Charles Duelfer, who has succeeded David Kay, as head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), told the US Senate's Armed Services Committee this week he would take a new tack in efforts to uncover Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. He said the ISG would now look for “a comprehensive picture” of Iraq's arms program — instead of simply trying to find whether Saddam Hussein had banned weapons.
It will be a far different approach than the one taken by Duelfer’s predecessor Kay — who resigned last month saying he had concluded Iraq had no stockpiles of banned weapons when US forces invaded a year ago – or since the visits of inspection teams following the 1991 Gulf War. Duelfer did not say how his new strategy would help the ISG find weapons of mass destruction. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military and intelligence sources believe the fresh approach is not as simplistic as it sounds, but stems from new conclusions that were reached after Duelfer ordered a review of all the information amassed so far.
Several ISG analysts recently adopted a new line of thinking after taking another look at the missile attacks which Iraqi forces launched against Kuwait between the start of the US invasion on March 19, 2003 and until American forces entered Baghdad on April 10.
In all, 60 missiles – the Al-Samoud 2 and Ababil – were fired. Some hit their targets; others fell in open areas or in the sea, or were intercepted by Patriot anti-missile missiles. Most were launched from the Faw peninsula or the desert area between Iraq and Kuwait.
The ISG dispatched teams to those locations to retrieve the missile launchers. But, according to our sources report, not a single launcher has been found almost a year after the war ended. At first, the teams thought the launching sites had not been correctly located. However, in all the other areas, the searchers came up empty. Former Iraqi officers who had launched the missiles themselves were brought along for the search. They too were stumped.
The mystery was compounded in former Iraqi air bases.
Three months before the war began, 16 Iraqi Tupolev bombers and 24 Sukhoi fighter-bombers were up in the air practicing long-range bombing missions. From radio intercepts, US intelligence analysts understood that the Iraqis were making contingency plans to bomb targets in Israel, Saudi Arabia or both. Shortly before the US-led invasion, the Iraqi aircraft returned to their hiding places. They still have not been found.
A senior intelligence officer familiar with the search had this to say:
“Two things are clear: the missile launchers did not have wings and could not fly off anywhere. And we know from monitoring the warplanes’ movements that after being put back in their hangars, they were not moved again for the duration of the war,” he said. “In any case, when the Americans opened up the hangars, they were empty. So did the earth swallow up the aircraft?” Duelfer is reported by DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources as having determined to focus an intense investigation on the whereabouts of the missing missile launchers and warplanes. Perhaps solving that puzzle will provide a pointer to where Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction have disappeared.