July 15, 2003

The "Vanishing" WMD TNR (subscription

The "Vanishing" WMD

TNR (subscription required) details why (maybe) we won't find WMD in Iraq:

"The idea that Saddam did not secretly continue building chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons directly contradicts White House claims. But the Iraqi scientists I met insist that the combination of U.S. bombing, U.N. inspections, disarmament efforts, unilateral destruction by Iraqi officials, and stiff U.N. sanctions had indeed eliminated Saddam's illicit weapons by the mid-'90s. At the same time, however, Saddam's efforts to hide or destroy documents hindered efforts to ultimately resolve scores of questions about the disposition of missing materials and equipment. In addition, fear of Saddam kept many scientists from telling the dictator the truth about their WMD programs. Ultimately, the scientists and others say, Saddam may have feared that admitting his WMD were gone would have shown a weakness that could have threatened his hold on power. These overlapping theories may not fully explain why American forces have not found WMD in Iraq. But, for now, they're the best we have."


"But, if the WMD were gone, why didn't Saddam cooperate in the '90s, if only to get the United Nations off his back so he could resume building his weapons? Why didn't he cooperate last year in order to appease the White House and avoid a war that would topple his regime? The prevailing theory among former U.N. inspectors and current American, British, and Australian weapons-hunters interviewed for this story is that Saddam was too proud to concede that he no longer possessed WMD. To admit this point would have meant bowing to the West. He would have appeared weak, and weakness would have threatened his hold on power at home and his vainglorious self-image as a leader of the Arab world. Instead, Saddam thought he could bully his way through this crisis, as he had in previous standoffs with the United States and its allies. The inspectors say Saddam believed that uncertainty about WMD could again serve as a deterrent to American forces. After all, in the wake of the 1991 war, U.N. inspectors learned Saddam had told aides that coalition ground forces had not pressed on to Baghdad because they were afraid of his chemical and biological weapons."

But note:

"Of course, the possibility that Saddam no longer possessed WMD does not mean that he no longer wanted to possess them. The former senior intelligence officer, a barrel-chested brigadier general who still wears a large watch with Saddam's portrait etched in gold on the face, insists that no chemical or biological weapons were produced in Iraq after the mid-'90s. But he does not pretend Saddam suddenly went legit. Indeed, the officer says he helped manage a maze of overseas trading companies run by Iraqi intelligence operatives and designed to support Iraq's sanctions-busting procurement schemes. He made seven overseas trips after the mid-'90s to help buy and ship spare parts, raw materials, and other supplies for Saddam's conventional weapons programs. On his last trip, in April 2001, he went to Jordan, Cyprus, Morocco, South Africa, and Argentina, using phony passports from neighboring Arab nations, to help arrange the secret purchase of $57 million worth of cannons, artillery fuses, calibrating instruments, and other weapons parts. As on previous trips, he also helped buy and smuggle "dual-use" items, such as medical laboratory equipment, which might someday be used to build chemical and biological weapons if the United Nations declared Iraq WMD-free and lifted sanctions. Indeed, he says that, in 1996, Saddam ordered his intelligence services to create a series of secret cells of Iraqi scientists and technicians. The groups--each with about four or five members--met regularly in Baghdad basements and did small experiments in underground laboratories. Their goal was not to build weapons. It was to formulate plans on how to build them when the United Nations lifted sanctions. "We could start again anytime," the intelligence officer says. "It's very easy. Especially biological."

Posted by Gregory at July 15, 2003 12:53 PM
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