"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018

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.)



IRAQ INTELLIGENCE FAILURES: Senate Panel Blasts Pre-War Intelligence

September 2004

By Paul Kerr

A Senate Intelligence Committee report released this summer critiquing the failure of the intelligence community to accurately portray Iraq’s pre-war weapons programs centered on a faulty October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE).

The NIE had stated that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and, perhaps most worrying, was “reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.” In its more than 500-page July 9 report, the committee found that these judgments “either overstated, or were not supported by, the underlying intelligence reporting.” An NIE is supposed to be the entire intelligence community’s most authoritative assessment of a given subject.

Although the estimate contained numerous qualifiers and caveats, the panel report concluded that the intelligence community “did not accurately or adequately explain to policymakers the uncertainties behind the judgments.” The committee also faulted the CIA for sometimes failing to pay sufficient attention to other intelligence agencies’ dissenting views.

The report noted that the intelligence community was hampered by its lack of human intelligence sources in Iraq, arguing that the agency “relied too heavily on UN inspectors” who were in Iraq from 1991 until 1998. After the inspectors left, the United States had no human intelligence sources in the country familiar with Baghdad’s suspected weapons programs and, as a result, had to rely on unreliable defectors and foreign intelligence services, as well as other forms of intelligence.

According to the report, the intelligence collection problems were compounded by “a collective presumption” among intelligence officials that Iraq possessed prohibited weapons and related programs. This belief, reinforced by Iraq’s past weapons programs and efforts to conceal them, led these officials to “interpret ambiguous evidence” as conclusive proof of weapons efforts “as well as ignore or minimize” contrary evidence.

The committee’s review, which began in June 2003, is not yet complete. The second phase of the review will address such issues as the nature of intelligence activities conducted by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, as well as whether policymakers’ public statements concerning the Iraqi threat were supported by intelligence reporting. (See ACT, March 2004.)

The extent to which administration officials’ judgments were influenced by the NIE remains unclear. For example, Vice President Dick Cheney stated prior to the NIE’s completion that Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons and was developing nuclear weapons. Moreover, it was Congress, not the executive branch, that requested the NIE in September 2002.

According to the report, the committee found no evidence that administration officials attempted to “pressure analysts to change their judgments related to Iraq’s weapons…capabilities.” But three Democratic Senators noted in an “additional view” to the report that administration officials put “pressure” on intelligence analysts with their pre-NIE statements regarding Baghdad’s suspected illicit weapons and by “repetitively tasking” them to “revise their analytical judgments,” the committee said.

Acting Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin took issue with the notion that the NIE unduly influenced policymakers to support the invasion. He acknowledged in a July 14 appearance on CNN that the NIE’s “Key Judgments” were not adequately qualified, but also argued that “anyone who read this document from cover to cover would find in it ample material for serious debate.”

Nuclear Weapons

The NIE’s main judgments regarding Iraq’s nuclear weapons program had been debunked well before the invasion. In particular, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei reported to the UN Security Council approximately two weeks before the war that the inspectors had “found no evidence” that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

Uranium Imports

Bush administration officials claimed on several occasions that Iraq was attempting to acquire lightly processed uranium from African countries such as Niger. This was considered important because Baghdad’s lack of fissile material was viewed as one of the most serious obstacles to its ability to produce nuclear weapons.

The committee faulted the CIA for failing to obtain and examine the documents detailing the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger until well after they became available. This delay led to continued agency assessments that Iraq was trying to procure uranium from Africa, despite the fact that analysts in the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) believed as early as October 2002 that the documents were likely inauthentic. ElBaradei told the Security Council March 7, 2003, that the documents describing a suspected Iraq-Niger uranium deal were forged. The CIA issued a report four days later concurring with this assessment.

The committee concluded that the NIE “overstated what the intelligence community knew about Iraq’s possible procurement attempts.” The NIE stated that Iraq had been “vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” from African countries, including Niger. The NIE contained a dissenting opinion to this assessment from the INR, which termed reports of Iraq’s uranium procurement efforts “highly dubious.” The intelligence community also had evidence that other factors, such as an international consortium’s control of Niger’s uranium industry, made it unlikely that Niger would transfer uranium to Iraq. Several inquiries from U.S. officials also found scant evidence that such a deal was discussed.

Moreover, the INR dissent was dropped from some subsequent reports, including a CIA analysis of Iraq’s UN-mandated December 2002 declaration of its weapons programs. These omissions happened even though then-Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet previously told both Congress and the White House of doubts the CIA had about the reports’ accuracy.


In the run-up to war, administration officials also cited the NIE’s assessment that Iraq was attempting to obtain aluminum tubes and magnets for use in a gas centrifuge-based uranium-enrichment program. They downplayed dissenting opinions from INR and the Department of Energy, which believed the tubes were for use in conventional rockets.

The committee concluded that “the information available to the Intelligence Community indicated that these tubes were intended to be used for an Iraqi conventional rocket program and not a nuclear program.” ElBaradei also reported in March 2003 that there was no evidence that Iraq was procuring the tubes for anything other than rockets.

The report is especially critical of the CIA’s analysis of this issue. For example, it states that the CIA erred when it assessed that “the dimensions of the aluminum tubes match those of a publicly available gas centrifuge design from the 1950s.” Additionally, the agency’s “initial reporting” of tests conducted on similar tubes to determine their suitability for centrifuges was “misleading and, in some cases, incorrect,” according to the report.

The committee also concluded that intelligence showed Iraq was trying to obtain magnets, but the intelligence “did not suggest that the materials were intended to be used in a nuclear program.” ElBaradei reported a similar conclusion to the Security Council.


The administration claimed that former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was meeting with top nuclear weapons experts and that Iraq maintained the scientific know-how to produce nuclear weapons.

The committee report states that intelligence showed that Iraq had kept its nuclear personnel “trained and in positions that could keep their skills intact for eventual use in a reconstituted nuclear program” but adds that this intelligence did not show a “recent increase in activity,” suggesting that Iraq was reconstituting the program.

The report also says that the intelligence did not indicate the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission “was engaged in nuclear weapons-related work.”


Bush said in an October 2002 speech that Iraq was reconstructing buildings at sites where its nuclear weapons facilities had previously been located.

The NIE assessed that the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission was “expanding the infrastructure—research laboratories, production facilities, and procurement networks—to produce nuclear weapons,” but the committee concluded that this claim was “not supported by the intelligence.”

In March 2003, ElBaradei told the Security Council that “[t]here is no indication of resumed nuclear activities in those buildings that were identified…as being reconstructed or newly erected since 1998.”

Chemical and Biological Weapons
In addition, the report concluded that two important NIE assessments concerning Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programs were inaccurate. These assessments were included in the report’s “Key Judgments” section.

The first is the assessment that “Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons.” The report says this conclusion “overstated both what was known and what intelligence analysts judged about Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons holdings.” Although the intelligence community had evidence, such as Iraq’s procurement of dual-use materials and its failures fully to account for its past weapons stockpiles, that could lead analysts reasonably to infer that Baghdad possessed chemical and biological weapons, it “did not have enough information to state with certainty that Iraq ‘has’ these weapons.”

The second is the judgment that “all key aspects—[research and development], production, and weaponization—of Iraq’s offensive [biological weapons] program are active and…more advanced than they were before the [Persian] Gulf War.” The report also concludes that this assessment “was not supported by the underlying intelligence.”

The committee report revealed that most of the intelligence underlying the NIE’s statement that “Baghdad has mobile transportable facilities for producing…biological weapons agents” came from unreliable Iraqi defectors. Intelligence analysts were concerned about these facilities because they could enable Iraq to conceal its biological weapons activities more easily.

In addition, the underlying intelligence reports regarding dry biological agents only indicated that Iraq either had or was attempting to acquire dual-use equipment that could be used for this purpose. Dry biological agents are more easily dispersed and handled than liquid biological agents.

Furthermore, the NIE’s judgment that Iraq had increased its stockpile of chemical weapons was based on flawed interpretations of the available data. For example, analysts judged that Iraq had increased its chemical stockpiles on the basis of reports that Iraq had been moving chemical munitions. However, these reports were based on the fact that tanker trucks were spotted at suspected chemical munitions sites. Although these trucks could be used as decontamination vehicles—a possible sign that chemical weapons are being moved—they could also be used for fire control.

UN inspectors also had told the Security Council prior to the invasion that there was no evidence that Baghdad had restarted its chemical and biological weapons programs.

Delivery Vehicles
The report concluded that the NIE’s assessments of Iraq’s development and possible retention of prohibited missiles were supported by the available intelligence. However, the report found that the NIE’s assessment that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) “probably intended to deliver biological warfare agents” 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.

Powell’s UN Speech
The report also discussed the intelligence behind Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 2003 speech before the Security Council, which argued that Iraq continued to hide weapons from inspectors. (See ACT, March 2003.) Several pieces of intelligence in Powell’s presentation have proven inaccurate.

INR reviewed Powell’s presentation, although the CIA was the agency directly involved in composing it. Most but not all of the material to which INR objected was removed. For example, Powell told the council that Iraqi officials were moving “key files”…in cars “to avoid detection,” a claim INR analysts labelled “highly questionable.”


Senate Panel Blasts Pre-War Intelligence

IRAQ INTELLIGENCE FAILURES: "Serious Flaws" Found in British Dossier

September 2004

By Scott Stinson

The British intelligence on Iraq’s weapons capabilities used to justify the March 2003 invasion contained “serious flaws,” according to a committee charged with reviewing the assessments.

The committee, appointed by Prime Minister Tony Blair, released a July 14 report that details findings from its five-month investigation into the accuracy of British intelligence on prohibited Iraqi weapons programs prior to March 2003; any discrepancies between that intelligence and information gathered after the conflict; and, more generally, British intelligence coverage of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) trade in countries of concern.

Chaired by Lord Robin Butler, a former Blair cabinet member, the committee analyzed assessments made by the executive branch’s Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). Those assessments formed the backbone of a September 2002 dossier that publicly underlined the British government’s case for “stronger action” against Iraq.

In its conclusions, the committee faulted “over-reliance” on questionable human intelligence sources, arguing that the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) failed to appropriately scrutinize and validate reports from human intelligence sources. The committee also criticized British officials for not clarifying the limitations and caveats of intelligence included in the dossier.

In one of the more politically charged conclusions, the committee criticized the claim included in the 2002 dossier that Iraq could deploy chemical and biological weapons within 45 minutes of an order to do so. The committee commented that the 45-minute claim should not have been included without significant clarification. As it was written in the dossier, the claim “later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character,” the committee said. The 45-minute claim took center stage in the controversy surrounding the suicide of David Kelly, an arms expert drafting the dossier who reportedly told the BBC he had been ordered to include the 45-minute claim by an aide to Blair.

The committee found “no evidence of deliberate distortion” of JIC reports by government officials but did criticize the process by which the 2002 dossier was drafted. It questioned whether the JIC should have had responsibility for producing the document.

“More weight was placed on the intelligence than it could bear,” the committee stated.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Blair said that the Butler report was the fourth inquiry to show the government acted in “good faith” in gathering intelligence and making its case for war. But, he admitted, “the evidence of Saddam [Hussein’s] WMD was indeed less certain, less well-founded than was stated at the time.”

Blair’s opponents in Parliament argued the report demonstrates the prime minister’s government is no longer credible. Frustrated that no blame was assigned to an individual, they called the inquiry the “no blame” report.

"Serious Flaws" Found in British Dossier

IRAQ INTELLIGENCE FAILURES: Australian Intelligence Reviewed

September 2004

By Scott Stinson

A recent investigation into Australia’s intelligence agencies asserts that Australia’s intelligence organizations “failed to judge accurately the extent and nature” of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs before the 2003 war, but commends Australian analysts for exercising more skepticism than their British or American counterparts.

The Australian Inquiry, a committee charged with evaluating the effectiveness of the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC), released its final report July 20, marking the third review in less than a month to analyze pre-war intelligence gathering and assessment. The Inquiry followed similar reviews conducted by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and the Butler Committee in the United Kingdom. According to the Australian report, the intelligence used to generate international support for the March 2003 invasion of Iraq “was thin, ambiguous, and incomplete.”

However, the Inquiry, which was requested by Prime Minister John Howard and headed by former intelligence official Phillip Flood, praised the AIC for having applied “healthy skepticism” to individual pieces of intelligence. On the whole, AIC issued assessments that were “more cautious and seem closer to the facts as we know them” than assessments made by U.S. and British intelligence agencies, according to the Inquiry’s final document, the Flood report.

Nonetheless, Kevin Rudd, a spokesperson for the opposition Labor Party, used the Flood report to criticize Howard for leading Australia to war in Iraq based on inadequate, second-hand intelligence from the United States and the United Kingdom.

“A core failing brought out by this report is that he [Howard] didn’t make sure the intelligence agencies were properly resourced to give an independent, Australian view of all this foreign product,” Rudd said in a July 23 radio interview.

Meanwhile, Howard defended his decision to go to war in a series of public interviews. On a televised news program, he said, “The balance of probabilities supported the argument that Saddam [Hussein] did have weapons of mass destruction.”

Howard also denied claims that Australian, U.S., and British officials lied about the pre-war intelligence. “At no stage did we mislead the Australian public. At no stage did we manufacture intelligence, at no stage did we heavy intelligence agencies,” he said in a radio address.

The Inquiry did not support accusations that government officials purposely or inappropriately influenced AIC conclusions before the war but did issue several recommendations to enhance Australia’s intelligence capabilities, including the creation of a committee to coordinate and monitor activities of the six AIC agencies. Howard moved quickly to adopt almost all of the recommendations.

Since 2001, the Australian government has increased total intelligence funding by 88 percent and authorized a 44 percent increase in the number of intelligence staff members. Still, according to the Inquiry, the total Australian intelligence budget represents roughly just one percent of the total funds available for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Australian Intelligence Reviewed

Iraqi Nuclear Materials Secured

Paul Kerr

Fifteen months after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the United States has removed nuclear material from the country that posed a potential proliferation threat, Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham announced July 6.

Department of Energy experts packaged 1.77 metric tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU), as well as approximately “1,000 highly radioactive sources,” according to a press release. The Department of Defense then airlifted the material, which had been stored at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, to the United States on June 23.

The material could “potentially [have been] used in a radiological dispersal device or diverted to support a nuclear weapons program,” according to an Energy Department press release. A radiological weapon uses conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material but is not nearly as powerful as a nuclear weapon. LEU can be used in civilian nuclear reactors but also can be further enriched for use as the explosive material in nuclear weapons.

The Tuwaitha facility has long been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and subject to agency safeguards. The United States informed the IAEA June 30 that it had removed the material, IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in a July 6 letter to the UN Security Council.

National Nuclear Security Administration spokesperson Bryan Wilkes told Arms Control Today Aug. 19 that the United States consulted senior IAEA officials and received no objections to the transaction. The United States first notified the agency of its intention to remove the material in June 2003, ElBaradei’s letter said.

Meanwhile, the IAEA conducted its annual inventory of Iraq’s nuclear material at Tuwaitha, the agency announced Aug. 7. Such inspections are separate from those the IAEA conducted to enforce UN Security Council resolutions requiring Iraq to dismantle its suspected nuclear weapons program. The IAEA last visited Tuwaitha in June 2003, following reports that nuclear material had been looted from the facility after the U.S.-led invasion of the country in March 2003. (See ACT, July/August 2003.)

IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming stated that no nuclear material had been diverted from Tuwaitha since that inspection, Reuters reported Aug. 7. The remaining material, which mostly consists of natural uranium, depleted uranium, and LEU waste, “is not sensitive from a proliferation perspective,” according to an Aug. 7 IAEA press release.

ElBaradei said that this inspection was “a good first step” and expressed hope that the IAEA and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) would be able to complete their UN-mandated missions. However, UN and U.S. officials told Arms Control Today that there is no indication that either UNMOVIC or the IAEA will resume their intrusive inspections work anytime soon, particularly in light of the unstable security situation in Iraq.

Senate Intelligence Committee Report Overlooks Handling of Iraq Intelligence and UN Inspectors' Findings



For Immediate Release: July 9, 2004

Contacts: Daryl Kimball at (202) 463-8270 x107, Paul Kerr at (202) 463-8270 x102

(Washington, D.C.): Intelligence and arms control experts said today that new findings detailing the past errors in assessing Iraq's weapons capabilities do not exonerate the Bush administration, which bears ultimate responsibility for exaggerating the Iraqi threat and for discarding the UN inspections that had effectively contained Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs.

"The erroneous judgments delivered by the CIA and other intelligence agencies about Iraq's alleged nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs do not excuse the president and senior administration officials for misrepresenting U.S. intelligence and for ignoring contrary findings by UN weapons inspectors in order to justify toppling the Iraqi dictator," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.

"The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report released today does not adequately address senior Bush administration officials' handling of the intelligence information they received, reports that raw intelligence from unreliable sources was fed to the White House, or why the president and his advisors ignored evidence contradicting the worst-case assessments of Iraq's weapons capabilities," Kimball charged.

"According to the Senate Committee on Intelligence findings, the intelligence community knew as early as October 2002 that the document on which the claim that Iraq had tried to acquire uranium from Africa was based on a forgery," Kimball said. "The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy registered their strong objection to the claim in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate that Iraq had obtained aluminum tubes for the purpose of enriching uranium, but the president and his advisors failed to heed these clear warnings that the worst-case assessments were wrong."

"U.S. policymakers and intelligence agencies also failed to take into consideration on-the-ground intelligence gathered after UN inspectors returned to Iraq on November 27, 2002 after a nearly four-year absence. The inspectors' findings should have led to a reconsideration of U.S. intelligence assessments made in the fall of 2002, but they didn't," said Kimball.

"Within one month of the return of UN inspectors in November 2002, we were actually getting information which resolved a lot of the prudent concerns that the intelligence community had about activity at sites previously associated with chemical weapons or nuclear weapons production," Greg Thielmann noted in an ACA press briefing earlier this year. Thielmann retired in September 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.

Thielmann added: "Almost without exception, those worst-case suspicions were found to be in error by taking a look at the equipment, by talking to people on the ground, by comparing things that the inspectors had seen before but had been blind to for a period of four years."

In the lead-up to the March 2003 invasion, UN weapons inspectors could not find evidence of either active weapons programs or stockpiles of prohibited chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons and were dismantling ballistic missiles that exceeded UN-mandated range limits. Although the inspectors could not account for discrepancies in Iraq's declaration of its previous programs and stockpiles, chief inspector Hans Blix warned in February 2003 against equating unaccounted-for stockpiles with existing weapons.

"By the end of January 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency had already delivered an interim judgment that the aluminum tubes account of the administration was incorrect. In February, a full month before the U.S. invasion, they arrived at a definitive judgment the aluminum tubes were not going into the nuclear weapons program, and that documents alleging that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger 'were not authentic,'" Thielmann noted.

"In addition, by the beginning of February, just after Colin Powell's presentation to the UN, Blix contested other U.S. charges concerning chemical and biological weapons, but U.S. officials ignored the information," noted Kimball.

Though the major U.S. claims were clearly in doubt, President George W. Bush told the American people on March 17, 2003 that: "Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised."

"Since the war, Bush administration officials have claimed that the invasion was necessary because Saddam Hussein could have quickly reconstituted his illegal weapons programs. This assertion ignores the fact that UN-mandated weapons inspections had already effectively contained Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile capabilities and would have continued to do so if the president had not prematurely ended them," Kimball said.

As Hans Blix said in an interview published in the July issue of Arms Control Today, "If inspections had continued...[UN inspectors] would have been able to go to all sites suggested to us by intelligence...and since there weren't any weapons, we wouldn't have found any...and I think that ought to have shaken the intelligence agencies...to say 'Sorry, but...our sources were bad.'"

"The Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq. Some of the fault lies with the performance of the intelligence community, but most of it lies with the way senior officials misused the information they were provided," Thielmann said.

"Intelligence is meant to inform government decision-making, not to be invoked or discarded selectively to justify predetermined political decisions. The unjustified claims of the Bush administration on Iraq's illicit weapons capabilities have severely damaged the credibility of the U.S. government and the U.S. intelligence community," said Kimball.

# # #

The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

For the full transcript of the Hans Blix interview see <www.armscontrol.org/interviews/20040619_Blix.asp> and for other Iraq-related resources, visit <www.armscontrol.org/country/iraq/>.

Country Resources:

UN: Iraqi Weapons Sites Looted

Paul Kerr

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, sites associated with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs have been destroyed, and Iraqi missile engines have turned up in Europe, according to a May 28 report from the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). The report states that “recent satellite imagery” shows that a number of sites in Iraq containing equipment and materials that could be used to produce illicit weapons “have been either cleaned out or destroyed.”

The report does not rule out the possibility that Hussein’s government removed the material, stating that “[i]t is not known whether such equipment and materials were still present at the sites during the time of coalition action in March and April of 2003.” The report adds, however, that “it is possible that some of the materials may have been removed from Iraq by looters of sites and sold as scrap.”

UN Security Council resolutions adopted after the 1991 Persian Gulf War tasked the United Nations Special Commission—UNMOVIC’s predecessor—with inspecting and supervising the destruction of Iraq’s prohibited weapons. UN weapons inspectors have not been able to carry out on-the-ground inspections since leaving Iraq just before the invasion began in March 2003. That role has been taken over by the U.S.-led Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which has refused to share its results with UNMOVIC, despite repeated public appeals by UNMOVIC Executive Chairman Demetrius Perricos and other officials. Still, UNMOVIC has continued a limited investigation using other means and by sifting through its existing data.

The report echoes an April letter from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the UN Security Council. ElBaradei wrote that commercial satellite imagery revealed “extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances…entire buildings” from Iraqi nuclear facilities. The IAEA had a mandate similar to UNMOVIC’s, but limited to Iraq’s nuclear-related sites. (See ACT, May 2004.)

UNMOVIC, along with the IAEA, is continuing to investigate the fate of the missing material. The report reveals that, through IAEA investigators’ photographs taken at a scrap yard in Rotterdam, UNMOVIC has discovered missile engines that were used both in Iraq’s SA-2 surface-to-air missiles and its prohibited surface-to-surface al Samoud missiles. Iraq was in the process of destroying the al Samoud missiles when the invasion began.

The total number of missing engines is unknown. The report says that between five and 12 “similar engines…had been seen in the yard in January and February,” adding that “more engines could have…passed through the scrap yard unnoticed.” UNMOVIC experts compared one engine’s serial number against the commission’s database and found that the engine had been under UNMOVIC monitoring. UNMOVIC personnel visited the scrap yard in April.

The IAEA was investigating the discovery of a small amount of lightly refined uranium ore found in a shipment of scrap metal that was sent to the Rotterdam scrap yard. Agency investigators first visited the site in January and have made several additional visits since then.

UNMOVIC spokesperson Ewen Buchanan told Arms Control Today June 22 that commission experts found 20 more SA-2 engines at scrap yards in Jordan, along with other dual-use equipment that had been under UNMOVIC monitoring. Commission experts also found other items in the Rotterdam scrap yard made of “dual-use materials,” the May report explained.

UNMOVIC is also evaluating Iraq’s efforts to acquire prohibited weapons items and materials between December 1998 and November 2002, when UN inspectors were absent from Iraq. The Bush administration argued before the invasion that Iraq was reconstituting its WMD programs through illicit procurement. Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf stated June 15 that “Iraq was procuring, and positioning itself to develop WMD capabilities on the bedrock of previously established programs.”

The report reveals that Iraq acquired some items and used them in its prohibited missile programs. (See ACT, November 2003.) Additionally, Iraq acquired “a variety of dual-use” items and materials for possible use in biological or chemical weapons programs, but there is “no evidence” that Iraq actually used the materials for weapons purposes. Although some of these items were acquired through illicit channels, Iraq eventually declared most of them to UNMOVIC. Some of these declarations, however, were “misleading,” the report says.

In June 22 remarks to a nonproliferation conference organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Perricos raised questions about the fate of the ISG after the scheduled June 30 handover of power in Iraq from U.S. occupation authorities to a transitional Iraqi government.

“There’s no idea of what will happen after June 30, under whose authority and under whose supervision,” he said.

Perricos observed that the most recent UN resolution concerning Iraq reaffirmed the Security Council’s decision to revisit UNMOVIC’s role in continuing to ensure Iraq’s disarmament and an accounting of its prewar programs.

New Weapons Discovery

Charles Duelfer, the CIA’s chief adviser to the ISG, told FOX News June 24 that the group has found “10 or 12” artillery shells containing either sarin nerve agent or mustard agent. Duelfer said the shells date back to the 1991 Gulf War, FOX News reported.

Iraq produced both mustard and sarin prior to the Gulf War but never provided UN arms inspectors with a complete accounting of these agents. The ISG found a single artillery round filled with sarin in May, but the shell was rigged as an improvised explosive device, which made it ineffective as a chemical weapon. (See ACT, June 2004.)





Getting it Right the Next Time: An ACT Interview with Hans Blix

 Interviewed by Miles Pomper, Paul Kerr, and Daryl Kimball.

 Hans Blix, former executive chairman of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke with Arms Control Today June 19. He shared his insights on nonproliferation and disarmament issues as well as his account of the momentous events leading to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Some interview excerpts follow. (For a complete transcript please click here)


The Need for Further Disarmament Steps

One of my strong feelings is that we need to get back to dynamic work on the disarmament agenda. I find it so politically puzzling that we have not been moving on this agenda. We were celebrating and recollecting the Reagan era, and Mr. [Mikhail] Gorbachev was here in Washington and recalled the ambitions that they had, to do away with nuclear weapons. I was at the opening of the Cold War, and indeed the end of the Cold War was the greatest thing that has happened for disarmament. Tensions drive armament, and the de-tension, détente, helps to promote disarmament. And it did. Indeed, much has happened. You see the dismantling of weapons, and it’s nice that the problem is rather how to do away with plutonium [more] than anything else.

However, there still remains the fact that this disarmament process [the UN Conference on Disarmament] has stalled in Geneva for a number of years. There are, to my knowledge, no big territorial or ideological issues at stake between great powers and continents or blocs, if there are any blocs any longer. We shall see, of course, more civil wars; we shall see more regional conflict in the world, but we do not see over the horizon any conflict between the blocs, and that being so, it is puzzling that we are stuck in the big disarmament process. A relaunching of the disarmament process would inject a new atmosphere. I’m not going so far as to contend that it would affect the North Korean situation or Iranian situation, but there would be a new atmosphere. It’s hard to work up a great enthusiasm…among the non-nuclear-weapon states at a time when you see a strong reluctance on the part of the [United States] at any rate to move ahead with the big issues that are stuck.

On North Korea, Iran, and Pakistan

I’m probably known to the world mostly as an inspector, and I had that function at the IAEA. But I always felt that the first barrier to proliferation is the political one, and sometimes I feel that, in the arms control community, we tend to look at all these technical fixes and the control of this material, and that’s fine—I’m not against all that. But let us look at what is the basic thing that drives countries to go for nuclear weapons or get more of them: it is security concerns. When you look at Iran; or you look at Israel; or you look at India, Pakistan, Iraq, certainly North Korea, you have to see what are the perceived security concerns they have.

In the case of North Korea, I think it’s absolutely clear that they have that concern. They have been talking about a nonaggression pact, using language that we had around the Stalinist period, and we laugh a little at it. But when you look at what they want, it seems to me that they want an assurance that their borders are inviolable, and I don’t see that that part of the problem should be very difficult. I don’t see anyone who wants to invade North Korea because the problems of taking care of them would be very great.

The other side of the Korean thing may be the more difficult part of establishing inspection, verification, which must be sufficiently far reaching, and you only ever talk about nuclear issues. What about biological and chemical and missiles in North Korea? In Iraq [biological and chemical weapons were] not that irrelevant, but when you come to North Korea, you have the feeling that no one talks at all about it. So, inspection I think will be important and it raises special difficulties in a country so hermetically closed as North Korea. But what must drive them a lot is an almost paranoic feeling that they have no friends. They used to have the Russians, and they had the Chinese, etcetera, and they felt stronger earlier. But today, they feel on insecure grounds, and I don’t think this guarantee should be a difficult one to give.

Therefore, I think that it is right to zero in on the six-party talks and on their demand for a guarantee on inviolability. And when we talk about their demand for oil and for food, etcetera, I [would] see if this can be [done], not as a humanitarian prop-up, but for an evolution of North Korea into a more viable [state]. If North Korea is to have a peaceful exit, what I would like to see would be that the outside assistance, which they no doubt will ask for, be geared toward an economic development in which they will come over in the Chinese direction. Not simply helping them not starve for the next period, but actually leading them somewhere.

Clearly, Iran is [in] an area equipping itself with weapons. You had of course first Israel. But Iran must also be aware that Iraq will now be a sovereign state, and although I hope that there will be effective verification remaining in Iraq after sovereignty is supposed to pass to it, nevertheless the technical know-how still remains in Iraq. And I’ve seen the holes in the Bushehr reactors, which the Iraqis shot with some Exocet rockets in the past. So, I imagine this will also figure in their [Iran’s] thinking.

And while I approve of the diplomatic efforts of the European states,[1] which are also coordinated with the [United States], I think that they must not lose sight of the larger political approach to détente in the Middle East. It seems very far away, and I’m not naïve, and I know it’s not happening tomorrow. However, it has been conspicuous all the time that all the states in that region support the notion of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Israel does, and so does Iran…and if one were to tackle the central problem of the Middle East, the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, I think it will also prove easier to tackle the issues of weapons of mass destruction. I’m not at all against the Europeans’ initiative, but I think in all these cases, we need to remember the political dimension.

The [United States] doesn’t have much by way of economic relations with Iran today, but in Europe they do. That should hover in the background. If you begin to brandish them, then it may be counterproductive, especially when you’re talking in the case of Iran. Yes I agree, they have not been forthright, they have not been open, their lack of transparency increases the suspicion—all of that I agree with.

At the same time, when one asks them to renounce or suspend their enrichment capacity, I think one also has to remember there’s a certain pride in these things and [in] technological prowess. I have heard it said, “Why should Iran have nuclear power, they have oil?” No one asked that question when the shah was about to launch a huge [nuclear] project. I think this nuclear technology is part of the feeling that, yes, we are also able to do the most advanced modern technology.

On Nuclear Power and Proliferation

I’m a strong proponent of nuclear power, I’m not against it. Not least today, when we are seeing attacks on pipelines in Iraq and when we have a feeling that terrorist movements are trying to scare away Western technicians or Westerners from Saudi Arabia. Then we are getting into a situation that may be similar to the past fear of a cutting off of supplies of oil. And we should be reminded then that with nuclear power you can at least reduce the reliance upon oil somewhat, not that much, but this is one of the most significant ways of doing it for electricity. In [the] long term, if we were to make use of fuel cell cars, instead of gasoline-powered cars, the hydrogen could be produced with the help of nuclear power.

I do not mind countries like India, certainly a huge country, going for nuclear power. I think that’s desirable. But it also leads me to be an even stronger advocate of nonproliferation and of safety in the operation of reactors and the disposal of waste.

We do have quite a number of non-nuclear-weapon states that have enrichment: Brazil, South Africa, Japan, of course. If we are asking that no one else do it, I don’t think that it can be a hard or fast rule. You may have a country that would develop very fast into using nuclear power much more. And I think it would have to be an arrangement on which you can have some flexibility. Suppose that Ukraine for instance, which has a lot of nuclear power, if they would also go for enrichment. Then I don’t see any absolute obstacle why that should not be so. At the present time, we have licensed five nuclear-weapon states. Should we now license a few more for enrichment, and that’s the end of it? That’s a rigidity. I think we need some sort of flexibility in that for the future.

On Inspections and Intelligence

Recently, I’ve been trying to explain how far can you come with inspection, how useful is it? When Mr. [Vice President Dick] Cheney said, for instance, that the inspections are useless at best and instead [the administration relied on] defectors, he clearly went wrong.

On the other hand, I think it’s also risky to say that inspection is the key. Don’t underestimate it, don’t overestimate it. They are like search machines. They have their merits, and they have their limitations. The great merit is that they can go into any place legally, they can be entitled to go in, and especially with the [IAEA] Additional Protocol,[2] so you can go much further than before. You have the right to have access to the information, to people, to documents, etcetera. But they also have their limitations, they cannot go around the country. For that, they need to have information.

Now what can we do then, with an organization like UNMOVIC? Yes, I would be in favor of a modified mandate that would allow it to continue with a broadened base that could be used ad hoc by the [UN] Security Council. It is not a very expensive item for the moment. They are managing on leftovers from the oil-for-food [program],[3] and that will last for a while. But they will need a budget. And the beauty of it is that they are not dependent upon a standing group or standing army of inspectors. Rather, we had the roster system set up for a different reason: that you were not allowed to go in.[4] And so we created a roster system, we train people, they work at home, and they are available like an international reserve that can go in. And it is very economic, they are given the refresher courses, and they learn the latest techniques. So, with a relatively low cost you could have a reserve for some inspection.

Let me say something more about intelligence and merging or mixing it with the inspection. This is fundamental. We know now, after the Iraqi affair, that international inspectors under the authority of the Security Council or the board of the IAEA came to conclusions that were closer to reality than what the intelligence agencies did. There are a couple of reasons that helped us on the [inspectors] side. One was that we had the Security Council as our master. The Security Council did not push us or breathe down our neck to come into any particular conclusions. They just said, “You do your professional work, and you report accurately to us.” Intelligence agencies clearly felt there was an expectation that they would come up with something that pointed to the direction of the existence of the weapons because their executive branch of the government wanted that, both in the [United States] and in the [United Kingdom].

The other [factor] was the international civil servants concept, which is strong in the [United Nations] and the IAEA. You are there to assemble facts, and submit that to a political level. You are not part of the policymaking. I was very clear to the Security Council that I am not advising what you are to do. I simply am responsible for our job of collecting the data and giving it to you.

In the national governments, I think there has been a risk of the blurring, whether we see it, not only in this particular sphere, but we see of course in many areas where government, executive branch, in the policymaking and selling it to the public, will want to create their own reality. And they repeat again and again the same thing of questionable factual value, and it turns it into virtual reality. I think you might say Iraq is a case where eventually the virtual reality collided with old-fashioned, real reality.

So, [we need to retain] this distinction. Not doing away with intelligence data—they have their role—but keep them apart. And as I said, the intelligence can provide the inspectors with ideas where to go because they have other sources than inspectors do.

On Iraq

And what you can see today, of course, is that, after the Iraqi affair, there is no political inclination to rely too much on intelligence.

So, the whole concept of counterproliferation has been weakened. It’s not gone, because if something is imminent, then sure, they will act. But they can also go to the Security Council and share the responsibility of a decision. I don’t accept their contention that the Security Council is impotent. I saw that [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair said that the council is not there just to talk but also to act. All right. Within a short day or two after that, the council acted within less than 12 hours to take a decision on Haiti. So, if they are agreed, they can act.

But in the case of Iraq last spring, they were not agreed, and I think it was to the credit of the council that they did not authorize the war. Where would we have stood today if the council had said fine to the Spanish-U.S.-[British] resolution, had authorized it on erroneous premises? They were skeptical of the premises; they were right. And therefore, I think it was a good thing that they didn’t authorize the war. And with the present composition of the council, there is no automatic veto. The Russians, the Chinese are not automatically vetoing things. And therefore, the council should not be ruled out as impotent. I think it is there, and if you had a threat that is not within 12 hours, well, I think that you might also share the responsibility in taking action by going to the council.

I never said in the Security Council that I would advise against war. It would be presumptuous of me…. Now my personal wish was of course to continue the inspection, and I think that’s probably how people perceived my attitude. But I did not explicitly ask Security Council to vet that.

However, on the question of the evidence, we were not silent. You will find in my book[5] the description of the conversation with Blair. I have the transcript of it, and it is amusing. I think it was in February [2003]. It makes clear that I do not exclude the possibility that there are still weapons. But I am making clear to him that we were not impressed by the evidence that we had. I do say to him that it would be paradoxical if you invaded with several hundred thousand men and you didn’t find anything. This was in February. And he then said, no, no. All the intelligence agencies are agreed. And to top it off, he said “and the Egyptians too.”

So, I had no doubt at all that he was [acting] in good faith, nor have I ever suggested that President George W. Bush was [acting] in bad faith. But our doubts or skepticism about the evidence began in the autumn because David Albright [president of the Institute for Science and International Security] and his people were doubting the [claim about] aluminum tubes. And I was doubtful about the yellow cake contract,[6] not because I had any suspicion at all that it was a forgery, but I felt that yellow cake is a long way from a bomb. And why should the Iraqis bother to import yellow cake? That was my simple layman thought about it.

But then in January and in February, we went to dozens of sites given by intelligence—U.S., [British] and others—and found no weapons of mass destruction. That shook us quite a lot. Then came [Secretary of State] Colin Powell with his beautiful presentation—I won’t use another noun for it—his beautiful presentation to the Security Council. Perhaps we should have felt humiliated because he was then presenting all these smoking guns we hopeless inspectors had failed to see. However, I felt more like sitting in a court bench, saying, well, the chief prosecutor is now putting forth the evidence; then let’s see what the experts say about this evidence. So, I let our experts dig their teeth into it. Now there were of course many things they could not check, the intercepted telephone calls and so forth that they could not check, but there were several others that they could check and each they were skeptical about.

Now that was when I said I have to go to the Security Council and also register our doubts about the evidence, and I did so. There I referred to three things. I referred to the fact that you cannot say that simply because something is unaccounted for it exists. Secondly, I referred to the sites that we had been to [that were] not building any weapons of mass destruction. And thirdly, I took up the case of the chemical sites, which…Powell had referred to, it was the only one that I took up. I said the trucks that he had seen [that] they thought were decontamination trucks our inspectors had seen.... And we had taken lots of environmental samples and seen no traces of chemicals. So, this was still in February [2003 when] I went before the [Security] Council. Maybe I could accuse myself today of not speaking louder, but that was the only voice that came.

If Inspections Had Continued

If inspections had continued, I think that two things would have happened. First, we would have been able to go to all sites suggested to us by intelligence—[British], U.S., or any other—and since there weren’t any weapons, we wouldn’t have found any. And we would have reported that fact, and I think that ought to have shaken the intelligence agencies. We didn’t have bad relations with intelligence; we were not so antagonistic at all. I think it should have shaken them to say, “Sorry, but then our sources were bad.” Maybe the time was too short, maybe the number of cases was too short for them to retreat on that, or draw that conclusion.

So, that would have been the most important [outcome]. The other thing that could have happened was also important, but slightly less work: that was that the Iraqis gave us at the end of February and the very beginning of March, they gave us long lists of people whom they said had participated in the unilateral destruction operation in 1991. And what we would have done would have been to interview these people. And there are difficulties you have with interviewing in totalitarian countries, but nevertheless there were some 80 or so names and in such a large number if you could interview them, there might have been some hope that we would understand more.

And it was quite clear that, when inspections were over, then you go into long-term monitoring,[7] and there was no end to that. [It] wouldn’t require a specific decision of the Security Council. Now with [UN Security Council Resolution] 1284, this system was modified, and they constantly introduced what they called “reinforced long-term monitoring.” Well anyway, they were reinforced inspections, and so they made no difference between inspection and monitoring and there was no limit set to that. The real limit would not be formal, but it would be the risk of a fatigue in the council; [that is] a beginning resistance from the Iraqi side, and a fatigue in the council, a wish not to implement it, to enforce it. That could have happened but you know, that’s containment. And if they saw a sign of new nuclear things, then they would probably pull up their socks again. So, that’s the risk of containment, yes.

But the result would have been that Saddam [Hussein] would have stayed in power probably. Some people say that he couldn’t have survived the rumor that they had weapons of mass destruction—that’s not so sure, I think. The sole good result of the war I see is the disappearance of one of the world’s worst regimes.

However, what would have been the case then? It would have been a little like [Fidel] Castro, like [Moammar] Gaddafi, who is now supposed to be a good boy. It would have been a situation similar, where the world does not intervene on a humanitarian basis but leaves it to foreign policy by obituary, as The New York Times calls it elegantly, that you wait him out. And it would have had many negative aspects, but it also would have had many positive aspects.


1. See Paul Kerr, “With Deadline Looming, European Foreign Ministers Strike Deal to Restrict Iran’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, November 2003, p. 24.

2. States concluding additional protocols to their safeguards agreements with the IAEA are obliged to disclose to the agency significantly more information regarding their nuclear activities than they would under their original safeguards agreements. Such protocols also increase the IAEA’s authority to detect clandestine nuclear activities.

3. The oil-for-food program, which allowed Iraq to sell oil and use the proceeds to purchase medicine, health supplies, food, and other supplies “essential” for civilian needs, was created in 1995.

4. After UN inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, the Iraqi government did not allow them to resume work in Iraq until November 2002.

5. Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (New York: Pantheon Books, 2004).

6. For more background on these claims, see Paul Kerr, “Bush’s Claims About Iraq’s Nuclear Program,” Arms Control Today, September 2003, p. 22.

7. Resolution 1284, adopted in 1999, authorized the creation of UNMOVIC to replace UNSCOM after UN inspectors were withdrawn the previous year and to verify that Iraq had fulfilled its remaining disarmament obligations.





Disarmingly Bland

Disarming Iraq, by Hans Blix, Pantheon Books, March 2004, 285 pp.

Greg Thielmann

The emerging story behind America’s intervention to disarm Iraq would be comical if it were not so tragic. The primary objective of the invasion was to destroy Saddam’s “weapons of mass destruction,” but these weapons had already been destroyed. Another stated objective was to uphold the authority and effectiveness of the United Nations Security Council, but the invasion was launched after the majority of Security Council members refused to authorize it. The efforts of UN inspectors were being dismissed by U.S. leaders as feckless, even while the inspectors themselves were making progress at resolving outstanding issues and destroying short-range ballistic missiles judged to be in violation of UN limits. And as self-styled paladin of the world community in pursuit of nonproliferation, the United States ended up doing long-term damage to some key nonproliferation tools, such as weapons inspections, while discrediting and marginalizing the UN’s point man for disarming Iraq.

The task of eliminating Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” programs after the 1991 Gulf War was exceedingly complicated. While the legitimacy for the effort was provided by the U.N. Security Council, its implementation depended upon a small cadre of UN inspectors on the ground, backed by the “carrot” of relief from sanctions, and the “stick” threat of military force. Success was contingent on winning the cooperation of Saddam Hussein—a wily politician and utterly untrustworthy tyrant. In retrospect, the international community’s success was remarkable. But it didn’t appear that way when UN inspectors were forced to leave Iraq in 1998 before completing their mandate: international resolve had weakened amid the suffering of the Iraqi people under post-war sanctions and the progress already made in dismantling unconventional weapons programs. After launching punitive air strikes, even the U.S. and U.K. governments seemingly capitulated in the face of Saddam’s defiance.

Yet in spite of everything, the expressed willingness of the United States and the United Kingdom to use force in the fall of 2002 to ensure full Iraqi compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions opened up new possibilities. In exploiting these favorable winds to navigate the treacherous course toward resolving outstanding issues, the UN had found an excellent pilot in Hans Blix. The 74-year-old, former Swedish diplomat had served for 16 years as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and had supervised the dismantling of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in the 1990s. He understood the importance of intelligence, of military means of suasion, and of inspectors taking direction from the Security Council rather than from individual UN members. As Executive Director of the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) since 2000, Blix had worked effectively to assemble and train an expert team, and to maintain professional distance from the Western intelligence agencies whose activities had undermined the legitimacy of UNMOVIC’s predecessor organization, UNSCOM.

In style, Hans Blix displayed an unusual combination of brilliance and blandness, of careful diplomacy and droll wit, of fairness and professionalism. He also was meticulous in characterizing the activities and findings of his inspectors, allowing his record to withstand well the revelations that have exposed so many of his fellow actors in the Iraqi drama as incompetent or dishonest.

If the UN had the right individual for the job of policing Security Council Resolutions on Iraq and a large enough military club to get Saddam to pay attention to UN demands, what went wrong? One problem was that those who wielded the club were using arms control as a means to bring Saddam down rather than as a mechanism to provide assurance that unconventional weapons were not being pursued. The other problem was that Saddam overestimated his ability to manipulate the UN or U.S. public opinion, ultimately providing too little, too late to divert the oncoming juggernaut.

Vice President Cheney’s August 2002 speech to Veterans of Foreign Wars was the first clear indication that the Bush administration had decided to act on its wish for regime change in Iraq. However, the final decision to go to war appears to have been made in early January 2003, as graphically reported in Bob Woodward’s recent Plan of Attack. All of the events thereafter were presumably designed to build support for war rather than to avert it. This helps explain why the White House never asked for an update of the Intelligence Community’s October 2002 estimate of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) even after three months of fresh inspections and revelations had resolved some ambiguities and seriously undermined the contention that Iraq had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. It also helps explain why UNMOVIC’s success in achieving the destruction of al Samoud missiles—which had a longer range than permitted under U.N. resolutions—and beginning interviews with knowledgable weapons scientists under satisfactory conditions made no difference in the Bush administration’s persistent contention that the inspection effort had failed.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix describes meticulously his role in the diplomatic dance leading up to the invasion. He does so with careful accounts of his consultations with Western leaders and his Iraqi interlocutors, and generally refraining from speculation about events to which he was not party. He makes no excuses for the inadequacy of Iraqi cooperation; but he uses no hyperbole in describing evidence of Iraqi non-compliance. He is refreshingly honest in explaining sympathetically the real-world dilemmas faced by the United States and other members of the Security Council in trying to secure compliance from a recalcitrant Iraqi government. Ron Suskind’s The Price of Loyalty and Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies offer authoritative inside looks at an administration obsessed with removing Saddam. Blix provides the perspective on U.S. Iraq policies of a key outsider, whose actions and judgments were seen as an ever present danger to the war party in Washington.

That Blix understood the administration’s tactics in early 2003 is readily evident from a chapter title in his book: “Bashing Blix and ElBaradei.” But just as his measured language in the face of Iraqi actions infuriated administration officials in the months prior to war, so the lack of purple prose in Blix’s book will frustrate some critics of the Bush administration today. Instead of registering open contempt for the arguments of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice—e.g., that Iraq was allowing its al Samoud missiles to be destroyed “just to mislead,” Blix comments that he “always found our talks straight forward…She relied on rational arguments, not on the authority of her position.”

Acknowledging that Secretary of State Colin Powell’s February 5, 2003 speech to the UN Security Council was probably intended to discredit the work of his inspectors, Blix nonetheless notes that Powell did so “implicitly and in a courteous manner.” In response to Powell’s sophistic use of evidence, Blix recalls his immediate reaction that the “interesting” cases described would “need to be examined critically by our experts.” Blix also has the magnanimity to credit David Kay’s contributions to the UNSCOM inspections, even though prior to a well-publicized post-war conversion as head of the Iraq Survey Group, Kay was one of his most vociferous critics. Indeed, only Assistant Secretary of State for Nonproliferation John Wolf earns Blix’s open scorn.

Whatever resentment or frustration Blix harbored, he remained focused throughout the lead-up to war on trying to convince Iraq of the urgent need to demonstrate that it had destroyed its past unconventional weapons and had dismantled equipment and facilities that could produce future weapons. Meanwhile, as Bush secretly ordered war and pretended to give Saddam a final chance to come clean, Woodward reports that “Some in Bush’s war cabinet believed Blix was a liar…not reporting everything and not doing all the things he maintained he was doing.” Future historians will no doubt marvel at this psychological projection by those who had already decided on war.

In Disarming Iraq, Blix offers valuable insights in understanding the inspection function. Just as his writing displays the kind of judicial temperament needed to fulfill the role of inspector, his tips for inspectors and advocacy of a strengthened international civil service constitute an excellent primer on the task. Future inspectors can be expected to emulate the behavioral and attitudinal patterns Blix established.

As rich as the book is, one could wish for a little more. Blix noted that intelligence organizations err on the alarmist side of estimates, but he could have also explained why intelligence organizations are sometimes obligated by governments to make guesses when confidence levels are insufficient. From a professional analyst’s perspective, it was the failure to properly label confidence levels about the existence of chemical and biological weapons that was more objectionable than getting the wrong answer. While acknowledging in his book the primacy of the nuclear category among “weapons of mass destruction,” Blix could also be faulted for doing little to counter the deliberate conflation of nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile categories under the “WMD” label by the Bush administration.

Following the invasion, Blix realized that “the UN and the world had succeeded in disarming Iraq without knowing it.” The intriguing question remains: Could Blix have gained that knowledge with a few more months of inspections in 2003 and were there ways that the danger of Security Council fatigue could have been warded off in the meantime?

Greg Thielmann retired in 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.


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A Review of Disarming Iraq by Hans Blix

Chemical Munition Found in Iraq

Paul Kerr

The Iraq Survey Group (ISG)—the task force charged with coordinating the U.S.-led search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD)—has confirmed that an artillery round filled with sarin nerve agent was found in Baghdad, Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt told reporters May 17.

A U.S. convoy found the shell, which was rigged as an improvised explosive device (IED), Kimmitt said, adding that a “very small” amount of nerve agent was released from the shell because it partially detonated before it could be disarmed. Two members of an explosive ordnance team sustained minor injuries as a result of exposure to the agent.

Kimmitt added that the round—the first such weapon to be found in Iraq—was “virtually ineffective as a chemical weapon” because it was used as an IED and not an artillery shell. The people who built the device probably did not know it contained chemical agents, he said, adding that the United States believes the shell was built by Iraq’s previous government.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated May 17 at the Heritage Foundation that the field test conducted on the shell “is not perfect” and that further tests should be conducted to identify the substance.

Iraq produced sarin prior to the 1991 Persian Gulf War but never provided a satisfactory accounting of its postwar stockpile to UN inspectors. In a March 2003 report to the UN Security Council, the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) stated that there were discrepancies in Iraq’s claims about the status of nearly 4,800 rocket warheads and 12 aerial bombs filled with sarin-type agents. UNMOVIC also reported that it was “unlikely that [past sarin-filled munitions] would still be viable today.” (See ACT, April 2003.)

During inspections that began in November 2002 and ended just before the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, UNMOVIC found no chemical weapons but did learn that Iraq possessed 18 empty 122-millimeter rocket warheads that could be used to deliver chemical agents. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) The ISG’s search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction has yet to turn up any weapons stockpiles.

Hans Blix, former executive chairman of UNMOVIC, said the shell could be “debris from the past” and was not necessarily a sign that there are weapons stocks. Blix has previously said Iraq likely destroyed the bulk of its prohibited weapons in 1991. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

Rumsfeld said May 17 that “[w]e don’t now know what actually happened” to Iraq’s WMD, adding that the ISG’s investigation could continue for “maybe a year-plus.”

Meanwhile, a commission established in February by President George W. Bush to investigate U.S. WMD intelligence held its first hearing May 26-27. The commission’s task includes comparing U.S. prewar intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction with the ISG’s findings. Its report is due March 31, 2005. (See ACT, March 2004.)






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