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Iraq and weapons of mass destruction

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This article concerns the Iraqi government's use, possession, and alleged intention of acquiring more types of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) during the presidency of Saddam Hussein. During his reign of several decades, he was internationally known for his use of chemical weapons in the 1980s against civilians and in the Iran-Iraq War. Following the 1991 Gulf War he also engaged in a decade-long confrontation with the United Nations and its weapons inspectors, which ended in the 2003 invasion by the United States.

The United Nations located and destroyed large quantities of Iraqi WMD throughout the 1990s in spite of persistent Iraqi obstruction. Washington withdrew weapons inspectors in 1998, resulting in Operation Desert Fox, which further degraded Iraq's WMD capability. The United States and the UK, along with other countries and intelligence experts, asserted that Saddam Hussein still possessed large hidden stockpiles of WMD in 2003, and that he must be prevented from building any more. Inspections by the U.N. restarted from November 2002 until March 2003, but hadn't turned up any evidence of actual WMDs when the United States and the " Coalition of the Willing" invaded Iraq and overthrew Saddam Hussein in March 2003.

Great controversy emerged when no stockpiles of WMDs were found, leading to accusations that the United States, its President George W. Bush in particular, had deliberately inflated intelligence or lied about Iraq's weapons in order to justify an invasion of the country. While various leftover weaponized WMDs and weapons components from the 1980s and 1990s have been found, most weapons inspectors now believe that Iraq's chemical weapons program did indeed cease production after 1991. The Iraq Survey Group found indications that Saddam intended to resume WMD activities if and when military sanctions were lifted.

First use

The first use of chemical weapons in Iraq was in 1919, when Britain's Royal Air Force dropped vesicant mustard gas on Bolshevik troops. Winston Churchill, secretary of state for war and air, suggested the RAF use "poisonous gas" the succeeding year, during a major revolt there, though historians are divided as to whether or not gas was in fact used.

Program development 1960s - 1980s

1959 17 August USSR and Iraq wrote an agreement about building an atomic power station.

1968 — a Russian supplied IRT-2000 research reactor atomic power station together with a number of other facilities that could be used for radioisotope production was built close to Baghdad.

1975 Saddam Hussein arrived in Moscow in April. He asked about building an advanced model of an atomic power station. Moscow would approve, but only if the station was regulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iraq refused.

After 6 months Paris agreed to sell 72 kg of 93% Uranium and built the atomic power station without International Atomic Energy Agency control at a price of $3 billion.

In the early 1970s, Saddam Hussein ordered the creation of a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs were assisted by a wide variety of firms and governments in the 1970s and 1980s. As part of Project 922, German firms such as Karl Kobe helped build Iraqi chemical weapons facilities such as laboratories, bunkers, an administrative building, and first production buildings in the early 1980s under the cover of a pesticide plant. Other German firms sent 1,027 tons of precursors of mustard gas, sarin, tabun, and tear gasses in all. This work allowed Iraq to produce 150 tons of mustard agent and 60 tons of Tabun in 1983 and 1984 respectively, continuing throughout the decade. Five other German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin for germ warfare. In 1988, German engineers presented centrifuge data that helped Iraq expand its nuclear weapons program. Laboratory equipment and other information was provided, involving many German engineers. All told, 52% of Iraq's international chemical weapon equipment was of German origin. The State Establishment for Pesticide Production (SEPP) ordered culture media and incubators from Germany's Water Engineering Trading.

France built Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in the late 1970s. Israel claimed that Iraq was getting close to building nuclear weapons, and so bombed it in 1981. Later, a French company built a turnkey factory which helped make nuclear fuel. France also provided glass-lined reactors, tanks, vessels, and columns used for the production of chemical weapons. Around 21% of Iraq’s international chemical weapon equipment was French. Strains of dual-use biological material also helped advance Iraq’s biological warfare program.

Italy gave Iraq plutonium extraction facilities that advanced Iraq’s nuclear weapon program. 75,000 shells and rockets designed for chemical weapon use also came from Italy. Between 1979 and 1982 Italy gave depleted, natural, and low-enriched uranium. Swiss companies aided in Iraq’s nuclear weapons development in the form of specialized presses, milling machines, grinding machines, electrical discharge machines, and equipment for processing uranium to nuclear weapon grade. Brazil secretly aided the Iraqi nuclear weapon program by supplying natural uranium dioxide between 1981 and 1982 without notifying the IAEA. About 100 tons of mustard gas also came from Brazil.

The United States exported $500 million of dual use exports to Iraq that were approved by the Commerce department. Among them were advanced computers, some of which were used in Iraq’s nuclear program. The non-profit American Type Culture Collection and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples to Iraq under Saddam Hussein up until 1989, which Iraq claimed it needed for medical research. These materials included anthrax, West Nile virus and botulism, as well as Brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene. Some of these materials were used for Iraq's biological weapons research program, while others were used for vaccine development.

The United Kingdom paid for a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas. The government secretly gave the arms company Matrix Churchill permission to supply parts for the Iraqi supergun, precipitating the Arms-to-Iraq affair when it became known.

Many other countries contributed as well; since Iraq's nuclear program in the early 1980s was officially viewed internationally as for power production, not weapons, there were no UN prohibitions against it. An Austrian company gave Iraq calutrons for enriching uranium. The nation also provided heat exchangers, tanks, condensers, and columns for the Iraqi chemical weapons infrastructure, 16% of the international sales. Singapore gave 4,515 tons of precursors for VX, sarin, tabun, and mustard gasses to Iraq. The Dutch gave 4,261 tons of precursors for sarin, tabun, mustard, and tear gasses to Iraq. Egypt gave 2,400 tons of tabun and sarin precursors to Iraq and 28,500 tons of weapons designed for carrying chemical munitions. India gave 2,343 tons of precursors to VX, tabun, Sarin, and mustard gasses. Luxembourg gave Iraq 650 tons of mustard gas precursors. Spain gave Iraq 57,500 munitions designed for carrying chemical weapons. In addition, they provided reactors, condensers, columns and tanks for Iraq’s chemical warfare program, 4.4% of the international sales. China provided 45,000 munitions designed for chemical warfare. Portugal provided yellowcake between 1980 and 1982. Niger provided yellowcake in 1981.

Iran-Iraq war

In 1980 the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency filed a report stating that Iraq had been actively acquiring chemical weapons capacities for several years, which later proved to be accurate. In November 1980, two months into the Iran-Iraq War, the first reported use of chemical weapons took place when Tehran radio reported a poison gas attack on Susangerd by Iraqi forces. The United Nations reported many similar attacks occurred the following year, leading Iran to develop and deploy a mustard gas capability. By 1984, Iraq was using poison gas with great effectiveness against Iranian "human wave" attacks. Chemical weapons were used extensively against Iran by Iraq. On January 14, 1991, the Defense Intelligence Agency said an Iraqi agent described, in medically accurate terms, military smallpox casualties he said he saw in 1985 or 1986. Two weeks after, the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Centre reported that eight of 69 Iraqi prisoners of war whose blood was tested showed a current immunity to smallpox, which had not occurred naturally in Iraq since 1971; the same prisoners had also been inoculated for anthrax. All of this occurring while Iraq was a party to the Geneva Protocol on September 8, 1931, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on October 29, 1969, signed the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, but did not ratify until June 11, 1991. Iraq has not signed to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The Washington Post reported that in 1984 the CIA secretly started providing intelligence to the Iraqi army. This included information that was used by the Iraqis in targeting chemical weapons strikes. The same year it was confirmed beyond doubt by European doctors and U.N. expert missions that Iraq was employing chemical weapons against the Iranians. Most of these occurred during the Iran-Iraq War, but WMDs were used at least once to crush the popular uprisings of 1991. Chemical weapons were used extensively, with more than 100,000 Iranian soldiers as victims of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons during the eight-year war with Iraq, Iran today is the world's second-most afflicted country by weapons of mass destruction, only after Japan. The official estimate does not include the civilian population contaminated in bordering towns or the children and relatives of veterans, many of whom have developed blood, lung and skin complications, according to the Organization for Veterans. Nerve gas agents killed about 20,000 Iranian soldiers immediately, according to official reports. Of the 90,000 survivors, some 5,000 seek medical treatment regularly and about 1,000 are still hospitalized with severe, chronic conditions. Many others were hit by mustard gas. Despite the removal of Saddam and his regime by American forces, there is deep resentment and anger in Iran that it was Western nations that helped Iraq develop and direct its chemical weapons arsenal in the first place and that the world did nothing to punish Iraq for its use of chemical weapons throughout the war. For example, the US and UK blocked condemnation of Iraq's known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticized Iraq's use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On 21 March 1986 the United Nation Security Council recognized that "chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces"; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).

On March 23, 1988 western media sources reported from Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan, that several days before Iraq had launched a large scale chemical assault on the town. Later estimates were that 7000 people had been killed and 20000 wounded. The Halabja poison gas attack caused an international outcry against the Iraqis. Later that year the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the "Prevention of Genocide Act", cutting off all U.S. assistance to Iraq and stopping U.S. imports of Iraqi oil. The Reagan administration opposed the bill, calling it premature, and eventually prevented it from taking effect, partly due to a mistaken DIA assessment which blamed Iran for the attack. At the time of the attack the town was held by Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas allied with Tehran. The Iraqis blamed the Halabja attack on Iranian forces. This was still the position of Saddam Hussein in his December 2003 captivity. On August 21, 2006, the trial of Saddam Hussein and six codefendants, including Hassan al-Majid ("Chemical Ali"), opened on charges of genocide against the Kurds. While this trial does not cover the Halabja attack, it does cover attacks on other villages during the Iraqi "Anfal" operation alleged to have included bombing with chemical weapons.

Chemical weapon attacks

Location Weapon Used Date Casualties
Haij Umran Mustard August 1983 fewer than 100 Iranian/Kurdish
Panjwin Mustard October-November 1983 3,001 Iranian/Kurdish
Majnoon Island Mustard February-March 1984 2,500 Iranians
al-Basrah Tabun March 1984 50-100 Iranians
Hawizah Marsh Mustard & Tabun March 1985 3,000 Iranians
al-Faw Mustard & Tabun February 1986 8,000 to 10,000 Iranians
Um ar-Rasas Mustard December 1986 1,000s Iranians
al-Basrah Mustard & Tabun April 1987 5,000 Iranians
Sumar/Mehran Mustard & nerve agent October 1987 3,000 Iranians
Halabjah Mustard & nerve agent March 1988 7,000s Kurdish/Iranian
al-Faw Mustard & nerve agent April 1988 1,000s Iranians
Fish Lake Mustard & nerve agent May 1988 100s or 1,000s Iranians
Majnoon Islands Mustard & nerve agent June 1988 100s or 1,000s Iranians
South-central border Mustard & nerve agent July 1988 100s or 1,000s Iranians
an-Najaf -
Karbala area
Nerve agent & CS March 1991 Shi’a casualties not known


The 1991 Gulf War

On August 2 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait and was widely condemned internationally. The policy of the United States on Hussein's government changed rapidly, as it was feared Saddam intended to attack other oil-rich nations in the region such as Saudi Arabia. As stories of atrocities from the occupation of Kuwait spread, several of which later proved false, older atrocities and his WMD arsenal were also given attention. Iraq's nuclear weapons program suffered a serious setback in 1981 when the reactor used to generate source material for its bomb was bombed by Israel . The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists concurs with this view: there were far too many technological challenges unsolved, they say. An international coalition of nations, led by the United States, liberated Kuwait in 1991.

In the terms of the UN ceasefire set out in Security Council Resolution 686, and in Resolution 687, Iraq was forbidden from developing, possessing or using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by resolution 686. Also proscribed by the treaty were missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres. The UN Special Commission on weapons (UNSCOM) was created to carry out weapons inspections in Iraq, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was to verify the destruction of Iraq's nuclear program.

Between Gulf Wars

UNSCOM inspections 1991-1998

The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was set up after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait to inspect Iraqi weapons facilities. It was headed first by Rolf Ekéus and later by Richard Butler. During several visits to Iraq by UNSCOM, weapons inspectors interviewed British-educated Iraqi biologist Rihab Rashid Taha. According to a 1999 report from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the normally mild-mannered Taha exploded into violent rages whenever UNSCOM questioned her about al-Hakam, shouting, screaming and, on one occasion, smashing a chair, while insisting that al-Hakam was a chicken-feed plant. "There were a few things that were peculiar about this animal-feed production plant", Charles Duelfer, UNSCOM's deputy executive chairman, later told reporters, "beginning with the extensive air defenses surrounding it." The facility was destroyed by UNSCOM in 1996.

In 1995, UNSCOM's principal weapons inspector, Dr. Rod Barton from Australia, showed Taha documents obtained by UNSCOM that showed the Iraqi government had just purchased 10 tons of growth medium from a British company called Oxoid. Growth media is a mixture of sugars, proteins and minerals that provides nutrients for microorganisms to grow. It can be used in hospitals and microbiology/ molecular biology research laboratories. In hospitals, swabs from patients are placed in dishes containing growth medium for diagnostic purposes. Iraq's hospital consumption of growth medium was just 200 kg a year; yet in 1988, Iraq imported 39 tons of it. Shown this evidence by UNSCOM, Taha admitted to the inspectors that she had grown 19,000 litres of botulism toxin; 8,000 litres of anthrax; 2,000 litres of aflatoxins, which can cause liver failure; Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can cause gas gangrene; and ricin, a castor-bean derivative which can kill by impeding circulation. She also admitted conducting research into cholera, salmonella, foot and mouth disease, and camel pox, a disease that uses the same growth techniques as smallpox, but which is safer for researchers to work with. It was because of the discovery of Taha's work with camel pox that the U.S. and British intelligence services feared Saddam Hussein may have been planning to weaponize the smallpox virus. Iraq had a smallpox outbreak in 1971 and the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Centre (WINPAC) believed the Iraqi government retained contaminated material.

UNSCOM also learned that, in August 1990, after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, Taha's team was ordered to set up a program to weaponize the biological agents. By January 1991, a team of 100 scientists and support staff had filled 157 bombs and 16 missile warheads with botulin toxin, and 50 bombs and five missile warheads with anthrax. In an interview with the BBC, Taha denied the Iraqi government had weaponized the bacteria. "We never intended to use it", she told journalist Jane Corbin of the BBC's Panorama program. "We never wanted to cause harm or damage to anybody." However, UNSCOM found the munitions dumped in a river near al-Hakam. UNSCOM also discovered that Taha's team had conducted inhalation experiments on donkeys from England and on beagles from Germany. The inspectors seized photographs showing beagles having convulsions inside sealed containers.

The inspectors feared that Taha's team had experimented on human beings. During one inspection, they discovered two primate-sized inhalation chambers, one measuring 5 cubic meters, though there was no evidence the Iraqis had used large primates in their experiments. According to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter in his 1999 book Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis, UNSCOM learned that, between July 1 and August 15, 1995, 50 prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison were transferred to a military post in al-Haditha, in the northwest of Iraq. Iraqi opposition groups say that scientists sprayed the prisoners with anthrax, though no evidence was produced to support these allegations. During one experiment, the inspectors were told, 12 prisoners were tied to posts while shells loaded with anthrax were blown up nearby. Ritter's team demanded to see documents from Abu Ghraib prison showing a prisoner count. Ritter writes that they discovered the records for July and August 1995 were missing. Asked to explain the missing documents, the Iraqi government charged that Ritter was working for the CIA and refused UNSCOM access to certain sites like Baath Party headquarters. Although Ekéus has said that he resisted attempts at such espionage, many allegations have since been made against the agency commission under Butler, charges which Butler has denied .

In April of 1991 Iraq provided its first of what would be several declarations of its chemical weapons programs. Subsequent declarations submitted by Iraq in June 1992 , March 1995, June 1996 came only after after pressure from UNSCOM. In February of 1998 , UNSCOM unanimously determined that after seven years of attempts to establish the extent of Iraq’s chemical weapons programs, that Iraq had still not given the Commission sufficient information for them to conclude that Iraq had undertaken all the disarmament steps required by the UNSC resolutions concerning chemical weapons.

In August of 1991 Iraq had declared to the UNSCOM biological inspection team that it did indeed have a biological weapons program but that it was for defensive purposes. Iraq then provided its first biological weapons declaration shortly after. After UNSCOM determined such declarations to be incomplete, more pressure was placed on Iraq to declare fully and completely. A second disclosure of the biological weapons came in March 1995 however after UNSCOM's investigations and the discovery of inreffutable evidence, Iraq was now forced to admit for the fist time the existence of an offensive biological weapons program. But Iraq still denied weaponization. Further UNSCOM pressure resulted in a third prohibited biological weapons disclosure from Iraq in August of 1995. Only after General Hussein Kamel, Minister of Industry and Minerals and former Director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corporation, with responsibility for all of Iraq's weapons programs, fled Iraq for Jordan, Iraq was forced to reveal that its biological warfare program was much more extensive than was previously admitted and that the program included weaponization. At it was at this time that Iraq admitted that it had achieved the ability to produce longer-range missiles than had previously been admitted to. At this point Iraq provides UNSCOM and IAEA with more documentation that turns out Hussein Kamel had hidden on chicken farm. These documents gave futher revelation to Iraq’s development of VX gas and its attempts to develop and nuclear weapon. More declarations would follow in June of 1996 and September of 1997. However in April and July of 1998 the biological weapons team and UNSCOM Executive Chairman assessed that Iraq’s declarations were as of yet “unverifiable” and “incomplete and inadequate”, seven years after the first declarations were given in 1991. .

In August 1998, Ritter resigned his position as UN weapons inspector and sharply criticized the Clinton administration and the U.N. Security Council for not being vigorous enough about insisting that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. Ritter also accused U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of assisting Iraqi efforts at impeding UNSCOM's work. "Iraq is not disarming", Ritter said on August 27, 1998, and in a second statement, "Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike." In 1998 the UNSCOM weapons inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq. They were not expelled from the country by Iraq as has often been reported (and as George W. Bush alleged in his "axis of evil" speech). Rather, according to Butler himself in his book Saddam Defiant, it was U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh, acting on instructions from Washington, who suggested Butler pull his team from Iraq in order to protect them from the forthcoming U.S. and British airstrikes which eventually took place from December 16- December 19, 1998.

Between inspections: 1998-2002

In August, 1998, absent effective monitoring, Scott Ritter remarked that Iraq could "reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program."

Ritter later accused some UNSCOM personnel of spying, and he strongly criticized the Bill Clinton administration for misusing the commission's resources to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military.

In June, 1999, Ritter responded to an interviewer, saying: "When you ask the question, 'Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?' the answer is no! It is a resounding NO. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is 'no' across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Iraq today possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability."

In June 2000, he penned a piece for Arms Control Today entiled The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament. 2001 saw the theatrical release of his documentary on the UNSCOM weapons inspections in Iraq, In Shifting Sands: The Truth About Unscom and the Disarming of Iraq. The film was funded by an Iraqi-American businessman who, unknown to Ritter, had received Oil-for-Food coupons from the Iraqi regime.

In 2002, Scott Ritter stated that, as of 1998, 90–95% of Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical capabilities, and long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering such weapons, had been verified as destroyed. Technical 100% verification was not possible, said Ritter, not because Iraq still had any hidden weapons, but because Iraq had preemptively destroyed some stockpiles and claimed they had never existed. Many people were surprised by Ritter's turnaround in his view of Iraq during a period when no inspections were made. During the 2002–2003 build-up to war Ritter criticized the Bush administration and maintained that it had provided no credible evidence that Iraq had reconstituted a significant WMD capability. In an interview with Time in September 2002 Ritter said there were attempts to use UNSCOM for spying on Iraq.

UNSCOM encountered various difficulties and a lack of cooperation by the Iraqi government. In 1998, UNSCOM was withdrawn at the request of the United States before Operation Desert Fox. Despite this, UNSCOM's own estimate was that 90-95% of Iraqi WMDs had been successfully destroyed before its 1998 withdrawal. After that Iraq remained without any outside weapons inspectors for four years. During this time speculations arose that Iraq had actively resumed its WMD programmes. In particular, various figures in the George W. Bush administration as well as Congress went so far as to express concern about nuclear weapons.

There is dispute about whether Iraq still had WMD programs after 1998 and whether its cooperation with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was complete. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said in January 2003 that "access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect" and Iraq had "cooperated rather well" in that regard, although "Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance of the disarmament." On March 7, in an address to the Security Council, Hans Blix stated: "Against this background, the question is now asked whether Iraq has cooperated "immediately, unconditionally and actively" with UNMOVIC, as is required under paragraph 9 of resolution 1441 (2002)..... while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some long-standing open disarmament issues, can be seen as "active", or even "proactive", these initiatives 3-4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute "immediate" cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance." Some US officials understood this contradictory statement as a declaration of noncompliance.

There were no weapon inspections in Iraq for nearly four years after the U.N. departed from Iraq in 1998, and Iraq asserted that they would never be invited back. In addition, Saddam had issued a secret order that Iraq did not have to abide by any U.N. Resolution since in his view the U.S. had broken international law.

In 2001 Saddam stated that "we are not at all seeking to build up weapons or look for the most harmful weapons . . . however, we will never hesitate to possess the weapons to defend Iraq and the Arab nation". The International Institute for Strategic Studies in Britain published in September 2002 a review of Iraq's military capability, and concluded that Iraq could assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained. However, it concluded that without such foreign sources, it would take years at a bare minimum. The numbers were viewed as overly optimistic by many critics (such as the Federation of American Scientists and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists).


Colin Powell holding a model vial of anthrax while giving a presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

In late 2002 Saddam Hussein, in a letter to Hans Blix, invited UN weapons inspectors back into the country. Subsequently the Security Council issued resolution 1441 authorizing new inspections in Iraq. The carefully-worded U.N. resolution put the burden on Iraq, not U.N. inspectors, to prove that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction. The US claimed that Iraq's weapons report which was filed with the U.N. leaves weapons and materials unaccounted for; the Iraqis claimed that it was destroyed, something that had been confirmed years earlier by Iraq's highest profile defector, Hussein Kamel. According to reports from the previous U.N. inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that are still unaccounted for. In fact, in 1995, Iraq told the United Nations that it had produced at least 30,000 liters of biological agents, including anthrax and other toxins it could put on missiles, but that all of it had been destroyed.

In January 2003, United Nations weapons inspectors reported that they had found no indication that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or an active program. Some former UNSCOM inspectors disagree about whether the United States could know for certain whether or not Iraq had renewed production of weapons of mass destruction. Robert Gallucci said, "If Iraq had [uranium or plutonium], a fair assessment would be they could fabricate a nuclear weapon, and there's no reason for us to assume we'd find out if they had." Similarly, former inspector Jonathan Tucker said, "Nobody really knows what Iraq has. You really can't tell from a satellite image what's going on inside a factory." However, Hans Blix said in late January 2003 that Iraq had "not genuinely accepted U.N. resolutions demanding that it disarm." He claimed there were some materials which had not been accounted for. Since sites had been found which evidenced the destruction of chemical weaponry, UNSCOM was actively working with Iraq on methods to ascertain for certain whether the amounts destroyed matched up with the amounts that Iraq had produced. In the next quarterly report, after the war, the total amount of proscribed items destroyed by UNMOVIC in Iraq can be gathered. Those include:

  • 50 deployed Al-Samoud 2 missiles
  • Various equipment, including vehicles, engines and warheads, related to the AS2 missiles
  • 2 large propellant casting chambers
  • 14 155 mm shells filled with mustard gas, the mustard gas totaling approximately 49 litres and still at high purity
  • Approximately 500 ml of thiodiglycol
  • Some 122 mm chemical warheads
  • Some chemical equipment
  • 224.6 kg of expired growth media

Scott Ritter stated that the WMDs Saddam had in his possession all those years ago has long since turned to harmless substances. Sarin and tabun have a shelf life of five years, VX lasts a bit longer (but not much longer), and finally botulinum toxin and liquid anthrax last about three years. On March 7, 2003, Hans Blix's last report to the UN security Council prior to the US led invasion of Iraq, described Iraq as actively and proactively cooperating with UNMOVIC, though not necessarily in all areas of relevance and had been frequently uncooperative in the past, but that it was within months of resolving key remaining disarmament tasks.

Legal justification

On 17 March 2003, Peter Goldsmith, Attorney General of the UK, set out his government's legal justification for an invasion of Iraq. He said that Security Council resolution 678 authorised force against Iraq, which was suspended but not terminated by resolution 687, which imposed continuing obligations on Iraq to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction. A material breach of resolution 687 would revive the authority to use force under resolution 678. In resolution 1441 the Security Council determined that Iraq was in material breach of resolution 687 because it had not fully carried out its obligations to disarm. Although resolution 1441 had given Iraq a final chance to comply, UK Attorney General Goldsmith wrote "it is plain that Iraq has failed so to comply". Most member governments of the United Nations Security Council made clear that after resolution 1441 there still was no authorization for the use of force. Indeed, at the time 1441 was passed, both the US and UK representatives stated explicitly that 1441 contained no provision for military action. As the New York Times noted about the negotiations,

'There's no 'automaticity' and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution,’ [stated US ambassador Negroponte at the time] ‘Whatever violation there is, or is judged to exist, will be dealt with in the council, and the council will have an opportunity to consider the matter before any other action is taken.’

The British ambassador to the UN, Sir Jeremy Greenstock concurred,

We heard loud and clear during the negotiations the concerns about "automaticity" and "hidden triggers" - the concern that on a decision so crucial we should not rush into military action; that on a decision so crucial any Iraqi violations should be discussed by the Council. Let me be equally clear in response, as one of. the co-sponsors of the text we have adopted. There is no "automaticity" in this Resolution.

The UN itself never had the chance to declare that Iraq had failed to take its "final opportunity" to comply as the US invasion made it a moot point. American President George W. Bush stated that Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to step down and leave Iraq. As the deadline approached, the US announced that forces would be sent to verify his disarmament and a transition to a new government.

Coalition expanded intelligence

On May 30, 2003, Paul Wolfowitz stated in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine that the issue of weapons of mass destruction was the point of greatest agreement among Bush's team among the reasons to remove Saddam Hussein from power. He said, "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason, but, there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two." The same day, General James T. Conway, senior Marine commander in Iraq, expressed similar thoughts in a satellite interview with reporters at the Pentagon. "It was to do with information management. The intention was to dramatise it."

In an interview with BBC in June 2004, David Kay, former head of the Iraq Survey Group, made the following comment:

"Anyone out there holding — as I gather Prime Minister Blair has recently said — the prospect that, in fact, the Iraq Survey Group is going to unmask actual weapons of mass destruction, [is] really delusional."

On 4 June 2003, U.S. Senator Pat Roberts announced that the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence that he chaired would, as a part of its ongoing oversight of the intelligence community, conduct a Review of intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. On 9 July 2004, the Committee released the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq. On July 17, 2003, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in an address to the US congress, that history would forgive the United States and United Kingdom, even if they were wrong about weapons of mass destruction. He still maintained that "with every fibre of instinct and conviction" Iraq did have weapons of mass destruction.

On 3 February 2004, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced an independent inquiry, to be chaired by Lord Butler of Brockwell, to examine the reliability of British intelligence relating to alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The Butler Review was published 14 July 2004.

In the build up to the 2003 war the New York Times published a number of stories claiming to prove that Iraq possessed WMD. One story in particular, written by Judith Miller helped persuade the American public that Iraq had WMD: in September 2002 she wrote about an intercepted shipment of aluminium tubes which the NYT said were to be used to develop nuclear material. It is now clear that they could not be used for that purpose. The story was followed up with television appearances by Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice all pointing to the story as part of the basis for taking military action against Iraq. Miller's sources were introduced to her by Ahmed Chalabi, an Iraqi exile favourable to a US invasion of Iraq. Miller is also listed as a speaker for The Middle East Forum, an organization which openly declared support for an invasion. In May 2004 the New York Times published an editorial which stated that its journalism in the build up to war had sometimes been lax. It appears that in the cases where Iraqi exiles were used for the stories about WMD were either ignorant as to the real status of Iraq's WMD or lied to journalists to achieve their own ends.

Despite the intelligence lapse, Bush stood by his decision to invade Iraq stating:

But what wasn't wrong was Saddam Hussein had invaded a country, he had used weapons of mass destruction, he had the capability of making weapons of mass destruction, he was firing at our pilots. He was a state sponsor of terror. Removing Saddam Hussein was the right thing for world peace and the security of our country.

In a speech before the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, NC, on April 7, 2006, President Bush stated that he "fully understood that the intelligence was wrong, and [he was] just as disappointed as everybody else" when U.S. troops failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Intelligence shortly before the 2003 invasion of Iraq was heavily used as support arguments in favour of military intervention with the October 2002 C.I.A. report on Iraqi WMDs considered to be the most reliable one available at that time.

"According to the CIA's report, all U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons. There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons." Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) - Congressional Record, October 9, 2002

On May 29, 2003, Andrew Gilligan appears on the BBC's Today program early in the morning. Among the contentions he makes in his report are that the government "ordered (the September Dossier, a British Government dossier on WMD) to be sexed up, to be made more exciting, and ordered more facts to be...discovered." The broadcast is not repeated.

On May 27, 2003, a secret Defense Intelligence Agency fact-finding mission in Iraq reported unanimously to intelligence officials in Washington that two trailers captured in Iraq by Kurdish troops "had nothing to do with biological weapons." The trailers had been a key part of the argument for the 2003 invasion; Secretary of State Colin Powell had told the United Nations Security Council, "We have firsthand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails. We know what the fermenters look like. We know what the tanks, pumps, compressors and other parts look like." The Pentagon team had been sent to investigate the trailers after the invasion. The team of experts unanimously found "no connection to anything biological"; one of the experts told reporters that they privately called the trailers "the biggest sand toilets in the world." The report was classified, and the next day, the CIA publicly released the assessment of its Washington analysts that the trailers were "mobile biological weapons production." The White House continued to refer to the trailers as mobile biological laboratories throughout the year, and the Pentagon field report remained classified. It is still classified, but a Washington Post report of 12 April 2006 disclosed some of the details of the report. According to the Post:

A spokesman for the DIA asserted that the team's findings were neither ignored nor suppressed, but were incorporated in the work of the Iraqi Survey Group, which led the official search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The survey group's final report in September 2004 -- 15 months after the technical report was written -- said the trailers were "impractical" for biological weapons production and were "almost certainly intended" for manufacturing hydrogen for weather balloons. "No one was more surprised than I that we didn't find (WMDs)." General Tommy Franks December 2, 2005.

On 6 February 2004, U.S. President George W. Bush named an Iraq Intelligence Commission, chaired by Charles Robb and Laurence Silberman, to investigate United States intelligence, specifically regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq and Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. On 8 February 2004, Dr Hans Blix, in an interview on BBC TV, accused the US and British governments of dramatising the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, in order to strengthen the case for the 2003 war against the government of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq Survey Group

On 30 May 2003, The U.S. Department of Defense briefed the media that it was ready to formally begin the work of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), a fact finding mission from the coalition of the Iraq occupation into the WMD programs developed by Iraq, taking over from the British-American 75th Exploitation Task Force.

On October 6, 2004, the head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), Charles Duelfer, announced to the United States Senate Armed Services Committee that the group found no evidence that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had produced and stockpiled any weapons of mass destruction since 1991, when UN sanctions were imposed.

Various nuclear facilities, including the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility and Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre, were found looted in the month following the invasion. (Gellman, 3 May 2003) On June 20, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that tons of uranium, as well as other radioactive materials such as thorium, had been recovered, and that the vast majority had remained on site. There were several reports of radiation sickness in the area. It has been suggested that the documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned in Iraq by looters in the final days of the war.

On May 2 2004 a shell containing mustard gas, was found in the middle of street west of Baghdad. The Iraq Survey Group investigation reported that it had been previously "stored improperly", and thus the gas was "ineffective" as a useful chemical agent. Officials from the Defense Department commented that they were not certain if use was to be made of the device as a bomb.

On May 16 2004 a 152 mm artillery shell was used as an improvised bomb.( "Iraq's Chemical Warfare Program Annex F". Retrieved 2005-06-29.) The shell exploded and two U.S. soldiers were treated for minor exposure to a nerve agent (nausea and dilated pupils). On May 18 it was reported by U.S. Department of Defense intelligence officials that tests showed the two-chambered shell contained the chemical agent sarin, the shell being "likely" to have contained three to four liters of the substance (in the form of its two unmixed precursor chemicals prior to the aforementioned explosion that had not effectively mixed them). Former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay told the Associated Press that "he doubted the shell or the nerve agent came from a hidden stockpile, although he didn't rule out that possibility." Kay also considered it possible that the shell was "an old relic overlooked when Saddam said he had destroyed such weapons in the mid-1990s." It is likely that the insurgents who planted the bomb did not know it contained sarin, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, and another U.S. official confirmed that the shell did not have the markings of a chemical agent. The Iraq Survey Group later concluded that the shell "probably originated with a batch that was stored in a Al Muthanna CW complex basement during the late 1980s for the purpose of leakage testing." ( "Iraq's Chemical Warfare Program Annex F". Retrieved 2005-06-29.)

On 29 October U.S. intelligence spokesmen claimed that Iraqi WMDs and programs had been comprehensively hidden before or immediately after the fall of Baghdad, with some elements of the programs being shipped out of the country.

In a July 2 2004 article published by The Associated Press and reported by Fox News that more WMD not destroyed by the Iraqi Regime were discovered in South Central Iraq by Polish Allies. Sarin Gas warheads dating back to the last Iran-Iraq war were trying to be purchased by terrorists for $5000 a warhead. The Polish troops secured munitions on June 23, 2004. After being tested, it turned out that the warheads did not in fact contain sarin gas. The Coalition Press Information Centre in Baghdad announced that the munitions "were all empty and tested negative for any type of chemicals." The US abandoned its search for WMDs in Iraq on January 12 2005.

On September 30, 2004, the U.S. Iraq Survey Group Final Report concluded that, "ISG has not found evidence that Saddam Husayn (sic) possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but the available evidence from its investigation—including detainee interviews and document exploitation—leaves open the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq although not of a militarily significant capability." Among the key findings of the final ISG report were:

  1. Evidence of the maturity and significance of the pre-1991 Iraqi Nuclear Program but found that Iraq's ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after that date;
  2. Concealment of nuclear program in its entirety, as with Iraq's BW program. Aggressive UN inspections after Desert Storm forced Saddam to admit the existence of the program and destroy or surrender components of the program;
  3. After Desert Storm, Iraq concealed key elements of its program and preserved what it could of the professional capabilities of its nuclear scientific community;
  4. Saddam's ambitions in the nuclear area were secondary to his prime objective of ending UN sanctions; and
  5. A limited number of post-1995 activities would have aided the reconstitution of the nuclear weapons program once sanctions were lifted.

The report found that "The ISG has not found evidence that Saddam possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but [there is] the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq, although not of a militarily significant capability." It also concluded that there was a possible intent to restart all banned weapons programs as soon as multilateral sanctions against it had been dropped, with Hussein pursuing WMD proliferation in the future: "There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted..." No senior Iraqi official interviewed by the ISG believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever.

After he was captured by U.S. forces in Baghdad in 2003, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, who ran Saddam's nuclear centrifuge program until 1997, handed over blueprints for a nuclear centrifuge along with some actual centrifuge components, stored at his home — buried in the front yard — awaiting orders from Baghdad to proceed. He said, "I had to maintain the program to the bitter end." In his book, "The Bomb in My Garden", the Iraqi physicist explains that his nuclear stash was the key that could have unlocked and restarted Saddam's bombmaking program. However, it would require a massive investment and a re-creation of thousands of centrifuges in order to reconstitute a full centrifugal enrichment program.

On October 3, 2003, the world digests David Kay's Iraq Survey Group report that finds no stockpiles of WMD in Iraq, although it states the government intended to develop more weapons with additional capabilities. Weapons inspectors in Iraq do find some "biological laboratories" and a collection of "reference strains", including a strain of botulinum bacteria, "ought to have been declared to the UN." Kay testifies that Iraq had not fully complied with UN inspections. In some cases, equipment and materials subject to UN monitoring had been kept hidden from UN inspectors. "So there was a WMD program. It was going ahead. It was rudimentary in many areas", Kay would say in a later interview. In other cases, Iraq had simply lied to the UN in its weapons programs. The US-sponsored search for WMD had at this point cost $300 million and was projected to cost around $600 million more.

In David Kay's statement on the interim report of the ISG the following paragraphs are found:

"We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone. We are actively engaged in searching for such weapons based on information being supplied to us by Iraqis."

"With regard to delivery systems, the ISG team has discovered sufficient evidence to date to conclude that the Iraqi regime was committed to delivery system improvements that would have, if OIF had not occurred, dramatically breached UN restrictions placed on Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War."

"ISG has gathered testimony from missile designers at Al Kindi State Company that Iraq has reinitiated work on converting SA-2 Surface-to-Air Missiles into ballistic missiles with a range goal of about 250 km. Engineering work was reportedly underway in early 2003, despite the presence of UNMOVIC. This program was not declared to the UN."

"ISG has developed multiple sources of testimony, which is corroborated in part by a captured document, that Iraq undertook a program aimed at increasing the HY-2's range and permitting its use as a land-attack missile. These efforts extended the HY-2's range from its original 100 km to 150-180km. Ten modified missiles were delivered to the military prior to OIF and two of these were fired from Umm Qasr during OIF -- one was shot down and one hit Kuwait."

Another notable statement is the following:

"We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002."

The phrase 'WMD-related program activities' was later used in George Bush's state of the union speech. Bush's critics, often not realizing the origin of the statement, derided Bush for unclear wording and trying to "lower the bar" on confirming his pre-war WMD-claims.

In a January 26, 2004 interview with Tom Brokaw of NBC news, Mr. Kay described Iraq's nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs as being in a "rudimentary" stage. He also stated that "What we did find, and as others are investigating it, we found a lot of terrorist groups and individuals that passed through Iraq." In responding to a question by Mr. Brokaw as to whether Iraq was a "gathering threat" as President Bush had asserted before the invasion, Mr. Kay answered:

Tom, an imminent threat is a political judgment. It’s not a technical judgment. I think Baghdad was actually becoming more dangerous in the last two years than even we realized. Saddam was not controlling the society any longer. In the marketplace of terrorism and of WMD, Iraq well could have been that supplier if the war had not intervened.

In June 2004, the United States removed 2 tons of low-enriched uranium from Iraq, sufficient raw material for a single nuclear weapon.

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, several reported finds of chemical weapons were announced. During the invasion itself, there were half a dozen incidents in which the US military announced that it had found chemical weapons. All of these claims were based on field reports, and were later retracted. After the war, many cases — most notably on April 7, 2003 when several large drums tested positive — continued to be reported in the same way.

Another such post-war case occurred on January 9, 2004, when Icelandic munitions experts and Danish military engineers discovered 36 120-mm mortar rounds containing liquid buried in Southern Iraq. While initial tests suggested that the rounds contained a blister agent, a chemical weapon banned by the Geneva Convention, subsequent analysis by American and Danish experts showed that no chemical agent was present. It appears that the rounds have been buried, and most probably forgotten, since the Iran-Iraq war. Some of the munitions were in an advanced state of decay and most of the weaponry would likely have been unusable.

Demetrius Perricos, then head of UNMOVIC, stated that the Kay report contained little information not already known by UNMOVIC. Many organizations, such as the journal Biosecurity and Bioterrorism, have claimed that Kay's report is a "worst case analysis"

Beginning in 2003, the ISG had uncovered remnants of Iraq's 1980s-era WMD programs. On June 21, 2006 Rick Santorum claimed that "we have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons", citing a declassified June 6 letter to Pete Hoekstra saying that since the 2003 invasion, a total of "approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent" had been found scattered throughout the country.

The Washington Post reported that "the U.S. military announced in 2004 in Iraq that several crates of the old shells had been uncovered and that they contained a blister agent that was no longer active." It said the shells "had been buried near the Iranian border, and then long forgotten, by Iraqi troops during their eight-year war with Iran, which ended in 1988."

On July of 2008, 550 metric tonnes of "yellowcake" the last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium, arrived in Montreal as part of a top-secret U.S. operation. This transport of the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment, included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a voyage across two oceans. The Iraqi government sold the yellowcake to a Canadian uranium producer, Cameco Corp., in a transaction the official described as worth "tens of millions of dollars."

Captured documents

Operation Iraqi Freedom documents refers to some 48,000 boxes of documents, audiotapes and videotapes that were captured by the U.S. military during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Many of these documents seem to make clear that Saddam's regime had given up on seeking a WMD capability by the mid-1990s. Associated Press reported, "Repeatedly in the transcripts, Saddam and his lieutenants remind each other that Iraq destroyed its chemical and biological weapons in the early 1990s, and shut down those programs and the nuclear-bomb program, which had never produced a weapon." At one 1996 presidential meeting, top weapons program official Amer Mohammed Rashid, describes his conversation with U.N. weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus: "We don't have anything to hide, so we're giving you all the details." At another meeting Saddam told his deputies, "We cooperated with the resolutions 100 percent and you all know that, and the 5 percent they claim we have not executed could take them 10 years to (verify). Don't think for a minute that we still have WMD. We have nothing." U.S. Congressman Peter Hoekstra called for the U.S. government to put the remaining documents on the Internet so Arabic speakers around the world can help translate the documents.

Theories in the aftermath of the 2003 war

Given the absence of illicit stockpiles and the heavy volume of traffic leaving Iraq shortly before invasion, some analysts and politicians believe Saddam Hussein may have transferred illicit material out of the country during this period. Other individuals suspect WMD may still be hidden in the country, although there is currently no evidence of this. Mainstream opinion, however, is that there were no significant WMDs in Iraq at the time of the invasion.

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