Joe Conason's Journal

A must-read article in the Washington Post reveals why Saddam's weapons of mass destruction will almost certainly never be found: They haven't existed since the end of the last Gulf War.


Salon Staff
January 8, 2004 4:32AM (UTC)

Saddam's paper arsenal and the Acme missile
If Barton Gellman's remarkably thorough report in today's Washington Post is accurate -- and there is no reason to think otherwise -- then Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction" will never be found. That's because they haven't existed since the end of the last Gulf War, as various experts tried unsuccessfully to explain during the months before the Bush administration went to war.

What Gellman's story proves is that the U.N. inspections regime worked. The first Gulf War and the inspections (and bombings) that followed had effectively disarmed Iraq.

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Among several significant revelations in his story is a newly discovered August 1995 memo from Hossam Amin, a top Iraqi intelligence official, to Qusay Hussein, late son of the dictator. The memo strongly supports Iraq's claims to have destroyed all of its biological and chemical weapons long ago. The memo catalogs all of the secrets about the Iraqi programs that were known to defector Hussein Kamel, Saddam's son-in-law, and proves that Kamel revealed everything to his Western intelligence debriefers. The information provided by Kamel enabled U.N. inspectors to complete the dismantling of Iraq's unconventional weapons programs.

"The most significant point in Amin's letter, U.S. and European experts said, is his unambiguous report that Iraq destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons," Gellman reports. "Amin reminded Qusay Hussein of the government's claim that it possessed no such arms after 1990, then wrote that in truth 'destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991.'

"It was those weapons to which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell referred in the [U.N.] Security Council on Feb. 5 [2003] when he said, for example, that Iraq still had an estimated 8,500 to 25,000 liters of anthrax bacteria."

During that famously compelling U.N. speech last February, Powell also featured sketches of alleged mobile weapons laboratories. After trucks that resembled those sketches were discovered in northern Iraq, the president claimed last May 30 that the legendary WMD had been found. Gellman debunks that fraudulent claim, too. The trucks dated from the Iran-Iraq war, when they were used to produce hydrogen gas for artillery balloons. (Gellman notes that David Kay admitted, during a BBC interview broadcast in November, that the administration's "premature and embarrassing" crowing about those trucks was a "fiasco." For some reason, Kay's admission never got much pickup in this country.)

Gellman found that the Iraqis were secretly trying to build illegal long-range missiles that might have reached Israel, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. But his reporting establishes that they were nowhere near testing such a rocket, let alone building any.

Accompanying the Post article are crude drawings, by a top Iraqi rocketry engineer, of his plans for the secret Iraqi super-missile. Western experts who examined the engineer's work said that his design almost certainly would have blown apart on launch -- much like those infernal Acme rockets used by Wile E. Coyote. (I certainly hope someone has searched Acme's Baghdad offices.)
[3:30 p.m. PST, Jan. 7, 2004]

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