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The Worst of Intentions
What Saddam’s Iraq was up to.
by Daniel McKivergan
07/01/2005 12:00:00 AM
“I WOULD ALSO ARGUE that if Saddam Hussein were left in power, weapons of mass destruction or no, he would be now, if he were in power, trying to acquire those weapons and use them. Eventually the sanctions were eroding,” said Sen. John McCain on Fox News following the president’s speech Tuesday at Fort Bragg. The senator was responding to critics, such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Ted Kennedy, who opposed the decision to remove Hussein from power in 2003, and those like vice presidential candidate John Edwards, who is now apparently not sure if we should have toppled him. But the president and Sen. McCain believe otherwise. Furthermore, beyond the consequences of a Saddam still in power, the Arizona senator maintains that it’s also important to “recall the facts as we knew them in March 2003.”
On March 18, 2003, the day before ground forces entered Iraq, the president confronted a broad range of concerns regarding Saddam’s weapons programs, his connections to terrorist organizations, his history of aggressive behavior, his use of poison gas, and his failure to comply with the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire agreement and subsequent U.N. resolutions.
American intelligence and other foreign governments concluded at the time that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. Senior Clinton administration officials stated that the regime possessed stockpiles. Saddam has “stored secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons throughout his country,” declared former Vice President Al Gore on September 23, 2002. And even a month after the invasion Defense Secretary William Cohen believed we would find weapons: “I am convinced that he has them. I saw evidence back in 1998 when we would see the inspectors being barred from gaining entry into a warehouse for three hours with trucks rolling up and then moving those trucks out. I am absolutely convinced that there are weapons. We will find them.”
On top of this were the findings contained in detailed U.N. reports. For example, on March 6, 2003, the United Nations issued a report on Iraq’s “Unresolved Disarmament Issues.” It stated that the “long list” of “unaccounted for” WMD-related material catalogued in December of 1998–the month inspections ended in Iraq–and beyond were still “unaccounted for.” The list included: up to 3.9 tons of VX nerve agent (though inspectors believed Iraq had enough VX precursors to produce 200 tons of the agent and suspected that VX had been “weaponized”); 6,526 aerial chemical bombs; 550 mustard gas shells; 2,062 tons of Mustard precursors; 15,000 chemical munitions; 8,445 liters of anthrax; growth media that could have produced “3,000 – 11,000 litres of botulinum toxin, 6,000 – 16,000 litres of anthrax, up to 5,600 litres of Clostridium perfringens, and a significant quantity of an unknown bacterial agent.” Moreover, Iraq was obligated to account for this material by providing “verifiable evidence” that it had, in fact, destroyed its proscribed materials.
The same report noted “a surge of activity in the missile technology field in the past four years” and that while 817 of the 819 Scud missiles Iraq had imported had been accounted for, inspectors did not know the number of missiles Iraq had indigenously produced or still possessed. Similarly, while inspectors had accounted for 73 of Iraq’s 75 declared “special” warheads, doubts remained that Iraqi officials were truthful about how many had actually been manufactured. It acknowledged that inspectors had found a handful of 122mm chemical rocket warheads but noted that this discovery may only be the “tip of the iceberg” since several thousand, in the inspectors’ judgment, were still unaccounted for. It also stated that no underground chemical facilities had been found but added that such facilities may exist given the size of Iraq and that future inspections in this area would have to rely on “specific intelligence.” Finally, the report declared that there appears to be no “choke points” to prevent Iraq from producing anthrax at the same level it did before 1991, that large-scale Iraqi production of botulinum toxin “could be rapidly commenced,” and that given Iraq’s history of concealment, “it cannot be excluded that it has retained some capability with regard to VX.”
But what about the claim made by the president and Sen. McCain that Saddam never gave up his desire for weapons of mass destruction and would have produced them again? Well, in October 2003, U.S. inspection chief David Kay told Congress that the Saddam’s regime “maintained programs and activities, and they certainly had the intentions at a point to resume their programs. So there was a lot they wanted to hide because it showed what they were doing was illegal.” And in September 2004 then-Iraq Survey Group head Charles Duelfer issued a report which cited many violations of the sanctions regime and concluded that “Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD production after sanctions were lifted by preserving assets and expertise. In addition to preserve capability, we have clear evidence of his intent to resume WMD production as soon as sanctions were lifted.” Duelfer continued:
As UN sanctions eroded there was a concomitant expansion of activities that could support full WMD reactivation. He directed that ballistic missile work continue that would support long-range missile development. Virtually no senior Iraqi believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever. Evidence suggests that, as resources became available and the constraints of sanctions decayed, there was a direct expansion of activity that would have the effect of supporting future WMD reconstitution.
In the coming weeks, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Reform will be releasing another report related to its investigation of the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food program. It should shed much more light on Saddam’s efforts to undermine the sanctions regime and on what role governments played in “eroding” the very same sanctions they voted to enforce in numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Daniel McKivergan is deputy director of the Project for the New American Century.