Questions Remain Over Failure to Find Iraqi WMD; U.S. Begins Program to Employ Iraqi Scientists

Paul Kerr

The capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein Dec. 13 may yield new clues as to whether Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq last spring. During interrogations with U.S. officials, however, Hussein has reportedly clung to his pre-war claims that Iraq did not possess such weapons.

Iraqi officials repeatedly told UN weapons inspectors that they had unilaterally destroyed their prohibited weapons after the 1991 Persian Gulf War but never provided conclusive evidence that this was the case. UN Security Council Resolution 1441 required Iraq to account for its past weapons programs, and President George W. Bush and administration officials have cited Iraq’s failure to resolve these discrepancies as grounds for the invasion that toppled Hussein’s government.

Hans Blix, the recently retired executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), stated during a Dec. 16 press conference that he did not believe Hussein’s capture would result in new discoveries of prohibited weapons because Iraq probably destroyed most of them in 1991. Furthermore, Blix’s successor, Demetrius Perricos, told the UN Security Council Dec. 8 that the October progress report on the U.S.-led investigation into Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs contained little information that was new to the inspectors.

If proven true, Blix’s argument would counter U.S. speculation that Iraq may have destroyed its weapons just prior to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Bush has offered this theory as a possible explanation for the investigation’s failure to corroborate the administration’s pre-war claims that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons. (See ACT, May 2003.)

Before their work was halted by the invasion, UN inspectors were attempting to account for Iraq’s missing weapons by requesting further documentation and conducting interviews with Iraqi officials. The inspectors also analyzed soil samples taken from sites where Iraq claimed to have destroyed its biological weapons. A Nov. 26 UNMOVIC report stated that inspectors’ recent analysis of these samples indicates that Iraq did destroy biological weapons in the relevant locations but that the inspectors could not quantify the amount destroyed.

UN inspectors reported just before the invasion that Iraq had failed to resolve the issues surrounding its unaccounted-for weapons but added that inspectors possessed no evidence that Iraq either had weapons of mass destruction or had reconstituted its related programs. (See ACT, April 2003.)

The Iraq Survey Group (ISG), the organization coordinating the U.S.-led inspections efforts, has found little evidence to rebut the UN inspectors’ reports. David Kay, a former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector leading the ISG, reported in October that the current investigation had discovered evidence of some low-level, dual-use biological and nuclear research efforts but had found no actual weapons. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Kay also stated that Iraq had been conducting research and development on several different programs to produce missiles exceeding the 150-kilometer range permitted under relevant Security Council resolutions. Kay’s statement, however, contained no evidence that Iraq was actually producing such missiles. The November UNMOVIC report stated that the inspectors ordered Iraq to destroy its al Samoud missiles because their “design was inherently capable of ranges greater than 150 [kilometers]” but added that no evidence was found that Iraq was actually modifying the missiles to achieve this greater range.

Perricos told the Security Council that Kay’s statement generally contained little new information but added that the United States had not yet provided UNMOVIC with a copy of the full, classified version of the ISG report. Perricos also acknowledged that UNMOVIC had been unaware of allegations included in Kay’s report that Iraq attempted to obtain missile technology from North Korea and had a program to extend the range of a cruise missile to 1,000 kilometers. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Press reports that Kay may resign before the ISG’s work is complete have raised questions about the investigation’s future. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan did not deny the report but said Dec. 18 that the ISG “will continue and complete its work.”

Despite the lack of weapons discoveries, Bush defended the invasion in a Dec. 16 television interview, saying Kay’s findings proved Iraq had “a weapons program” and was “in material breach of Resolution 1441.” He added that there was no difference between Iraq having a “weapons program” and possessing actual weapons, arguing that the September 11 terrorist attacks demonstrated that the “possibility that [Hussein] could acquire [prohibited] weapons” was an intolerable risk.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld previously made this argument to the Senate Armed Services Committee in July, stating that the U.S.-led coalition did not invade Iraq “because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit of [weapons of mass destruction]; we acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light—through the prism of our experience on 9/11.”

Iraqi Scientists Program Initiated

Department of State spokesman Richard Boucher officially announced Dec. 18 that the United States will begin a two-year program to support the civilian employment of Iraqi personnel with WMD expertise in an attempt to prevent them from assisting other countries seeking weapons of mass destruction. Arms Control Today obtained a draft proposal in November that sketched out the program’s general parameters. (See ACT, December 2003.)

The State Department will create an Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry that will identify the personnel to be included and “facilitate the development and funding of [employment] projects” designed to aid Iraqi reconstruction efforts. According to a department fact sheet, “Some of these programs will be up and running by February,” Boucher said.

The program will be funded by the State Department’s Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund and is initially expected to cost approximately $2 million, Boucher said. He noted that another $20 million may be needed for future projects, although that funding has not yet been decided.