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CNN BREAKING NEWS

U.N. Inspectors Find Empty Chemical Warheads

Aired January 16, 2003 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A striking discovery today in Iraq; U.N. weapons inspectors searching ammunition bunkers found 11 empty chemical warheads and one more that they want to examine further. We'll get White House reaction in just a little bit but we begin with CNN's Rym Brahimi.
She's joining us live from Baghdad with the latest -- Rym.

RYM BRAHIMI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, indeed the inspectors went to this site that's located about 200 kilometers southwest of Baghdad. It hosts a lot of bunkers. It's a site that was visited before by the U.N. weapons inspectors. They actually were there on January 7 but went to different areas.

This time they went to a couple, a few bunkers, visited quite a lot of them in fact and found those empty chemical warheads, 11 of them, and one that they say they want to do further evaluation of, the reason being according to Dimitri Perricos, who is the director of planning of the UNMOVIC operations here in Baghdad, is that that warhead seemed to have been modified in some way.

Now they collected samples. They X-rayed this warhead. They are going to be analyzing it. He says the entire issue actually needs to be further evaluated only because he thinks that it's not a smoking gun. He says before reaching any conclusions there's still a lot to be done in that field. They also said that while this was a discovery, well the UNMOVIC spokesman says the material did seem to be very old.

Now the foreign ministry's daily statement on the reporting on the inspections hardly mentioned that. It was just three lines at the bottom of the statement mentioning that the inspectors had gone to that ammunition depot and checked out those bunkers.

But here's the version of General Hussam Amin. He's the interlocator of the U.N. weapons inspectors here. He said they went to this site that actually contains a lot of military equipment. It belongs to the army. He said that they found an old sealed box. They opened it and they found these old chemical warheads that were empty.

He said by no mean could this qualify as weapons of mass destruction, and he says it's been hyped up and presented as a discovery, if you will, for the wrong reasons. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEN. HUSSAM AMIN, IRAQI NATL. MONITORING DIRECTOR: You can't imagine how the American pressure on this commission and how they want to make this finding a huge finding which is related to the mass destruction weapons, chemical or biological. It is neither chemical, neither biological. It is empty warheads. It is small artillery rockets. It is expired rockets and they were forgotten without out any intention to use them because they were expired since 10 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRAHIMI: Now, he said that these rockets were actually the type of rockets that were bought back in 1986. They had been declared in 1996 by the Iraqis to the previous U.N. weapons inspectors and he said this type of rocket was also declared in Iraq's recent weapons declaration adding that he was astonished it was presented as a discovery -- Wolf.

BLITZER: CNN's Rym Brahimi working virtually round-the-clock for us in Baghdad today and almost every day.

Rym, thanks very much for that report.

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