Iraq pays scant attention to U.N. chemical team
July 20, 1999
BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Although a team of U.N. experts have been working for nearly a week to remove poisonous toxins left behind by U.N. arms inspectors, Iraqi officials have largely ignored their presence.
With little fanfare, a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) arrived in Baghdad last Wednesday to dismantle a laboratory in which U.N. arms inspectors stored mustard gas and other chemical agents when they left the country.
"The OPCW is continuing with its plan, and as soon as the process or their work is over, we'll let you know," said U.N. special envoy Prakash Shah, who leads the team.
The lab belongs to the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) in charge of dismantling Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Former UNSCOM Chairman Richard Butler said weapons inspectors safely stored one kilogram (2.2. pounds) of mustard gas and small amounts of other toxic materials at the facility.
Sources close to the OPCW told CNN that the actual dismantling process should take only one day, but the mission has been delayed by diplomatic disputes with Iraqi officials.
In public, the Iraqi government and state-run media have paid little attention to the lab issue, and have instead focused on the contested no-fly zones over the northern and southern regions of the country.
U.S. military officials could not confirm the report, which would represent the highest known death toll since Iraq began challenging the U.S. and British patrolled no-fly zones.
U.S. officials also said that allied planes only target military installations in Iraq, and blamed causalities on its government.
"If there are civilians who are dying, it is (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein's fault," said State Department spokesman James Rubin.
"If planes from our allies or the United States are using force, it's because Saddam Hussein has chosen to confront those planes," he added.
The Iraqi government maintains that Iraqi civilians are being targeted by U.S. and British planes, although some diplomats in Baghdad told CNN that they believe some of the victims were caught in the crossfire between the planes and Iraqi artillery.
The no-fly zones were established after the 1991 Persian Gulf War to protect Kurdish rebels in the north and Shiite Muslim minority in the south.
Iraq, which does not recognize the zones, has challenged the patrol planes since December.
Reporter James Martone contributed to this report.
Iraq says U.S. warplanes kill 14, injure 17
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