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– Wendy Sherman
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State
June 2, 2022
Three Years Later, Iraq Investigations Continue
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Paul Kerr

More than three years after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, several issues concerning Iraq’s illicit weapons programs remain unresolved. The congressional intelligence committees continue to review different aspects of U.S. pre-war intelligence concerning Iraq’s suspected nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs as well as how the information was used by officials. Meanwhile, the fate of the UN inspections commission tasked with overseeing Iraq’s disarmament remains uncertain.


Senate Investigates…

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence appears to be making some progress in completing the second phase of its investigation of pre-war U.S. intelligence on Iraq’s prohibited weapons programs. (See ACT , January/February 2006.)

The committee issued a report in July 2004 after completing the investigation’s first phase, which analyzed the intelligence community’s performance in assessing Iraq’s suspected illicit weapon programs. (See ACT, September 2004.) Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R- Kan.) publicly pledged in early 2005 to complete the investigation’s second phase, which concerns Bush administration officials’ role in obtaining and using intelligence on Iraq.

Accusing Roberts of stalling the investigation, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) forced debate on the matter in November 2005 by invoking a rarely used rule to halt Senate operations and bring the body into closed session. The two sides then formed a task force to develop a plan for completing the investigation.

Despite these efforts, committee members do not appear to have agreed on a plan to complete the investigation. Charging that the investigation is still proceeding too slowly, Reid stated March 3 that the committee has yet to interview “key” administration officials or review some essential documents.

Nevertheless, a committee spokesperson told Arms Control Today March 27 that the committee plans to adhere to a timetable that Roberts proposed March 14 for completing portions of the investigation by month’s end. The committee is to complete drafts summarizing its examination of three issues: the intelligence community’s pre-war assessments about the likely conditions in post-war Iraq, how pre-war intelligence assessments regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs compare with the results of postwar investigations, and the intelligence community’s use of intelligence provided by Iraqi exiles.

This timetable also sets April 5 as the deadline for a “preliminary draft” of a report evaluating the extent to which administration officials’ pre-war statements regarding Iraq’s suspected weapons programs and connections to the al Qaeda terrorist network were supported by the available intelligence.

The spokesperson did not anticipate that the committee would issue any public reports before late April.

Roberts did not set a date for completing work on one of the most controversial issues that the panel has been investigating: the role of the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) in Iraq-related intelligence activities. Roberts has indicated that the committee will not work on the issue because the Department of Defense inspector general is currently investigating the matter.

Responding to the proposal, committee Vice Chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.), said he welcomed Roberts’ “sense of urgency” in finally completing the investigation but added that considerable work remains, The Los Angeles Times reported March 15.

The precise nature of the dispute is unclear, but Democrats reportedly want to conduct a more thorough investigation by, for example, interviewing a larger number of administration officials. Additionally, Roberts indicated that Rockefeller wants reports on all aspects of the investigation sections to be released “simultaneously.”

…So Does the House

Shortly after the November Senate shutdown, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a plan for restarting that panel’s similar investigation. Committee chairman Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) rejected the proposal, arguing that such an investigation would be “redundant” with the Senate’s inquiry, the Associated Press reported.

The House investigation ended without public acknowledgement shortly after the committee’s leaders sent a September 2003 letter to CIA director George Tenet criticizing the intelligence community’s performance with respect to Iraq WMD issues. Harman stated in November that committee Republicans “shut down” the investigation.

Despite a June 2003 statement from Harman and then- Chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence Porter Goss (R-Fla.), the committee has never issued an unclassified summary of its findings.

Although the committee is not conducting a formal investigation of the Iraq issue, at least some committee staff members have investigated claims suggesting that Iraq hid or moved its prohibited weapons or related material.

Committee spokesperson Jamal Ware told the New York Sun Feb. 3 that Hoekstra “very much believes” that there are unanswered questions about the fate of Iraq’s illicit weapons, including the possibility that they were transferred to another country. Ware did not name any specific countries, but Hoekstra identified Syria as a possible candidate during a Feb. 7 interview on FOX News.

Ware told Arms Control Today March 22 that individual staff members have investigated the “veracity” of some of the claims. A few have come from Georges Sada, a former Iraqi general, who claims in a recent book, Saddam’s Secrets, that Iraq transferred WMD or related material to Syria.

Ware said that the committee also has had translations made of recordings of deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein discussing illicit weapons issues. There are no plans to release a report on the committee’s findings, he added.

Hoekstra has also championed the public release of Iraqi documents captured after the invasion, arguing that allowing the public to review them will accelerate the process of analyzing their contents. The United States has more than two million documents and “hours of recorded conversations,” Hoekstra stated Feb. 13. The office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte began releasing the documents March 16 but cautioned that the government “has made no determination regarding” their accuracy or authenticity.

None of this material appears to contradict the results of the Iraq Survey Group’s (ISG) investigation. The ISG, which was charged with coordinating the U.S.-led post-invasion weapons search, concluded that Iraq had no illicit weapons at the time of the invasion and found no evidence to substantiate reports suggesting that WMD-related materials had been transferred to Syria. (See ACT, June 2005.)

Whither UNMOVIC?

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council continues to debate the future of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Com mission (UNMOVIC).

Asked about a March 7 briefing from acting UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos to the council, an official told Arms Control Today that “there is a growing consensus” among council members “to wrap things up.” But certain countries, particularly the United States and Russia, continue to disagree about what, if any, role the commission should play in the future.

UN Security Council Resolution 687, which was adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, tasked the UN Special Commission (UN SCOM) and later UNMOVIC with verifying and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles exceeding UN-permitted ranges. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had a comparable role for Iraq’s nuclear weapons programs. The United Nations withdrew all of its inspectors in December 1998, but they returned in November 2002 with Iraq’s consent.

UNMOVIC inspectors have not been able to carry out on-the-ground inspections since leaving Iraq just before the March 2003 invasion.

The council adopted a resolution after the invasion stating its intention to “revisit” UNMOVIC’s mandate but has not yet done so.

Even establishing criteria for whether Iraq has met its disarmament obligations under the appropriate Security Council resolutions could well be complicated. Several relevant resolutions remain in force, and the Security Council has taken no action on the matter. (See ACT, April 2005.)

Russia wants a final report from UNMOVIC before the commission is disbanded. In a Feb. 20 interview with Rossiiskaya Gazeta, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov argued that the council cannot reach any conclusions about the status of Iraq’s former WMD programs based on the ISG report. The commission should instead analyze work done by the ISG, integrate the data with UNMOVIC’s previous findings, and submit its conclusions to the Security Council, he said.

Arguing that the unstable security situation in Iraq has increased the risk that Iraqi weapons or related material could fall into the hands of other countries or terrorist organizations, Lavrov also recommended that UNMOVIC implement measures to mitigate this risk. Iraq currently lacks even “elementary” safeguards, he said, citing the discovery of Iraqi weapons-related materials outside the country.

The fate of unsecured Iraqi weapons materials has been an issue of ongoing concern. Both UNMOVIC and the IAEA have previously issued reports stating that Iraqi WMD sites had been destroyed and that weapons-related equipment had disappeared.

Lavrov also said Feb. 20 that the council should examine the role of long-term monitoring in Iraq. UNSCOM and UNMOVIC were tasked with developing a long-term monitoring plan to thwart Iraq’s ability to reconstitute its illicit weapons programs. Lavrov also left open the possibility that UNMOVIC could conduct future inspections in Iraq.

On a related note, former National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia Paul Pillar reportedly told a Washington audience March 9 that pre-invasion intelligence assessments judged that, even if Hussein were overthrown, Iraq would likely try to develop weapons of mass destruction in order to deter potential threats from regional powers such as Iran and Israel.

Washington does not share Moscow’s enthusiasm for a final re port. Richard Grenell, spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the UN, told the New York Sun Feb. 7 that the Bush administration is “not sure that UNMOVIC needs to prepare a final report” or that the Security Council needs to “revisit the previous UNMOVIC mandate.” Additionally, John Bolton, U.S permanent representative to the UN, said that the United States is “eager” to abolish UNMOVIC, the Ku wait News Agency reported March 16.

Other members agree that UNMOVIC’s mission should end but want to devise a way to preserve the commission’s expertise, said an other UNMOVIC official.

Russia, in addition to pushing for the inspection body’s continued role in the country, wants Iraq to conclude an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement and sign the Chemical Weapons Convention to provide additional assurances that Iraq’s weapons-related materials are secure, Lavrov said.

An IAEA spokesperson told Arms Control Today March 22 that the agency has been discussing the conclusion of an additional protocol with Iraqi representatives. IAEA safeguards agreements allow the IAEA to monitor a nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty state-party’s nuclear activities and facilities to ensure they are not used for military purposes. Additional protocols are voluntary measures that augment the IAEA’s investigative authority.