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Disarmament Diplomacy No. 77, Cover design by Paul Aston

Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 77, May/June 2004


Iraq's Elusive WMD

Stephen Pullinger looks at recent developments in the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction so confidently cited by the US-led Coalition in its justifications for initiating war on Iraq. See also the text of UNSC Resolution 1546 on Iraq, reproduced in full, below.

The use and misuse of terminology to describe Iraq's WMD capability continues to rumble on. President Bush persists in trying to play up the pre-war Iraqi threat whilst leading weapons experts challenge his assessments.

In February the President said that the former chief US weapons inspector, Dr David Kay, had reported that Iraq had the "capacity" to produce weapons of mass destruction. Yet in his interim report last autumn and in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this year Kay's use of language was rather more circumspect:1 "Did they have the capacity to make a small number of chemical or biological weapons using existing civilian infrastructure?" Kay asked. "Sure...That's different than saying it could have made large amounts of weaponised anthrax that would have been useful in a militarised conflict."

Kay added to the pressure on the Bush administration by calling on it to "come clean with the American people" and admit it was wrong about the existence of the weapons.2 Its continued refusal was delaying essential reforms of US intelligence agencies, and further undermining US credibility at home and abroad, Kay argued. In welcoming the creation of a bipartisan commission in the US to investigate pre-war intelligence on Iraq, he contrasted it to the equivalent Butler inquiry in Britain, which had "so many limitations it's going to be almost impossible" to come to meaningful conclusions.3

Kay accepted that the Bush administration had had a genuine fear of WMD falling into the hands of terrorists, but argued that unless it now confronted the Iraq intelligence fiasco head on it would undermine its credibility with its allies in future crises "for a generation".4 In response, the Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, dismissed Kay's assertion that there were no WMD at the start of the Iraq war as a "theory" that was "possible, but not likely".5

Dr Blix on Disarming Iraq

Further embarrassment to Bush and Blair has arisen from the publication of a memoir by Dr Hans Blix, entitled Disarming Iraq: the search for weapons of mass destruction. Blix still cannot understand why his doubts and those of his professional teams of trained inspectors failed to make an impression on Blair and Bush. He accuses the British and US governments of "distorting" the reports of the weapons inspectors, by describing amounts of chemical and biological weapons still unaccounted for as "retained" weapons. He says that it was "probable that the governments were conscious that they were exaggerating the risks they saw in order to get the political support they would not otherwise have had".6

Blix is scathing about the "faith-based" approach of Messrs Bush and Blair, which he says was tantamount to a "witch hunt". His account is particularly damaging for Dick Cheney, the Vice-President who continued to insist that Iraq had "nuclear weapons" long after the evidence proved the contrary. In a meeting with IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei in October 2002, Cheney said that if the inspections did not give results the US was "ready to discredit inspections in favour of disarmament".7 Indeed, this is what happened. The Bush administration actively sought to undermine the inspectors, accusing them of playing down the threat from Saddam's WMD. Blix felt insulted by this treatment.8

In contrast, according to Blix, President Chirac had a healthy scepticism about intelligence. Although the French intelligence services were convinced WMD remained in Iraq, Chirac recognised that the intelligence services "sometimes intoxicate each other". His thinking "seemed to be dominated by the conviction that Iraq did not pose a threat that justified armed intervention".9

Blix reveals that when he returned to Iraq in 2002 his gut feeling was that Iraq was still engaged in prohibited activities and retained prohibited items, and that there was documentation to prove it. Hence he did not demur from Blair's assertion that in November 2002, when resolution 1441 was adopted, "everyone thought he [Saddam] had them". But by the end of that month, after Blix's UNMOVIC team had inspected suspicious sites, acting on tip-offs from the intelligence agencies, and found no credible evidence of WMD, his doubts began.

Blix praises the British Government for pursuing the inspection route and "never doubted that Blair was strongly advocating inspections all the way through; that the resistance to that must have come from the Americans and mainly from the Pentagon side".

Although he believes that the invasion of Iraq was not justified on the basis of the weapons threat, Blix considers that military action could have been justified on humanitarian grounds: "I would be in favour of that... a regime can systematically brutalise and oppress its people and there is nothing anyone can do".

Remnants and Cons

A Sarin 155mm artillery shell that the US military found rigged as an improvised explosive device in Baghdad in early May was probably a "dud" fired long ago, according to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter.10 Determining whether the discovery of this shell represents an archaeological discovery, or is part of Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpile of WMD, rests with a full forensic exam of the shell, Ritter said.

Meanwhile the man responsible for providing the US with a great deal of pre-war intelligence on Iraq's supposed WMD, Ahmad Chalabi, is rapidly falling from grace. Iraqi police, backed by US soldiers, raided his home and offices on the basis that Chalabi had provided sensitive information to the Iranians.11 Secretary of State Colin Powell has recently admitted that the US was intentionally misled about information on Iraq's much-debated mobile bioweapons labs - information that came from Chalabi.12

Writing for Carnegie Analysis on 'The Iraqi National Con', Joseph Cirincione stated that Chalabi had: "...pulled off one of the greatest cons in American foreign policy history: helping to convince the majority of Americans that Saddam Hussein had massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction and operational ties to Osama bin Laden. None of what he said was true. All of it was believed... We must not leave US national security vulnerable to the next grifter that slinks into town".13


1. Experts Question Bush's Assertions of Iraq's WMD "Capacity", Global Security Newswire, 18 February 2004.

2. Julian Borger, 'Admit WMD mistake, survey chief tells Bush', Guardian, March 3, 2004.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Rowan Scarborough, 'Rumsfeld says Iraq likely had arms', Washington Times, February5, 2004.

6. Paul Reynolds, 'Blix details his 'mission impossible'', BBC News Online, March 9, 2004.

7. Ibid.

8. 'Hans Blix: Bush and Blair behaved as if they were on a 'witch hunt' over Iraqi weapons', Anne Penketh, Independent, March 8, 2004.

9. Ibid.

10. Scott Ritter, 'Iraq sarin shell is not part of a secret cache', Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 2004.

11. CBSNews.com, May 21, 2004.

12. Cited by Congressman Joe Hoeffel on his website: http://www.hoeffel.house.gov/display2.cfm?id=8815&type=News

13. Joseph Cirincione, 'The Iraqi National Con', Carnegie Analysis, May 24, 2004

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