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Friday | June 20, 2003

Ken Pollack: we'll find Saddam's bombs

Ken Pollack, author of the modern day Remember the Maine The Threatening Storm is now trying to explain why there has been no discovery of WMD in Iraq.

Saddam's Bombs? We'll Find Them

The fact that the sites we suspected of containing hidden weapons before the war turned out to have nothing in them is not very significant. American intelligence agencies never claimed to know exactly where or how the Iraqis were hiding what they had — not in 1995, not in 1999 and not six months ago. It is very possible that the "missing" facilities, weaponized agents, precursor materials and even stored munitions all could still be hidden in places we never would have thought to look. This is exactly why, before the war, so few former weapons inspectors had confidence that a new round of United Nations inspections would find the items they were convinced Iraq was hiding

However, Scott Ritter disagrees with this assessment. Ritter, unlike Pollack, actually spent time in Iraq as a weapons inspector.

[While we were never able to provide 100 percent certainty regarding the disposition of Iraq's proscribed weaponry, we did ascertain a 90-95 percent level of verified disarmament. This figure takes into account the destruction or dismantling of every major factory associated with prohibited weapons manufacture, all significant items of production equipment, and the majority of the weapons and agent produced by Iraq.

With the exception of mustard agent, all chemical agent produced by Iraq prior to 1990 would have degraded within five years (the jury is still out regarding Iraq's VX nerve agent program - while inspectors have accounted for the laboratories, production equipment and most of the agent produced from 1990-91, major discrepancies in the Iraqi accounting preclude any final disposition at this time.) ]

It was pretty clear from comments by several people in the inspection team that they would not find large stocks of chemical weapons in Iraq. And according to the way most countries make and use chemical weapons, that is what would have had to been found.

[Chemical agents can either be stored in bulk quantities or loaded into munitions. With the nerve agents in particular, the quality of the initial material must be excellent and they must be stored under inert conditions with the absolute exclusion of oxygen and moisture. Generally an overlay of dry helium was employed to leak check munitions. A small amount of stabilizer (2–4 percent) was also used to extend agent life span. The United States stored agent in both bulk containers and in munitions. In the latter instance, the munitions were normally stored in revetted bunkers. This was particularly true when explosives and propellants were uploaded in the munitions. Storage of agents in explosive, uploaded munitions has both advantages and disadvantages. The principal advantage is speed of use when the munition is needed. There is no labor-intensive or time-consuming uploading process, and most munitions can be handled and shipped as if they were conventional munitions. The principal disadvantage is that explosives and propellants become part of the “system,” and their storage and deterioration may complicate the handling of the chemical weapons. An illustrative case is seen in the 115-mm M55 rockets where burster, fuse, and rocket propellant cannot be easily and/or safely separated from the agent warhead before demilitarization. As a consequence, demilitarization is far more complicated and costly than it would be otherwise.

Agents stored in bulk in the United States are now stored entirely in large cylindrical “ton” containers similar to those used to store and ship many commercial chemicals. The procedure for the former Soviet Union’s stockpile appears to have been to upload their stocks of nerve agent into munitions when produced, but to store them without the bursters or fuses. These munitions were then themselves stored in more conventional warehouse-like structures. Conversely, the older stocks of vesicants (i.e., mustard, lewisite and mustard-lewisite mixtures) are stored in bulk, apparently intended to be filled in munitions a short time before use. Bulk storage of the vesicants by the Russians is in large railroad-car-size tanks again located in warehouse-like structures.

When the Iraqis produced chemical munitions they appeared to adhere to a “make and use” regimen. Judging by the information Iraq gave the United Nations, later verified by on-site inspections, Iraq had poor product quality for their nerve agents.]

Actually, there are many possible explanations. Saddam Hussein may have underestimated the likelihood of war and not filled any chemical weapons before the invasion. He may have been killed or gravely wounded in the "decapitation" strike on the eve of the invasion and unable to give the orders. Or he may have just been surprised by the extremely rapid pace of the coalition's ground advance and the sudden collapse of the Republican Guard divisions surrounding Baghdad. It is also possible that Iraq did not have the capacity to make the weapons, but given the prewar evidence, this is still the least likely explanation.

The ridiculous assumptions here are numerous, but let's say this: even if Saddam had been killed and there were no weapons filled, there still should have been stocks of dried chemicals and empty shells ready to be filled with chemicals at secure sites. Given the temperature sensitive nature of these chemicals, not to say bio weapons, storage in the oven like Iraqi heat would be difficult.

You simply cannot make this up as you go along. There would have had to have been trained soldiers near chemical depots, ready to go.

The one potentially important discovery made so far by American troops — two tractor-trailers found in April and May that fit the descriptions of mobile germ-warfare labs given by Iraqi defectors over the years — might well point to a likely explanation for at least part of the mystery: Iraq may have decided to keep only a chemical and biological warfare production capability rather than large stockpiles of the munitions themselves. This would square with the fact that several dozen chemical warfare factories were rebuilt after the first gulf war to produce civilian pharmaceuticals, but were widely believed to be dual-use plants capable of quickly being converted back to chemical warfare production.

According to the Observer, these "mobile germ-warfare" labs were sold to the Iraqis in 1987 for hydrogen production for artillery balloons. Not some ghastly biowar experiments.

In 1995, for example, United Nations inspectors found Russian-made ballistic-missile gyroscopes at the bottom of the Tigris River; Jordanian officials intercepted others being smuggled into Iraq that same year. In July 1998, international inspectors discovered an Iraqi document that showed Baghdad had lied about the number of chemical bombs it had dropped during the Iran-Iraq War, leaving some 6,000 such weapons unaccounted for. Iraq simply refused to concede that the document even existed.

Even if they still existed, the fact is that they would have been useless by 2001, their shelflife date. This also sounds sinister, until you talk to any service member who has suffered through an inspection. All manner of unauthorized equipment gets buried in conex boxes and hidden so they can pass inspection without question. The numbers of something like artillery shells might simply be an accounting error or a lie to cover corruption. Whatever it is, the weapons have not shown up in any depot or stockpile since 1998.

As for the estimates the Bush administration presented regarding Iraq's holdings of weapons-related materials, they came from unchallenged evidence gathered by United Nations inspectors (in many cases, from records of the companies that sold the materials to Iraq in the first place). For instance, Iraq admitted importing 200 to 250 tons of precursor agents for VX nerve gas; it claimed to have destroyed these chemicals but never proved that it had done so. Even Hans Blix, the last head weapons inspector and a leading skeptic of the need for an invasion, admitted that the Iraqis refused to provide a credible accounting for these materials.

He also forgets that UN inspection regime has a four year gap. Saddam may have well destroyed those weapons in the four intervening years. If all the known chemical production facilities were destroyed and no new ones found, how could they have made new weapons?

Nor was it just government agencies that were alarmed. In the summer of 2002 I attended a meeting with more than a dozen former weapons inspectors from half a dozen countries, along with another dozen experts on Iraq's weapons programs. Those present were asked whether they believed Iraq had a clandestine centrifuge lab operating somewhere; everyone did. Several even said they believed the Iraqis had a covert calutron program going as well. (Centrifuge and calutron operations allow a country to enrich uranium and produce the fissile material for a nuclear bomb.)

Believe and prove are two different things. By March 17, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded the following:

Basis of the Assessment

As of 17 March 2003, the IAEA did not find in Iraq any evidence of the revival of a nuclear programme prohibited under resolutions 687 (1991) and 707 (1991). However, the time available for the IAEA before inspections were suspended was not sufficient to permit it to complete its overall review and assessment. This review would have required further investigation of various types of assets needed for Iraq to develop a nuclear programme, as well as investigation of all the possible processes of nuclear weapon development.
Review of Assets

Infrastructure, Equipment and Materials

The industrial capacity in Iraq has deteriorated substantially over the past decade, mainly due to the lack of equipment and the lack of consistent maintenance by Iraq of sophisticated equipment. All previously inspected and tagged critical machine tools were accounted for. At a few inspection sites, new machine tools had been installed and, at a few others, machine tools which had been inoperative in 1998 were retrofitted.


Many areas of Iraqi expertise seem to have gone through significant depletion through the years, particularly as a result of the departure of many qualified staff. For instance, based on the list provided by Iraq and interviews conducted with centrifuge enrichment experts, the IAEA has obtained a more detailed understanding of the responsibilities and expertise of many former members of the group that conducted all of Iraq's centrifuge enrichment research and development work from 1987 to 1991. Less than a third of this staff remained in the company that succeeded that group, and the core of expertise that existed in 1990 appears to have been largely disbanded]

So, by the time the war began, the idea that a nuclear program remained in Iraq was completely discreted by the IAEA and the US has uncovered no evidence to alter that conclusion.

As important as this debate is, what may ultimately turn out to be the biggest concern over the Iraqi weapons program is the question of whose hands it is now in. If we do confirm that those two trailers are mobile biological warfare labs, we are faced with a tremendous problem. If the defectors' reports about the rates at which such mobile labs were supposedly constructed are correct, there are probably 22 more trailers still out there. Where are they? Syria? Iran? Jordan? Still somewhere in Iraq? Or have they found their way into the hands of those most covetous — Osama bin Laden and his confederates?

I think it is safe to say at this point the "labs" didn't exist in practical terms. And the idea of 22 of them being around would be comical if US troops weren't dying. Task Force 20 has found no evidence of a fleet of labs, nor has the 75th Explotation Task Force and now the Iraq Survey Group takes their turn.

Add in UNMOVIC and the IAEA team and no one has found ANY evidence of Saddam's weapons of mass destruction in a period lasting months. Complete with help from the US's most secret intelligence platforms, and defectors. Nothing. Not one lead.

Maybe this means Saddam was the most fiendish and clever dictator in history. A master of the Russian arts of maskirova better than his teachers. Then again, maybe Scott Ritter is right and we blew up most of it and Saddam got rid of the rest, saving him the effort of actually maintaining the finicky weapons. Let's not forget Saddam needed to maintain his regular forces with regular munitions. The odds are that he shifted the budget and production effort to building vast stores of conventional weapons to wage a guerrilla war with. Yet, left the remnants in place to amuse and bewitch the Americans. However, there might be remnants left in place.

Nor can we allow our consideration of weapons of mass destruction and politicized intelligence to be a distraction from the most important task at hand: rebuilding Iraq. History may forgive the United States if we don't find the arsenal we thought we would. No one will forgive us if we botch the reconstruction and leave Iraq a worse mess than we found it.

Which we seem well on the way to be doing

Explosion Knocks Out Power in Iraqi Town

Filed at 2:58 p.m. ET

FALLUJAH, Iraq (AP) -- Attacks against U.S. forces showed no sign of letting up Friday after a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into a power station in Fallujah, injuring two American soldiers and blacking out much of the city -- a center of anti-American hostility.

At Friday prayers, imams preached anti-American sermons, claiming Jews are buying up real estate in Iraq. Based on groundless rumors, the warnings from pulpits, on leaflets and in Iraqi newspapers reflected Iraqis' fear and anger over the U.S.-led occupation.

Steve Gilliard

Posted June 20, 2003 02:49 PM | Comments (95)


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