"I learned so much about arms control and disarmament at ACA! I learned more about arms control here in four months than I had in all three years at my college."

– Alicia Sanders-Zakre
Intern, Fall 2016
December 16, 2016
More U.S. Claims on Iraq WMD Rebutted

Paul Kerr

A recent report from the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) further undermines pre-war U.S. claims that Iraq was developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) capable of delivering chemical and biological weapons. The report also notes that more material looted after the war from sites associated with Iraq’s past weapons programs has turned up in other countries.

The Aug. 27 report includes an analysis of information collected during the UN inspections that took place from late November 2002 until just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. It concludes that there was “no technical evidence” that Iraq had been developing UAVs capable of delivering prohibited weapons or exceeding the 150-kilometer range permitted by UN Security Council resolutions.

The Security Council tasked UNMOVIC in 1999 with inspecting and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s prohibited weapons. UNMOVIC has not resumed inspections since the invasion began.

UNMOVIC assembled its UAV analysis in response to March testimony from Charles Duelfer, head adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG). The ISG is the task force the U.S. government established after the 2003 invasion to search for Iraq’s suspected illicit weapons. Duelfer told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq tested UAVs whose range “easily exceeded” 150 kilometers. (See ACT, May 2004.)

Before the war, U.S. officials had placed heavy emphasis on the UAV allegation as part of their contention that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons. The public version of an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stated that Iraq had “several development programs, including for a UAV that most analysts believe probably is intended to deliver biological warfare agents.” These vehicles “could threaten Iraq’s neighbors, U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, and the United States if brought close to, or into, the U.S. Homeland,” the estimate added.

Additionally, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN Security Council in February 2003 that Iraq had several UAV programs intended to deliver chemical and biological weapons. These included converting MiG-21 and L-29 military aircraft into UAVs, as well as developing smaller UAVs. Powell also stated that Iraq failed to declare a UAV with a range of 500 kilometers to UNMOVIC. UN Security Council Resolution 1441, adopted in November 2002, required Iraq to disclose all of its prohibited weapons activities to the inspectors.

But a July Senate Intelligence Committee report found that the 2002 NIE’s assessment of Iraq’s UAV efforts did not accurately reflect either the available information regarding these vehicles or the judgments of “most analysts,” who believed the UAVs were for conventional missions.

The UNMOVIC report states that the L-29 project “appeared to have ceased in late 2001” and that inspectors found “no clear indication” that Iraq intended the aircraft to deliver chemical or biological agents. Similarly, the inspectors found no evidence that Iraq ever planned to modify any of its smaller UAVs to deliver biological weapons or achieve prohibited ranges.

As for Iraq’s MiG-21 program, a UNMOVIC official told Arms Control Today Sept. 22 that inspectors found no evidence contradicting Iraq’s claim that it ended the project, which began in 1990, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. UNMOVIC inspectors were unable to verify information Iraq provided about the program in a March 2003 letter because it was received the day the invasion began, the report said.


The report outlined the commission’s ongoing investigation into the discovery of weapons-related materials in several locations outside Iraq. Both UNMOVIC and the International Atomic Energy Agency have previously reported that sites associated with Iraq’s past weapons programs had been looted and destroyed.

The amount of material shipped out of Iraq appears substantial. According to the report, 130,000 tons of scrap metal passed though Jordan alone from June 2003 to June 2004, an amount comprising “only a small part of all scrap materials exported from Iraq” to other countries during that time. In addition, UNMOVIC experts were told that “a lot of high-quality industrial equipment” had been exported from Iraq, some of which “could include equipment subject to [UNMOVIC] monitoring,” the report said.

UNMOVIC experts are continuing to investigate sites in the Netherlands and Jordan where Iraqi missile engines subject to UN monitoring have been discovered. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)