Seeking to refute U.S. allegations that its newest and largest remote-controlled airplane can disperse chemical or biological weapons, the Iraqi government showed off the device Wednesday, revealing a makeshift contraption with wooden propellers, duct-taped wings and a dinged-up fuselage.
Perched on a work stand at a military research complex north of Baghdad, the black-and-white drone appeared to have been fashioned from cannibalized aviation parts and standard craft-shop fare. The body was built with the torpedo-shaped fuel tank from a larger plane. The wings were constructed with cloth-covered balsa wood. Patches of aluminum foil were used for reinforcement.
"God is Great" has been hand-painted in red on both sides.
"It's only a prototype," said the director of the drone project, Brig. Imad Abdul Latif.
Under normal circumstances, the Iraqi government would not have invited several dozen journalists inside a military research facility to gawk at such an inelegant flying machine.
But Wednesday, unsophistication was the point.
In a report released Monday, U.N. weapons inspectors stated that Iraq had not declared the drone as required under two separate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The Bush administration promptly seized upon the statement to bolster its argument that Iraq has been flouting U.N. disarmament rules.
John Negroponte, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, suggested that the drone could travel beyond U.N.-imposed limits, while Secretary of State Colin Powell said it can dispense biological and chemical weapons and thus "should be of concern to everybody."
Iraqi officials dismissed those comments as untrue, arguing the drone was included in a weapons declaration submitted to the inspectors, that the aircraft's range is significantly less than the 93-mile limit and that it is not able to spread chemical or biological agents.
"He's making a big mistake," Latif said of Powell. "He knows very well that this aircraft is not used for what he said."
U.N. officials acknowledged Wednesday that the drone was mentioned in a semiannual arms declaration that Iraq submitted in January.
The U.N. officials also said they were not sure whether the aircraft could exceed range restrictions or carry prohibited weapons. One official privately cast doubt on those possibilities, noting that the drone does not appear to have guidance and cargo technology sophisticated enough to do so.
Air Force Gen. Ibrahim Hussein said the radio-controlled drone has never flown more than 2 miles. Although its wingspan of 24.5 feet has prompted concern that it could fly long distances, Latif said the remote-piloted aircraft could not be guided from more than 5 miles away and needs to be close enough to be seen by ground controllers. Hussein said the drone was to be used for "reconnaissance, jamming and aerial photography."
"These are common uses all over the world," he said. "We have full rights to do this."
He insisted that the Iraqi military has not considered using the device to distribute biological or chemical weapons, which Iraq says it does not possess.
Also Wednesday, Iraqi workers in another part of al-Taji destroyed three more Al Samoud 2 missiles and more components and materials used for the missile, said Hiro Ueki, a spokesman for the inspection operation in Baghdad.
That would bring to 58 the number of missiles destroyed by Iraq, from an arsenal of about 100.
Inspectors also interviewed an Iraqi involved in the unilateral destruction of chemical precursors, Ueki said.
_ Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.