150 kilometers, or roughly 90 miles. Developing long-range missiles to deliver deadly chemical and biological agents could be a key component of Iraq's weapons programs, experts say.
Facility bombed in Persian Gulf War
While the descriptions in the court documents about activities at Al Rashid are new, the Fallujah facility has been the focus of international attention in the past.
During the 1991 U.S. war with Iraq, allied bombs flattened Fallujah because the U.S. believed Iraq was using the facility to develop chemical weapons using chlorine-based precursor chemicals. NEC Engineers Private Ltd. helped rebuild the plant nine years later.
After several recent visits to the Fallujah site, weapons inspectors termed it "inoperative."
Indian investigators have yet to file charges against the employees of NEC Engineers' Private Ltd., although they say such charges are imminent.
The company's objective, the investigators maintain, was to help Iraq in "their weapons-building program," according to the court documents obtained by CNN. Getting banned materials to Iraq, investigators say, required a complex scheme involving customs misdeclarations and the diversion of shipments through other Middle Eastern countries.
NEC Engineers Private Ltd.'s lawyers say the company's exports were completely legal and were destined for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and Amman, Jordan.
The company cannot be held responsible, they say, if the goods eventually surfaced in Iraq. They say the increasing profile of the NEC Engineers Private Ltd. case is a result of the Bush administration's search for a smoking gun in Iraq.
"They have not been able to get substantial evidence ... to say that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction," said Suman Kapur, the lawyer for one of the company's senior officials. "To justify, they are making this case very high profile."
Iraqi government denial
The Iraqi ambassador in India, Salah Al-Mukhtar, denies his country has violated U.N. resolutions. He says the delay by Indian authorities in filing charges against NEC Engineers Private Ltd. and the lack of evidence from U.N. inspectors who have examined Fallujah and Al Rashid suggest the allegations are unfounded.
"The inspectors working now in Iraq have visited these sites," Mukhtar said. "They never, never found these materials. More than that, they never found the remnants of these materials."
Regardless of how the Indian government's investigations into NEC Engineers Private Ltd. turns out, experts agree this case will provide U.N. weapons inspectors with plenty of leads. The U.N. team has already launched a thorough investigation into the matter.
Editor's note: NEC Engineers' Private Limited does not have any connection with the Japanese electronics firm, NEC.