Did Saddam Really Have Illegal Weapons?
Vol: 19 Issue: 30 Wednesday, April 30, 2003
It has only been a few weeks, and Iraq is a big country. But all we have found is a few possible sites for manufacture and a few depots where ingredients that could create weapons of mass destruction were stored.
Even the underground nuclear complex at the vast Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center that looked like the smoking gun has not yet been assessed. And for all we know, at least some of the nuclear material inside may have been looted and put on the black market.
Tuwaitha is headquarters of Iraq’s Atomic Energy Agency, with hundreds of structures covering some 120 acres. At the height of Iraq’s clandestine nuclear weapons program, which nearly succeeded in building a bomb in 1991, Tuwaitha incorporated research reactors, uranium mining and enrichment facilities, chemical engineering plants and an explosives fabrication center to build the device that detonates a nuclear core.
Before the war began last month, the center held 3,896 pounds of partially enriched uranium, more than 94 tons of natural uranium and smaller quantities of cesium, cobalt and strontium, according to reports compiled through the 1990s by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Immensely valuable on the international black market, the uranium was in a form suitable for further enrichment to “weapons grade,” the core of a nuclear device. The other substances, products of medical and industrial waste, emit intense radiation. They have been sought, officials said, by terrorists seeking to build a so-called dirty bomb, which uses conventional explosives to scatter dangerous radioactive particles.
Defense officials acknowledge that the U.S. government has no idea whether any of Tuwaitha’s potentially deadly contents have been stolen, because it has not dispatched investigators to appraise the site. What it does know, according to officials at the Pentagon and U.S. Central Command, is that the sprawling campus, 11 miles south of Baghdad, lay unguarded for days and that looters made their way inside.
Disputes inside the U.S. Defense Department and with other government agencies have slowed the preparation of orders for a team of nuclear experts to assess Tuwaitha, officials said.
President Bush’s senior advisers have accused the IAEA, under Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, of being hostile to U.S. objectives in Iraq. Civilian policy officials in the Pentagon, according to people with first-hand knowledge, initially proposed to make a complete inspection of Tuwaitha without the IAEA — an exercise that apparently would have required U.S. government experts to break seals the agency’s inspectors placed on safeguarded nuclear materials. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which the United States is a signatory, gives the IAEA exclusive authority over those seals.
Until that dispute is settled, what Saddam had at Tuwaitha — and whether it is still there — will remain shrouded by the fog of war and the even foggier diplomatic processes.
So, we know what we don’t know about Tuwaitha — what else don’t we know we don’t know, and how long haven’t we known it? Or something like that.
Clearly, the war’s legitimacy in the eyes of much of the world may well rest on whether chemical and biological weapons are ever found. Although for some of the world, like the French or Germans or Russians it will never be legitimate. Especially since anything we do find in future will probably trace back to one of the three, anyway.
If Saddam had them, why didn’t he use them early in the war when he fired the Scuds he didn’t have into Kuwait? There are a couple of possible reasons. The first might be the fact he was killed or incapacitated in the first hours of the war. We still don’t know for sure.
The second might be that the psycho-ops operations worked and commanders in the field didn’t order their use. A third possible reason could be that we hit all the launchers in the first few hours. Fourthly, US troops moved so quickly it is possible the Iraqis couldn’t use them without hitting themselves.
The problem with all of these theories is this. Regardless of WHY the weapons weren’t deployed, if they were there, WHERE did they go?
That isn’t to say that the weapons didn’t exist. Saddam had them before, and the idea they were destroyed without records is ludicrous.
Like the Nazis, the Iraqi regime documented everything meticulously. They even documented the butchery, torture and executions that was part of daily life in Iraq. It is ridiculous to assume they would not have documented the destruction of the tons of nerve gas and chemical weapons they claimed they destroyed voluntarily after they threw out the weapons inspectors in 1998.
So, the mystery remains. If they existed, why didn’t Saddam use them and where are they now?
There is one more possibility that fits with what is known about Saddam Hussein.
He gambled and lost. For the last dozen years since Gulf War I, Saddam managed to play the international community like a bass fiddle. A good example is the documentary evidence that clearly builds a case that Saddam paid off France, Germany and Russia to obstruct the US invasion.
Saddam truly believed that France, Russia, and, more broadly, world opinion would either prevent any hostilities in the first place or halt any operation before it reached Baghdad.
Saddam was gambling that, like in Gulf War I, international pressure would force the US to stop short of Baghdad. Especially if, along the way, coalition forces did NOT find any evidence of WMD.
Saddam knew that, WMD or not, he could not win the war militarily. He also knew that if he DID deploy weapons of mass destruction, no political pressure on earth would stop the United States from flattening him and his regime.
Every U.N. report concluded that Saddam was not fully disclosing his program. What’s more, the inspectors had better technology and access than had been available in the past. Their numbers and knowledge were sure to build, and they had world opinion on their side.
The smart course for Saddam? Bury whatever he had in some obscure corner of the country, where inspectors would never find it. But doing so meant that the weapons would be inaccessible if they were needed in a war.
It would be a reasonable gamble for someone who thought his regime would never be in real danger, thanks to global outrage at an unprovoked attack. This theory is consistent not only with how things played out [nobody has found these weapons yet] but also with intelligence reports that Saddam would use these arms only as a last resort to defend his regime.
In a curious way, the UN inspectors were effective in preventing the deployment of those weapons, disarming Saddam in fact, even if it were unable to disarm Iraq formally. The UN inspection regime forced Saddam to hide his weapons so well they would be unavailable when he needed them.
That is the only theory that fits the known facts. Otherwise, Saddam’s behavior over the past dozen years makes no sense. Why hide things if he had nothing to hide? That the regime lied, and played a ‘cheat and retreat’ game is well documented.
Why would Saddam have blocked inspections if nothing could be found? Why would he have endured sanctions and no-fly zones for 10 years? He could have opened up his palaces and other sites and ended inspections years ago if he had nothing. As much money as he made and stole, it was nothing compared to the riches he could have had running a sanction-free Iraq.
Saddam had every incentive to be open if he had no banned weapons. Logic, history and ordinary deductive reasoning demand that those weapons be out there somewhere.
Saddam gambled and lost. George Bush gambled as well. Whether or not Bush won his bet won’t be known until we know where Saddam’s arsenal is now.
Because it s out there. Somewhere. And we better find it before the terrorists do.
The war won’t be over until we do.