Final Iraq Report Downplays Brain Drain

Paul Kerr

The CIA released its final account April 25 of the U.S.-led investigation of Iraq’s suspected weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs. Although the new material continues to support previous findings that Iraq did not possess prohibited weapons or active weapons programs, it highlights several “residual proliferation risks,” including missing Iraqi scientists and weapons-related equipment.

The recently released material supplements a September 2004 report from Charles Duelfer, the special adviser to the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which was charged with coordinating the weapons search after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. Duelfer’s report stated that Iraq had destroyed its nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and had not restarted any related programs at the time the war began. (See ACT, November 2004.)

Shortly after that report, the ISG, “due to security concerns,” stopped visiting sites formerly associated with Iraq’s illicit weapons programs, Duelfer wrote in a note accompanying the supplement’s release.

Duelfer said that the ISG is still conducting a “substantial effort” to evaluate documents related to Iraq’s weapons programs, but added that “it is not likely that significant surprises remain.”

Missing Personnel, Materials
The risk that Iraqi personnel with WMD expertise could go to work for insurgents, terrorists, or other governments is “an important concern,” according to Duelfer’s report. The ISG, however, apparently judges this risk to be low.

The supplement states that there is “only very limited reporting” that governments are attempting to recruit Iraqi WMD personnel and “no reports” that any have succeeded.

Additionally, the ISG is “aware of only one scientist” previously associated with Iraq’s weapons programs who has assisted terrorists or insurgents, the report says, adding that there are “multiple reports” of other Iraqis with “general chemical or biological expertise helping insurgents to build chemical or biological agents.”

However, insurgent efforts to obtain such weapons “have been limited and contained by coalition actions,” Duelfer’s note adds.

The magnitude of the potential threat from Iraqi weapons personnel is apparently difficult to discern. The report states that the total number of past participants in Iraq’s WMD programs is “impossible to quantify,” but describes the current “subset” of worrisome personnel as “numerically small” and “shrinking,” as their weapons skills continue to deteriorate.

Nevertheless, the report acknowledges that “one or two individuals with the right skills could make a significant impact in a WMD effort.”

According to an August 2004 Department of State report, U.S. programs to redirect Iraqi weapons personnel had identified “approximately 400-500” relevant individuals. A State Department official told Arms Control Today last October that these programs have the “overwhelming majority” of these personnel “identified and engaged.” (See ACT, November 2004.)

Duelfer’s report also states that the ISG found that weapons-related equipment and materials have gone missing from former Iraqi weapons sites. According to the report, such equipment “could contribute to insurgent or terrorist production of chemical or biological agents.”

As for Iraq’s former nuclear weapons program, Duelfer’s report states that at least some missing items could provide relevant information to a country attempting to acquire nuclear weapons. The report also warns that the new Iraqi government may have difficulty maintaining control over its dual-use nuclear equipment and materials.

UN inspectors have previously raised concerns about weapons-related materials escaping Iraq. (See ACT, April 2005.) Most recently, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei notified the UN Security Council in April that the agency has observed “significant dismantling and removal activities” at 37 relevant sites. The IAEA has identified 175 such sites and reviewed data on 141.

The IAEA was charged with enforcing Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its nuclear weapons program after the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The agency also conducted inspections in Iraq during the months prior to the 2003 invasion. However, the United States has refused to grant the IAEA broad access to sites formerly on its watch list.

Duelfer stated April 27 on PBS’s “Newshour with Jim Lehrer” that the proliferation risk from the missing weapons material and equipment is “fairly small,” adding that the equipment was removed for “economic reasons” rather than for export to another country.

The report also assesses that Iraqi and U.S.-led forces will likely continue to discover chemical weapons left over from Iraq’s pre-1991 stocks, but adds that such weapons “do not pose a militarily significant threat” because the chemical agents and munitions have degraded. Insurgents have attacked coalition forces with two chemical weapons since 2003, the report says. (See ACT, July/August 2004.)

Duelfer’s supplement also addresses speculation that prohibited Iraqi weapons or related materials may have been moved to Syria. (See ACT, November 2003.) Duelfer stated April 27 that the ISG had found no evidence to substantiate intelligence reports suggesting that “suspicious materials” had been transferred to that country. Although he acknowledged that the ISG had been unable to investigate “a few leads,” Duelfer argued that “someone would have told something to us” if such a transfer had taken place.