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Iraq Special Report

  Iraq Jails Germ Warfare Scientist It Says Wanted to Leave With Documents

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 25, 1998; Page A27

NEW YORK, March 24—The government of Iraq has said that it recently jailed a prominent, U.S.-trained scientist who helped create Iraq's germ warfare program after determining that he was preparing to leave the country carrying sensitive documents about the program.

The report reflects a major change in fortunes for Nassir Hindawi, a microbiologist and former head of an Iraqi scientific society who had successfully urged the senior leadership of the ruling Baath party in the early 1980s to transform its small-scale germ research program into a major effort to produce deadly pathogens and toxins.

Hindawi's familiarity with the program's early years has long been known to investigators at the United Nations, who last interviewed him about Iraq's biological weapons arsenal in February 1997. But some of the history remains shrouded in mystery, and U.N. investigators -- as well as foreign intelligence agencies -- would have welcomed the chance to hear more from Hindawi.

Amir Rashid, the head of Iraq's national monitoring directorate and a former supervisor of some of the country's work on weapons of mass destruction, informed officials of the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq about Hindawi's arrest in a letter on March 9, the existence of which was first reported in today's editions of the New York Times.

The letter said Hindawi had a forged passport, as well as more than 200 pages of documents at his offices that he allegedly intended to use to prove his identity and demonstrate his usefulness to a foreign government. Rashid said he had enclosed copies of all the documents.

U.N. officials said today, however, that most of the documents were duplicates of papers already in the possession of the commission, which is responsible for ensuring that Iraq has eliminated its weapons of mass destruction programs. They said none was judged important enough to warrant a special report to the U.N. Security Council.

Iraq has previously turned over documents to the United Nations that it claimed were wrongfully withheld by one of its top officials, Hussein Kamal.

The documents were presented after Kamal's August 1995 defection to Jordan; Iraq claimed that they had been illicitly hidden at a farm Kamal owned near Baghdad. But U.N. officials say they believe that Iraq carefully screened the documents before turning them over because photos of the farm taken by a reconnaissance aircraft before the disclosure show many containers that were later removed from the site.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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