The New York Sun is doing yeoman’s work in explaining why the latest group-think—that Saddam Hussein had no proscribed WMD—may be very wrong. Ha’aretz has lent its support, reporting that Israeli officials believe “[m]aterial was transferred to Syria in the dark of the night, on the very eve of the war,” and “[t]he Americans are the ones who are making the mistake now." That is also the view of retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper, who headed the National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
The little that has emerged about the Iraqi documents captured by U.S. forces supports the idea that Baghdad retained WMD programs. The Weekly Standard reports that one such document from February 2003, just before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, was entitled by U.S. translators, “Chemical, Biological Agent Destruction.” Other documents indicate that Iraq acquired anthrax and mustard gas in 2000. And Bill Tierney, who worked in Iraq both before and after OIF, recently detailed for FrontPageMagazine evidence that Iraq maintained such programs, as well as Baghdad’s efforts to hide such evidence.
UNSCOM: Source of the Information on Iraq’s Weapons Programs
A false narrative has arisen regarding our knowledge of Saddam’s weapons programs—namely, that that information came from shadowy and unreliable defectors. In fact, the information came from the U.N. weapons inspectors (UNSCOM, the U.N. Special Commission) and dates back to 1995. That summer, Baghdad began to threaten it would expel UNSCOM, if UNSCOM did not declare that Iraq had fully disclosed its weapons programs and that they had been destroyed, so sanctions could be lifted.
On August 8, however, Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s son-in-law, who had supervised those programs, defected to Jordan. As Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan subsequently explained, Iraq had indeed decided to expel UNSCOM, but “Kamil’s defection changed plans and compelled the Iraqi leadership to administer the battle in another direction.”
After Kamil’s defection, Iraqi invited UNSCOM chairman Rolf Ekeus to Baghdad, stating that if Ekeus saw Kamil first, Baghdad would regard that as an unfriendly act. The Iraqis wanted to control the flow of information, and Ekeus played cleverly on their fears of what Kamil might say.
The Iraqis acknowledged to shocked UNSCOM officials that all their proscribed weapons programs were bigger and more advanced than they had previously admitted, but they claimed to have unilaterally destroyed that material. Kamil, for his part, was cautious, revealing little, although he did alert UNSCOM to the fact that a translator they were using worked for Iraqi intelligence. Within the year, Ekeus warned the U.S. Congress, “The Iraqi government does not consider the  Gulf war was a war with an ending. The struggle is still going on. It was a battle of Kuwait, not a war of Kuwait."
Particularly worrisome was Iraq’s biological weapons program (which UNSCOM believed Iraq had tested on live human subjects), because it could be used covertly to kill large numbers of people Hence, President Bill Clinton warned, “Think how many can be killed by just a tiny bit of anthrax, and think about how it's not just that Saddam Hussein might put it on a Scud missile . . . Think about all the other terrorists and other bad actors who could just parade through Baghdad and pick up their stores if we don't take action.”
Clinton recognized the danger, but did virtually nothing. In the fall of 1997, Iraq began a series of crises over weapons inspections that had the effect of weakening support for UNSCOM. In December 1998, on the eve of the House impeachment vote, Clinton finally launched a bombing campaign, particularly ill-timed, as the Muslim month of Ramadan was about to begin, and the campaign was brief (Tierney is scathing about its ineffectualness). UNSCOM pulled out of Iraq in advance of the attack and never returned.
So which scenario is more likely: 1) with UNSCOM gone, Saddam destroyed the material that UNSCOM believed he had, because the Iraqis would provide no coherent account of its purported destruction? Or 2) with UNSCOM gone, Saddam’s proscribed weapons activities expanded?
Loose WMD and the Syrian Connection?
Already in the mid-1990s, even while Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, Saddam’s great rival lived, Baghdad proposed sending biological weapons experts to Damascus, according to a member of the Iraq Survey Group. The death of al-Assad senior in June 2000 and the assumption of power by his son Bashar paved the way for much closer ties.
In the summer of 2002, Ha’aretz reported that Damascus was importing arms and sending them to Baghdad, as the United States edged toward war with Iraq. Documents found in Iraq confirm that story. Damascus now harbors a significant number of Saddam-era officials, while current Iraqi officials assert that Syria is the main external source of support for the Iraqi insurgency. Ties between the Syrian and Iraqi Baathists are very close.
Former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith suggests there may be a loose Iraqi WMD problem, similar to the problem of loose Soviet nukes. It has been over four years since high quality, weapons-grade anthrax was sent to Senators Daschle and Leahy. That material was more lethal than the anthrax produced by the U.S. and Soviet biological weapons programs. The FBI’s claim that it was produced by a lone scientist was always a stretch; indeed, it is much more likely that it was produced by an enemy state. Notably, the FBI has provided no explanation of who was responsible.
The most difficult aspect of producing that anthrax was the R&D involved in developing a process for making it so deadly. Did Iraq produce it? Was that material or the technique for making it exported to Syria, which might have its own reasons for attacking the United States, and which has close ties to Iran, with which Washington is locked in an escalating confrontation over its nuclear program?
“Know the enemy” is axiomatic to fighting a war. The nature of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programs has been treated like a political football, but it is decidedly not.
Laurie Mylroie is an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and author of Bush vs. the Beltway: the Inside Battle over War in Iraq (HarperCollins).
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