By Eric Tallant
Former US Army NCO, Contributing Fellow at The Intelligence Community
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has recently declassified its “Weapons of Mass Destruction” report issued prior to the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. This document is publicly accessible on the CIA’s .gov website. Among the key points in this report are the mention that although coalition forces had destroyed most of Iraq’s long range chemical and biological missile delivery systems, the Iraqi military was actively engaged towards developing a new stock of these systems and agents to deliver a chemical/biological strike (cia.gov, 2015). The CIA’s report was delivered to the Directorate of National Intelligence, whom in turn presented it to the President of the United States and Congress. It is fair to say the CIA’s intelligence report was one of the key pieces to presenting the case for military intervention in Iraq. Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, had and used chemical weapons prior to 1991’s Operation Desert Storm. After Operation Desert Storm, Iraq agreed to reduce, and eliminate their chemical weapons, and other WMDs. Throughout this report, evidence is presented that Iraq still had the means, desire, and capabilities of producing weapons of mass destruction in spite of United Nations sanctions and inspections.
SADDAM HUSSEIN EMPLOYS CHEMICAL WEAPONS ON IRAQI KURDS
In 1980, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein locked Iraq into a nine year war with Iran (history.com, nd). During this war, dubbed the Iraq-Iran War, Hussein deployed chemical weapons against Iranian forces (bbc.com, nd). In 1983 Iraq used mustard gas against Iranian forces, and in 1985 Hussein deployed Tabun, a deadly nerve agent at waves of hostile troops (bbc.com, nd). Before the end of the Iran-Iraq War, Hussein used chemical weapons against the people of his own country. During what is titled the Anfal offensive, Saddam Hussein employed chemical weapons against scores of Kurds in Northern Iraq (hrw.org, 1993). In a 1993 Human Rights Watch report on the Anfal offensive, the use of chemical weapons on Iraqi Kurds was labelled a genocide (hrw.org, 1993).
ABSENCE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS USAGE BY IRAQ DURING OPERATION DESERT STORM
A CIA Intelligence Update released in April, 2002 takes an absolute position that Saddam Hussein’s forces did not employ chemical weapons against coalition forces during Desert Storm (cia.gov, 2007). The fact that chemical or biological agents were not used during the coalition offensive may be due to the fact that a great deal of known weapons storage facilities were bombed by coalition forces (cia.gov, 2007). Fears that Hussein’s military would use WMDs on coalition forces were driven by their prior deployment on Iraqi Kurds. Then U.S. President George H.W. Bush also advised coalition forces that Iraq possessed, and would use, chemical weapons if the opportunity arose (cia.gov, 2007).
UN SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION 687, IRAQ AND KUWAIT
“Passed on April 3, 1991 after the Gulf War, this resolution required Iraq to destroy its nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and to refrain from developing others, and called for war reparations to Kuwait.” (cfr.org, nd). This document laid out the process in which Iraq would divest from its WMD program. A few of the actions Iraq agreed to take were to comply with Geneva Convention rules banning chemical and biological weapons from being used in war (un.org, 1991). Other steps to be taken by Iraq under UN Resolution 687 were the removal and destruction of all chemical and biological weapons agents, and the limiting of missile delivery systems to propulsion distances of a 150 kilometers (un.org, 1991). UN Resolution 687 also forbade Iraq from obtaining, or developing nuclear weapons (un.org, 1991). Another very important note from Resolution 687 was that Iraq will not be allowed to support terrorism. Iraq agreed to these terms, and was subjected to economic sanctions until they were found in compliance with the terms of the UN Resolution (cia.gov, 2007).
IRAQ’S WMD CAPABILITIES AND COMPLIANCE WITH UNSCR687 1991-96
According to the CIA’s 2004 General Report on Iraq’s WMD capabilities, Iraq was at a point of severe setback both economically and militarily in the five year period after signing UNSCR687 (cia.gov, 2007). Intelligence collected about Iraq’s internal political, and military officials shows that individuals had little intention on destroying their chemical weapons infrastructure (cia.gov, 2007). Instead, actions and strategic planning to hide this infrastructure were implemented by Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Husayn Kamil (cia.gov, 2007). As part of the UN agreement, Hussein and Iraq were forbidden to import items that would bolster Iraq’s aggressive military posture (Loyola.edu, nd). Throughout the early nineties, Hussein gave the appearance that his nation and regime where in compliance with UNSCR687. However, this appeared to be a façade. This period gave Hussein enough time to hide his existing WMD infrastructure from inspectors and satellite imagery (Loyola.edu, nd).
Saddam Hussein came to power in Iraq through a coup, and used violent force to remain in power. Him and his regime valued WMDs as both a strategic and tactical weapon to both protect their power and bolster their image of force in the region. After seeing how effective WMDs had been during the Iran-Iraq War, and how they could be used to quell large scale resistance domestically (Anfal Offensive), there is little evidence that Hussein had any true intentions of surrendering Iraq’s means to obtain, or produce chemical and biological weapons. During the period of 1991-1996, Hussein seemed more interested in projecting superficial compliance with UNSCR687 so that sanctions against his country would be lifted (Loyola.edu, nd). However, evidence presented in a Uppsala University Security and Peace document in 2004 suggests that until 1996, Iraq had complied with UN sanctions, and had destroyed a majority of their WMD capabilities (Wallsteen, Erikson, Staibano, 2005).
Hussein and Iraq appeared to overtly change their course on WMD attainment and production after Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright had these words to say about Iraq at a 1997 UN meeting, “We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions. It can only do that by complying with all of the Security Council resolutions to which it is subjected. Is it possible to conceive of such a government under Saddam Hussein? When I was a professor, I taught that you have to consider all possibilities. As Secretary of State, I have to deal in the realm of reality and probability. And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein’s intentions will never be peaceful.” (Wallsteen, Erikson, Staibano, 2005).
Secretary Albright’s statement to the UN, however true, or not true it may have been, may have given Hussein and regime the “out” they were looking for to develop WMDs. If Hussein believed that United States would be very hard pressed to believe he intended to absolutely abolish current and future WMD programs then he may have seen himself as painted into a corner. His existential survival would now depend largely on illegal activities, black market trade, and the development of offensive weapons. The inference made by Secretary Albright about Iraq under Hussein is that the only way to move forward would be with the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime.
PERIOD OF RENEWED WMD PRODUCTION IN IRAQ 1997-2003
In 1997, traces of the nerve agent VX were discovered on warheads by UN inspectors (cia.gov, 2007). This finding, along with an uptick in Iraq’s domestic chemical production seemed to display Hussein’s intentions to fully renew WMD productions (cia.gov, 2007). The disclosure of these facts led to a break between Iraq and United Nations Security Council. It is after this break in cooperation between the UN and Hussein’s regime that Iraq began making chemical weapons manufacturing purchases (cia.gov, 2007).
The CIA’s 2004 Intelligence Update on Iraq’s WMDs lists that in 1990’s Iraq was “…successful in procuring, constructing, and commissioning a complete state-of-the-art chemical facility for ammonium perchlorate through the Indian company NEC. Ammonium perchlorate is a key chemical for missile propellants.” (cia.gov, 2007). Other disclosures made about Iraq’s renewed chemical and biological weapons programs in the CIA’s 2004 Intelligence Update on Iraq’s WMDs include renewed production of dual usage chemicals (cia.gov, 2007). Dual usage chemicals serve in the manufacturing of commercially used chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and weapons of mass destruction. Although the production of dual usage chemicals is not an indictment of Iraq’s renewed WMD program, it is cause for alarm considering the other evidence.
It was also during the period of 1997-2003 that Iraq Survey Group (ISG) inspectors met with resistance and perceived efforts to cover up chemical manufacturing by Iraqi officials and scientists (cia.gov, 2007). This cover up included document destruction, intimidation, and stalling tactics (cia.gov, 2007). ISG inspectors were often led around by the nose by Iraqi officials, and were led to believe that Iraq’s government was deliberately making inspections difficult on inspectors. Despite the circumstantial evidence presented above, Western media outlets largely published articles that the ISG never discovered evidence of Iraq’s renewal of WMD projects, or the presence of existing WMDs in Iraq upon inspection.
THE ISG IS ONLY ONE TOOL INVESTIGATING IRAQ’S RENEWED WMD PROGRAM
Investigations made by the ISG are only one side of the effort to detect if Iraq had renewed its WMD program. Western intelligence agencies also played a direct role in gathering intelligence and evidence on Iraq’s post-Gulf War WMD program. Aerial surveillance obtained by the CIA, and published in their pre-OIF report to the DNI show chlorine and phenol manufacturing plants located outside Fallujah that were used to cover up the manufacturing of chemical weapons agents (cia.gov, 2015). The CIA’s report also makes claims that Hussein’s government failed to release documents about Iraq’s development of nuclear weapons (cia.gov, 2015). Of other concerns noted in the CIA’s report was the discovery of a plant in Fallujah that was manufacturing castor oil (cia.gov, 2015). Iraqi officials said that the castor oil manufactured there was to be used in brake fluid (cia.gov, 2015). However, this claim was never verified by UN inspectors (cia.gov, 2015). Yet other evidence collected by UN inspectors and intelligence agencies is that the Iraqi government was very interested in renewing their biological weapons (BW) program. This evidence was discovered by UN inspectors via an Iraqi scientists and government documents stating a desire to renew BW capabilities (cia.gov, 2015).
CONCLUSION: A LOST OF FAITH WITH HUSSEIN’S IRAQ
President George W. Bush and his cabinet had a total lack of faith in Saddam Hussein to de-arm, and stay that way. It is true that post-Gulf War evidence that supports the theory that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs is largely circumstantial. However, the evidence that his regime was on the road towards rearming themselves with chemical, biological, and even nuclear weapons was there before the 2003 invasion. Pundits in multiple media outlets wanted to spread the notion that the United States wrongfully led a coalition into Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein. However, to view the invasion into Iraq critically, it is important to see the chain of circumstantial evidence. Iraq had and had used WMDs prior to 1991. Iraqi officials had made efforts to either frustrate or block ISG and UN inspectors from gathering all the needed information on Iraq’s WMD programs. Iraq defied UN sanctions and purchased dual usage equipment. Evidence of Iraq’s rebuilding of WMD infrastructure was captured by the CIA.
Transparency was not given by Hussein’s regime to UN inspectors or the ISG. Instead, evidence shows that Hussein wanted covertly renew these programs. Western governments had lost faith with the notion that Iraq would comply about half way through the period between the Gulf War and OIF. To answer the question “Did Iraq possess WMDs prior to the 2003 invasion?” No. Was Iraq on the path towards renewing these programs and even expanding on them in the field of nuclear weapons? Yes.
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