Duelfer Disproves U.S. WMD Claims

Paul Kerr

Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the Senate Armed Services Committee Oct. 6 that Iraq destroyed its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as eliminated its nuclear weapons program, after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Although his findings thus far largely confirm previous reports, they offer the most extensive analysis to date of the state of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) before last year’s U.S.-led invasion.

Duelfer’s testimony came shortly after the public release of a Sept. 30 report from the ISG, the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi prohibited weapons. Duelfer’s predecessor, David Kay, testified in January that Iraq had destroyed its weapons. (See ACT, March 2004.) However, the report goes into even greater detail about Iraq’s weapons efforts.

Duelfer’s testimony and report show that deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, constrained by UN sanctions, had not restarted the country’s nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. However, he was seeking to preserve and restore, to varying degrees, the intellectual and physical capacity to resume the nuclear and chemical weapons programs if sanctions put in place by the UN Security Council after the Gulf War were lifted.

Duelfer stated that escaping the sanctions was a “top priority” for Hussein, who manipulated the UN oil-for-food program by granting rights to low-priced Iraqi oil in exchange for recipient countries’ support for getting the sanctions lifted. Established in 1995, the program allowed Iraq to purchase food, medicine, health supplies, and other civilian goods with proceeds derived from oil sales, which were held in a UN escrow account.

Iraq had some success in circumventing the sanctions, the report said. Baghdad was able to obtain cash through illegal oil sales and the import of illicit goods, including some dual-use items useful in WMD programs.

Duelfer told the committee that the sanctions were in a “free fall” but indicated that international sentiment following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States halted the move. Duelfer argued that support for the sanctions could not have been sustained indefinitely, but lifting sanctions was not seriously under discussion during the run-up to the invasion. At that time, Security Council members opposed to the invasion were focused on extending the UN-mandated weapons inspections and maintaining sanctions.

Duelfer did not address the fact that Security Council resolutions mandated continued UN monitoring of Iraqi facilities to prevent future attempts at rearming. Kay told Arms Control Today in March that such monitoring would have detected large-scale resumption of prohibited weapons activities, including a “restart” of the nuclear weapons program and “industrial production of missiles.” Monitoring would not have stopped “small-scale cheating” in the case of chemical and biological weapons programs and might not have detected importation of missiles, he added.

In any case, the sanctions were largely effective at restraining Iraq’s weapons programs. Duelfer told the committee that the sanctions both constrained Iraq’s weapons-related imports and induced Hussein not to pursue WMD because such efforts would jeopardize his goal of getting the sanctions lifted.

The Weapons

Duelfer testified that Iraqi WMD “stocks do not exist,” despite occasional finds of pre-1991 chemical munitions. (See ACT, July/August 2004.) He also said that the ISG has found no evidence that WMD were transferred to other countries, a theory some administration officials have advanced.

In his testimony, Duelfer also discussed Hussein’s motives for pursuing illicit WMD, stating that the Iraqi leader believed that Baghdad’s chemical weapons saved it from defeat during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. Hussein further believed that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities deterred the United States from overthrowing his government after the Gulf War, Duelfer said, adding that the Iraqi leader also wanted to deter Iran in the future.

Despite the ISG’s findings, President George W. Bush has continued to defend the invasion. He stated Oct. 7 that Duelfer’s report proved that Hussein “retained the knowledge, the materials, the means and the intent to produce weapons of mass destruction.”

Bush administration officials, however, claimed numerous times before the invasion that Iraq actually possessed illicit weapons. Moreover, Duelfer’s testimony and report are more nuanced than Bush’s statement suggests. For example, Hussein appeared to have intentions to develop certain types of weapons but lacked the capabilities. In other cases, the Iraqi leader had some residual weapons capabilities but no evident intentions to make use of them.


According to the report, the ISG “found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the [nuclear] program” after 1991. Although Duelfer testified that “Saddam did not abandon his nuclear ambitions,” he said that Iraq’s ability to produce nuclear weapons and retain the relevant personnel were in “decay” as a result of the sanctions.

Duelfer also definitively refuted two elements of the Bush administration’s pre-war case that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. First, the ISG found no evidence that Iraq tried to procure uranium from other countries, instead learning that Iraq refused a private offer to help it obtain uranium from the Congo. Second, Duelfer testified that 81mm aluminum tubes Iraq was trying to import were solely for conventional rockets. The administration had argued that the tubes were likely to be used in centrifuges for enriching uranium. A July Senate Intelligence Committee report found the intelligence underlying both the uranium and tubes claims to be weak. (See ACT, September 2004.)


Iraq destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles in 1991, according to the report, but Hussein still intended “to resume a [chemical weapons] effort when sanctions were lifted.” Iraq was increasing its chemical production infrastructure, which provided “the inherent capability” to produce chemical weapons in the future, Duelfer said, adding that Iraq would have been able to produce mustard agent within “months” and nerve agent “in less than a year or two.” However, the ISG has not “come across explicit guidance from Saddam on this point,” Duelfer said, and there is no evidence that Iraq attempted to procure “precursor chemicals in bulk,” according to the report.

Duelfer also noted efforts by “anti-coalition forces” in Iraq to work with former regime chemical weapons experts, testifying that a “series of raids” uncovered efforts “to put chemical agent of various sorts into munitions.” He added that the ISG likely “contained [this] problem before it matured into a major threat.”


According to the report, Iraq “appears to have destroyed” its biological weapons and bulk weapons agent in 1991 and 1992. Although Baghdad maintained a research and development program until 1996, it then abandoned it. Since then, there appeared to be “a complete absence of discussion or even interest in [biological weapons] at the presidential level,” the report says.

The report asserts that “Iraq would have faced great difficulty in re-establishing an effective [biological weapons] agent production capability,” but it does say that Iraq possessed “significant dual-use capability” and scientific expertise. Baghdad also conducted research with potential weapons applications and could have “re-established an elementary” weapons program “within a few weeks to a few months.” However, there are “no indications” that it had plans to do so, the report says.

Duelfer told the committee that the ISG has found no evidence that Iraq possessed mobile biological agent production facilities—another claim the administration had advanced prior to the war. Expressing perhaps the most definitive judgment to date on two trailers discovered shortly after the invasion, Duelfer stated that “they have absolutely nothing to do with any biological weapons.” A May 2003 CIA report judged that the trailers were likely for weapons agent production.

Delivery Vehicles

Duelfer testified that Iraq was developing, with foreign assistance, missiles with ranges exceeding the UN-mandated 150-kilometer limit. However, the report states that Iraq only produced one type of prohibited missile, which Baghdad began destroying after UN inspectors ordered it to do so. Iraq was developing three other longer-range missile systems, the report says, but none were produced and “only one reportedly passed the design phase.” These systems were described in previous ISG reports. (See ACT, November 2003.)

Duelfer further stated that Iraq “drew the line” at developing WMD warheads for the missiles “so long as sanctions remained.” Duelfer noted that, prior to the Gulf War, Iraq built warheads containing biological and chemical agents within months. According to the report, Hussein distinguished between missiles and weapons of mass destruction, believing that the United Nations would allow greater ranges for the former if he eliminated the latter.

The ISG also resolved a long-standing question of whether Iraq retained Soviet-supplied Scud missiles after 1991. According to the report, there is “no evidence” Iraq did so.

Additionally, Duelfer told the committee that Iraq had tested unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges exceeding UN limits. He added, however, that these vehicles were not for delivering WMD—another administration pre-war claim. A September UN inspectors’ report found no evidence for the former claim but concurred with the latter. (See ACT, October 2004.)

The report’s findings are consistent with those of the UN inspectors, who returned to Iraq in November 2002 and remained until the invasion. The report does, however, describe WMD-related activities that the Iraqis failed to declare to the United Nations, such as several missile research programs and attempts to procure related materials.


The report also sheds some light on Iraq’s uneven cooperation with inspectors, who first worked in Iraq from 1991 until being withdrawn in 1998. According to the report, Hussein attempted “to cooperate with the [United Nations] and have sanctions lifted” while preserving “the ability to eventually reconstitute” the weapons.

For example, Baghdad turned over a large quantity of documents to the United Nations following top-WMD official Hussein Kamel’s 1995 defection and then ordered at least some Iraqi officials to cooperate with the inspectors. However, the documents proved that Iraq had previously deceived the inspectors, which “destroyed the international community’s confidence in the credibility of follow-on Iraqi declarations of cooperation,” the report says.

Indeed, the conflict between Iraq and the inspectors escalated as the latter continued to demand additional documents. “From this experience,” the report continues, “Iraq learned to equate cooperation with [the inspectors] with increased scrutiny, prolonged sanctions, and the threat of war.” Hussein eventually decided to undermine the sanctions because he believed that getting them lifted by complying with the UN resolutions was impossible, the report says.

Iraq, however, made a greater effort to comply with the inspections that resumed in 2002 than U.S. officials claimed at the time. For example, the report states that Baghdad instructed military leaders to “‘cooperate completely’ with the inspectors” because such cooperation was Iraq’s “best hope for sanctions relief.”

Additionally, Iraq did not attempt to intercept inspectors’ communications, as Washington claimed. Iraq did have minders accompanying the inspectors to prevent them from gathering intelligence, which Iraq believed they had done in the past, the report says. UN inspectors had cooperated closely with U.S. intelligence during the 1990s.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Security Council in early February 2003 that Iraq attempted tap the inspectors’ “communications.” A month later, he stated that “Hussein has issued new guidance to key officials saying everything possible must be done” to ensure inspectors did not find prohibited weapons.

The report may also explain some pre-war intelligence failures, revealing that Iraq often moved conventional military assets to hide them from potential attacks, but U.S. intelligence often assumed Iraq was actually moving illicit weapons.

Despite pre-war U.S. claims that inspections could not succeed because of Iraqi intransigence, the report states that, “contrary to expectations, [the] ISG’s ability to gather information was in most ways more limited” than the inspectors’ because of the destruction and looting of weapons sites, the increasingly dangerous insurgency, and the reluctance of WMD personnel to speak.