Iraq has weaponized running shoes, White House claims

WASHINGTON, D.C. At a luncheon yesterday hosted by the National Running Association, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the group that there is irrefutable evidence that Iraq has successfully mated a can of Pam cooking spray to the Saddam 3000 running shoe. He said President Bush will present some of that evidence during a speech at the United Nations next week, in which he will urge the world body to pass a forceful resolution requiring Iraq to immediately dismantle the modified shoes, submit to unrestricted inspections, and abandon its orthotic development program.

"A can of Pam is mounted horizontally to the outboard side of each shoe using duct tape," said Powell, describing the weoponized racing flat. "The nozzles have been modified so that they can be operated remotely by the runner, and aimed in such a way as to deposit a coating of vegetable oil on the roadway or track surface directly in the path of nearby runners. Clearly this is a dangerous development. One that the President and I are in full agreement represents a new level of threat to the international running community that must be dealt with."

Since declaring Iraq a member of the Axis of Running Wickedness a year ago, the Bush administration has become increasingly focused on thwarting Saddam Hussein's efforts to elevate running within his country. But enlisting support from other nations, including those on the U.N. Security Council, has been difficult. Even Kenya, which could lose its standing in the marathon, views the Iraq problem as a low priority.

A State Department delegation headed by Powell will depart next week for Kenya to meet with President Arap Moi. "When Kenya realizes what's at stake, I think we'll reach an agreement. We're really not that far apart," said Powell.

"There's no doubt in my mind, if we don't stop him, Saddam will unleash these weaponized running shoes at the next Olympics," a somber Vice President Cheney told Bob Schieffer on CBS's Face the Nation Sunday.

"He's furiously working to develop sports bras, electrolyte replacement drinks, and other running accessories denied him during more than a decade of economic sanctions," said Cheney. "Since the Gulf War he's replaced the buildings we bombed at the Baghdad Podiatry Institute. We need to know what's inside those facilities. We have reason to believe he's very close to developing customized orthotics. According to the CIA, Saddam has had a finalized orthotic design since the mid-1990s when he was recruiting former Soviet podiatrists. If he gets hold of the materials, specifically the thermoplastic resin used for the custom molded shell, and the elastomeric material used in the rear-foot posting, he could conceivably assemble a device in a few months. This new ability to control pronation would substantially boost the performance of his elite flat-footed runners. With the Olympic games just a year and a half away, that's a risk I'm afraid we can't afford to take."

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has called on the White House to tone down the rhetoric, and take a time-out. "There's no evidence that I've seen, that Iraq has even tested these new shoes," he said . "We have no idea if this is an effective weapon system or just a pile of junk. I use Pam cooking spray when I make my pancakes, and I don't believe that two of those tiny spray heads are going to put enough oil on the track to cause any problem when the runner wearing these shoes is flying by at a sub-five minute per mile pace. This is an overreaction if I ever saw one.

"I call on President Bush to shift his focus to the important issues here at home. Such as the fact that running tracks are crumbling in our inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas. The President promised the American people he would sign the Running Infrastructure Investment Act, but he must have forgotten, because it's been sitting on his desk for three weeks now."

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters yesterday that the Iraq matter remains the President's top priority, but he added: "Other running issues are being given the attention they deserve."

"Pam is not allowed under the U.N. sanctions," explained Cheney. "Eventually we'll find out who gave it to him, and take appropriate action. In the meantime we need to get the inspectors back in to find and destroy his existing stocks. As for the critics, they have every right to voice their views. But if we fail to act soon enough, we risk waking up one morning to a very different world a slippery unthinkable world in which Saddam possesses orthotics, and has unleashed his running shoes of mass disruption."

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