BAGHDAD, Iraq - Rather than a smoking gun, it was all just smoke and mirrors, Iraqi officials charged yesterday in their first rebuttal here to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's indictment of Saddam Hussein at the United Nations Security Council.
Going on the offensive against Powell's allegation of a concerted effort by Iraq to deceive U.N. weapons inspectors and conceal nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs, Gen. Amer al-Saadi heaped scorn on the Security Council speech, portraying it as a mishmash of new and old allegations that were either unverifiable or had been answered by Iraq.
"This was a typical American show - complete with stunts and special effects," said al-Saadi, a presidential adviser on the weapons inspection issue. "What we heard today was for the general public and mainly the uninformed, in order to influence their opinion and to commit the aggression on Iraq."
Al-Saadi said a more detailed point-by-point rebuttal would be made by Iraq today. But Iraq appeared determined to cast enough doubt on the U.S. evidence, and enough aspersions on U.S. motives, to prevent Iraq's citizens and its supporters in the Arab world and beyond from being swayed by the American effort.
Al-Saadi said the United States should have provided its information and suspicions for analysis to the U.N. inspection teams rather than in the speech to the Security Council, accusing the United States of undermining the work being done by the monitors. He went so far as to charge that the United States was in violation of the council's Resolution 1441 - which he said demanded that all countries turn over relevant intelligence to the council.
U.S. satellite photos "prove nothing," he said. As for the telephone intercepts that Powell played, al-Saadi called them a fabrication that could have been done by any "third-rate intelligence outfit." And he labeled U.S. charges that Iraq had forged false death certificates for some of its scientists "ridiculous. It is below the level of a country leading the world to come up with such ideas."
Regarding one of the main planks of Powell's argument - that Iraq has failed to show it has destroyed all the weapons that it has admitted to, and that inconsistencies and questions surround its past reports - al-Saadi said that Iraq stands ready to address all the question marks in further talks with the inspectors.
But he said that Powell had "exaggerated their volume and significance to an unrecognizable measure ... in order to portray Iraq as being a threat to international peace and security."
Al-Saadi, accompanied at the nighttime news conference by Gen. Hussam Mohammed Amin, chief liaison to the U.N. arms inspectors, also denied Powell's allegation that he has personally led an extensive effort to conceal Iraqi weapons programs from the monitors.
"Absolute nonsense. Simply not true," al-Saadi said in response to a question. "The order given to me from early on was to tell everything as it was."
Iraqi authorities had been preparing for Powell's speech in New York, recognizing it as a key step in the U.S. effort to win U.N. sanction for a possible attack on Iraq.
Although Western news channels are not normally available in Iraq, large-screen televisions were set up in a large, open hall of the Information Ministry, and hundreds of journalists and dozens of foreign peace activists in the Iraqi capital were invited in to watch Powell's speech live. But the presentation wasn't carried by Iraqi state television, meaning that most Iraqis will hear it only secondhand.
Information Ministry employees watched Powell with rapt attention as he laid out the U.S. case against Iraq and their president. Then, scarcely two hours later, al-Saadi and Amin showed up to lead Iraq's counterattack.
Al-Saadi was especially scornful of the audiotapes that Powell said were of intercepted phone conversations between Iraqi military officers. One was a purported discussion about hiding prohibited vehicles from weapons inspectors. Another dealt with removing a reference to nerve agents from written instructions.
The tapes were concocted by U.S. intelligence, Al-Saadi charged.
"We have nothing to hide," he insisted. "Therefore, we do not talk about hiding anything."
John Daniszewski writes for the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
The evidence against Iraq
Some of the evidence gathered by U.S. intelligence sources and presented to the United Nations by Secreatry of State Colin L. Powell yesterday
Mobile biological weapons
What Powell said: Iraq uses 18 large trucks, as well as rail cars, as mobile plants for making anthrax and other biological weapons. The program began in the mid-1990s and was confirmed by Iraqi sources.
What he showed: A diagram of how the mobile production facility would work.
Chemical weapons plants
What Powell said: Iraq has a stockpile of 100 to 500 tons of chemical weapons agent, enough to cause mass casualities across more than 100 square miles, an area nearly five times the size of Manhattan.
What he showed: Satellite photos of a facility at Al-Musayyib. Powell said that in May 2002, the facility (right) showed unusual activity. A photo taken two months later (below) shows the facility and area around it have been fully bulldozed and graded.
What Powell said: Iraq has two of the three key components needed to build a nuclear bomb and is determined to obtain the last element.
What he showed: Photos of high-tolerance aluminum tubes that U.S. experts say are intended for use as centrifuges for enriching uranium.
What Powell said: Iraq has unmanned aerial vehicles that have a range greater than the allowed 50 miles and could be used to disperse chemical weapons.
What he showed: A map showing a test flight pattern of a drone that went 310 miles on autopilot in a racetrack pattern at an Iraqi airfield.
Missile building and testing
What Powell said: Iraq is using cargo trucks to remove ballistic missile components before the sites can be inspected. Also, Iraq is testing and developing missiles that fly more than 620 miles.
What he showed: Satellite photos taken of a facility at Al-Musayyib in November. Powell said the images show activity and movement of Al-Fatah missiles days before U.N. inspectors are to arrive.
SOURCE: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE