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Iraqi drone U.S. warned of looks more like model airplane

AL-TAJI, Iraq — A remotely piloted aircraft that the United States has warned could spread chemical weapons appears to be made of balsa wood and duct tape, with two small propellors attached to what look like the engines of a weed whacker.

Iraqi officials took journalists to the Ibn Firnas State Company just north of Baghdad on Wednesday, where the drone's project director accused Secretary of State Colin Powell of misleading the U.N. Security Council and the public.

"He's making a big mistake," said Brig. Imad Abdul Latif. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."

In Washington's search for a "smoking gun" that would prove Iraq is not disarming, Powell has insisted the drone, which has a wingspan of 24.5 feet, could be fitted to dispense chemical and biological weapons. He has said it "should be of concern to everybody."

The drone's white fuselage was emblazoned Wednesday with the words "God is great" and the code "Quds-10." Its balsa wood wings were held together with duct tape. Officials said they referred to the vehicle as the RPV-30A.

Latif said the plane is controlled by the naked eye from the ground. Asked whether its range is above the 93-mile limit imposed by the United Nations, he said it couldn't be controlled from more than five miles.

Ibn Firnas' general director, Gen. Ibrahim Hussein disputed assertions by Powell and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer that the drone was capable of dispensing biological and chemical weapons.

"This RPV is to be used for reconnaissance, jamming and aerial photography," he said. "We have never thought of any other use."

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte, complained this weekend that chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix didn't mention the drone to the Security Council on Friday.

Blix mentioned the drone in a 173-page written list of outstanding questions about Iraq's weapons programs last week. While small, Blix said, drones can be used to spray biological warfare agents such as anthrax. He said the drone hadn't been declared by Iraq to inspectors.

But Iraq insisted it declared the drone in a report in January — and Hussein held up its declaration to prove it. The confusion, he said, was the result of a typo: The declaration said the wingspan was 14.5 feet instead of 24.5 feet as stated by Powell.

"When we discovered the mistake we addressed an official letter correcting the wingspan," he said. He showed that letter to reporters as well. He suggested inspectors had already seen the drone when the correction was made, but said: "No one of the inspectors noticed the difference."

"We are really astonished when we hear that this RPV was discovered by inspectors, when it was declared by Iraq," Hussein said. "Nothing is hidden."

Hiro Ueki, spokesman for the U.N. weapons inspectors, said the United Nations was investigating the drone's capabilities, and said he was unsure whether Iraq reported the drone before inspectors found it on an airfield or after.

Iraq seized on the issue of the drone — along with early reports from Washington that Iraqi fighter jets threatened a U.N.-sponsored U-2 reconnaissance plane on Tuesday — as proof that Washington is trying to mislead the world about Iraq's weapons programs in its push for war.

"You can imagine the exaggerations the Americans are capable of," said Maj. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, the chief Iraqi liaison with U.N. weapons inspectors.

The United States has been searching for a way out of an impasse created by its demand that Baghdad be given an ultimatum to disarm or face war, which has so far failed to gather enough support in the Security Council.

Amin said the United Nations advised Iraq of one U-2 flight Tuesday, but that two U-2s entered Iraq's airspace. Multiple flights are permitted under a U.N. Security Council resolution approved last November, but the United Nations agreed to inform Iraq in advance.

U.S. officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Iraq launched fighter jets, which threatened one of the planes. Amin disputed that, saying the jets "did not take any measures."

Iraqi workers in al-Taji, meanwhile, were destroying three more Al Samoud 2 missiles Wednesday, banned by the United Nations because they can fly farther than allowed, and two trucks full of components for the missile, said Odai al-Taie, a senior Information Ministry official.

Before Wednesday's destruction, Iraq had destroyed 55 of its approximately 100 missiles, as well as 28 warheads, two casting chambers, two launchers and five engines — all associated with the Al Samoud 2 program. Tools and computer software used for launching have also been destroyed.