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Filed October 10, 2002 By Jeremy Scahill
BAGHDAD—As the Bush Administration continues to allege Iraq is attempting to acquire nuclear weapons, journalists gained entry to a site Washington claims is at the center of a covert program. Earlier this week, President George W. Bush referred to "declassified satellite photos" of the Al-Nassr industrial compound while making a case for a new military offensive against Iraq. On Thursday, dozens of journalists from around the world were allowed to roam the plant with video equipment.

The impromptu invitation to inspect Al-Nassr, the "Great Victory Factory," came during a press conference given by Deputy Prime Minister Abdel Tawab Mullah Huweish, head of Iraq's weapons programs. He criticized the Bush Administration's portrayal of Al-Nassr as a nuclear weapon factory, and pointed out that it was bombed repeatedly in the 1991 Gulf War.

During the UN weapons inspections regime the plant was under near-constant scrutiny. In 1998 the inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in preparation for the Desert Fox campaign, where Al-Nassr was again bombed.

"I declare we have no mass destructions weapons whatsoever," Huweish said during the press conference, then invited "anyone from the US" to immediately inspect the site, including members of the Bush administration. Washington rejected the offer, saying it was not Iraq's to make. Dozens of journalists from around the world obliged.

At Al-Nassr, journalists were taken on a tour of several of the buildings. Some journalists separated themselves from the group and wandered around the factories unaccompanied. General Hussam Muhammad Amin accompanied the journalists and answered questions.

Despite the spectacle caused by the foreign journalists, many Iraqi workers continued laboring over dirty machinery and flaming vats of molten metal.

"This site has no involvement with so-called weapons of mass destruction, and has no violations with regard to Security Council resolutions," Amin said "All the capabilities which could help any nuclear program, they were destroyed completely under the supervision of IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and UNSCOM [the former UN agency monitoring Iraq's disarmament]."

Amin called the recent allegations by the Bush Administration "blatant fabrications."

The factories and warehouses of Al-Nassr were in full operation and employ over a thousand workers. Built twenty years ago, Al-Nassr is one of the largest steel and metal production factories in Iraq.

Before the Gulf War, Al-Nassr was involved in ballistic missile production and nuclear research. During the weapons inspections regime, machinery exported to Iraq from the US, with US government approval, was removed.

Journalists spent several hours at Al-Nassr, and did not inspect every building. Iraqi officials said they knew inviting journalists to the site would not prove the country was free of weapons of mass destruction facilities. Instead, the goal was to highlight the fact that Iraq wants UN weapons inspections to resume and that Washington is now the greatest obstacle to their return.

In addition to journalists, Iraq has recently invited weapons inspectors and officials from the US and UN, and even US congressmembers, to the suspected sites to verify Iraq is in line with UN disarmament resolutions.

"This is a message to Americans that we will open this site for you," Amin said.

Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist, who reports for the nationally syndicated Radio and TV show Democracy Now! He is currently based in Baghdad, Iraq, where he and filmmaker Jacquie Soohen are coordinating, the only website providing regular independent reporting from the ground in Baghdad.

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