Saddam's Ambiguous WMD

In his latest statement on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, Dr David Kay who resigned as head of the Iraq Survey Group, told a Senate Committee Wednesday, January 28: “We were almost all wrong and I certainly include myself here.” There were, he said almost certainly no large stocks of illegal weapons in Iraq and no evidence that any had been produced in recent years. He faulted intelligence gathering for the mistaken weapons estimates.

His statements have provided political opponents of the war and the governments in power on both sides of the Atlantic with rich fodder.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly notes that Dr. Kay had a good friend, the late departed: Dr. David Kelly, eminent microbiologist, former UN weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1999 and adviser to British ministers on weapons of mass destruction. Last July, Dr. Kelly was looking forward to joining his colleague and associate Dr Kay in Iraq with the Survey Group hunting Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But then he was hauled harshly over the coals in a televised grilling by a parliamentary committee – for telling reporters he agreed with the Blair government's conclusion that the Iraqi dictator did have weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to international and Britain's security.

Dr. Kelly took his life at the age of 59, ten days before leaving for Baghdad to lead the Survey Group's biological team. There was considerable speculation that the weapons expert had in fact been murdered to prevent any discoveries he might make in Iraq.
This suspicion was ruled out by High Judge Hutton at the end of his inquiry. But Hutton noted that Kelly's findings in Iraq on behalf of UNSCOM had in 1995 forced Saddam to admit he was running a forbidden biological weapons program.

Several months before his death, the British scientist told a BBC Panorama program, which was not broadcast at the time, that in his view the Iraqi dictator did pose “an immediate threat.” He sad: “Even if they're not actually filled and deployed today, the capability exists to get them filled and deployed within a matter of days and weeks.”

No one could explain later to which specific weapons the late scientist was referring, but given his field of expertise, they are likely to have been biological.

Speaking before the Senate committee Wednesday, January 28, Dr. Kay put his finger on the difficulty of grappling with the issue when he said that the search should continue in Iraq, but predicted there would still be “an unresolvable ambiguity about what happened.”

According to our experts, part of that ambiguity and possibly even Kay's resignation, might have been prevented had Dr. Kelly lived to take up his role in the weapons hunt in Iraq last July.

Politicizing issue of Saddam's WMD

Dr. Kelly's suicide cast a cloud over the Blair government, from prime minister down to a large number of senior officials. Premier Tony Blair was forced to look at the prospect of a forced resignation if the commission led by Lord Hutton to probe the circumstances surrounding the scientist's death found he had lied to the country. In the event, Hutton fully acquitted the prime minister of “dishonorable, underhand and duplicitous” strategy in allowing Kelly's name to become publicly known (and thus contributing to his death). He was also cleared of the allegation leveled against him in a BBC report of deliberate dishonesty in presenting the case for war to the British parliament and public.

Kelly was a source for a controversial BBC report by its defense correspondent Andrew Gilligan, broadcast on May 29, that accused the government of having persuaded intelligence agencies to exaggerate the case for going to war with Iraq. Gilligan questioned, in particular, the statement in an intelligence dossier, published during the run-up to war in September 2002, that Iraqi WMD would be ready to be fired within 45 minutes of Saddam Hussein giving the order. Gilligan suggested that the government encouraged the publication of this claim while knowing it to be wrong.

Kelly eventually let his line manager at the Defense Ministry know that he had talked to Gilligan (though he did not acknowledge responsibility for all that Gilligan had said), and the ministry allowed his name to be dribbled out to the press. Kelly was then hounded by the media, and grilled harshly by parliamentary committees. On television he showed clear signs of stress. A couple of days later, he cut his left wrist and died. The assumption is that the strains and pressures of what had rapidly developed into a political crisis had become too much for him.

Lord Hutton presenting his report on Wednesday afternoon made it clear that his terms of reference were strictly limited to the circumstances surrounding Kelly's death (which he said was by suicide, thus ending speculation about wicked goings-on) and did not extend to the reliability of the pre-war intelligence reports on Iraq's WMD, and the threat that these weapons were said to present to the rest of the world.

He examined at length the preparation of the September intelligence dossier. He recognized that the British government had been interested in presenting as strong a case for war as possible, and had pressed its views on the Joint Intelligence Committee (the senior intelligence body) and that this may indeed have “unconsciously influenced” the JIC. But he did not find that the JIC had embellished or sexed-up the report in a way that was inconsistent with its own separate findings. Above all, he said that the extremely grave allegation that the government had deliberately added material that it knew to be false was unfounded. The 45-minute claim was indeed added late to the dossier, but this was because the Secret Intelligence Service (another intelligence agency, this time under the Foreign Office) had apparently come upon the information (or misinformation) late in the day.

Many of the questions that go well beyond the death of poor Dr Kelly remain. The British public, and members of parliament, continue to question the given reasons for going to war with Iraq. Unlike the United States, where there was considerable enthusiasm for “regime change” regardless of the presence or not of WMD, the British reasons hinged directly on Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and the threat these posed to international security, including British security. Blair spoke of this threat, often and vividly.

The fact that no Iraqi WMD have yet been found gives the government continuing trouble. So does the resignation of David Kay, the chief WMD-hunter, and his comment that there probably weren't any such weapons.

In the US, it has taken much longer than in Britain for the pressure to build up. But it is happening. President Bush is now being questioned more closely on Saddam Hussein's alleged WMD and the threat these posed to American interests. Senator John Kerry, the Democrat presidential candidate who has won Iowa and the New Hampshire primaries, is demanding a congressional inquiry into White House claims over WMD.

The Hutton report cleared the British government of foisting false information on the British public. It was silent on the reliability of the evidence itself.

A day after Hutton's blanket acquittal of the Blair government, the British public had its say. An opinion poll showed that 77 percent of a cross-cut of British opinion do not believe that Hutton got at the truth. For the Brits, the jury is still out on Saddam's banned weapons.

More enigmas

Four days before he appeared before the Senate committee, Dr. Kay said to the London Telegraph, “We are not talking about a large stockpile of weapons, but we know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD program. Precisely what went to Syria and what has happened to it is a major issue that needs to be resolved.”

But will it ever be? DEBKA-Net-Weekly's defense experts doubt whether at this late date, a year after the transfer much will be found to shed light on the true state of Saddam Hussein's banned weapons prior to the 2003 US invasion. To reach results, a thorough investigation would have to go back several years to 1995 and 1996, when Dr. Kay reports much of Iraq's WMD arsenal was destroyed. This probe would span the three presidencies of George Bush senior, Bill Clinton and the incumbent.

DEBKA-Net-Weekly uncovers here for the first time the causes that prompted the deposed Iraqi ruler to scrap his forbidden weapons in the mid-1990s. This account also reveals that the Clinton administration, had it wished, could have accessed the secret documents and hideouts that elude the Iraq Survey Group to this day and which attested to the locations of Saddam's secret chemical and biological weapons and his nuclear and missile programs. How that opportunity was then missed is  disclosed in the following episode.

The Hussein Kamal Affair

Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, was the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect. He turned up in Jordan in 1995 with a veritable treasure trove of secrets which he offered to the CIA, British MI6 and UN interrogators. As director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Commission for 10 years, he had run Iraq's nuclear, chemical, biological and missile programs. Documents found on his farm in an undercover US raid after his defection supported his allegation that, despite Saddam's claim to have destroyed Iraq's chemical and biological weapons after the 1991 Gulf war, WMD were continuing to be stockpiled – especially biological agents – and Baghdad was still duping the UN inspectors.

But six months later, Kamal had turned his back on exile in Jordan and voluntarily returned home against an offer of an amnesty. He was promptly killed.

He went home a disappointed man. Notwithstanding the extensive ties he had cultivated with the CIA and other US officials before and after the first Gulf war, Kamal found himself the odd man out as regards American and Iraqi opposition plans for his country, mainly because he was vehemently against a federal Iraq.

One reason Kamal offered for his defection to Amman with his brother (who also returned to Baghdad and was killed) was the bad blood between him and Saddam's powerful son Uday. Other reasons emerged later. In a newspaper interview published in November 1995, Kamal laid out a plan for a democratic Iraq with a multi-party government protecting the civil rights of all citizens regardless of ethnic background or religious affiliation. Iraq, he said, would scrap its non-conventional weapons and seek new relationships and close cooperation with the United States, other Western countries and Arab nations. Particular attention would be paid to improving ties with Syria and promoting peace between Israel and its neighbors.
Kamal reportedly proposed setting up an “Iraqi Salvation Council” and a new military comprised of defectors from Saddam's armed forces that would be based in Kurdistan or across the border inside the territory of one of Iraq's neighbors. He even pledged to get funding for the endeavor.

No American support

Kamal badly needed American support as well as backing from anti-Saddam Arab countries and Iraqi exile groups, to make his grand plan work. He never got it: his US contacts in Jordan put the word out that he was half-crazy; King Hussein turned his back on him, too.

The Iraqi defector's trouble was that his stand against any federal solution for Iraq was unpopular with most of the Iraqi opposition groups in exile. Just before he returned to Baghdad, he called a news conference to denounce the mounting support for a federal Iraq as a conspiracy against him personally. He said his only option was to head back to Iraq.

This episode sheds important light on the murky inner workings of the Saddam regime at the time:

  • Diverse Iraqi interest groups in Iraq vied for Saddam's favors and influence.

  • Kamal's advice to heal the breach with the United States and fall in line with US policy in the Middle East, dismantle Iraq's WMD and build a democratic Iraq to achieve that goal, was violently opposed by Uday.

  • Uday and fellow high-ranking Iraqis adhered to the development of non-conventional weapons as the key to preserving their power and influence.

  • US officials were secretly in touch with senior Iraqis and privy to information about their positions and plans even before Kamal defected in 1995. Some of this information including the data handed over by Saddam's son-in-law was still active on the eve of the US invasion of Iraq last March. It was updated just before American troops moved in.

Thursday, January 29, a new voice was heard in Sofia, Bulgaria, on the subject of Saddam's banned weaponry. It came from visiting Iraqi foreign minister, Hoshiyar Zebari, who told a news conference that the weapons had been carefully hidden. “I have every belief that some of these weapons could be found as we move forward. They have been hidden in certain areas. The system of hiding was very sophisticated.”

One can be absolutely sure that Zebari will not have said the last word on the subject.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email