Final take on Iraqi WMD
- The CIA concludes that Saddam Hussein didn't have significant
stockpiles of WMD, though he wanted them.
By Peter Grier and Faye Bowers
A final take on Iraqi WMD
The Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON Here's the US government's bottom line: No, Iraq didn't
have significant stockpiles of chemical, biological, or nuclear
weapons at the time of the US-led invasion last spring. But the
concept of weapons of mass destruction was important to Saddam
Mr. Hussein personally believes that WMDs saved his skin twice -
first, when he used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war in the
1980s, and second, when their threat helped halt US troops short of
Baghdad in the Persian Gulf War.
And what Hussein wants, Hussein tries to get, says the final report
of the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group. His country may have been boxed in
by international sanctions, and he may have been delusional about
its resources, but he himself represented a sort of WMD-in-waiting,
eager to reconstitute his weapons programs in time.
"If you want to understand Iraq, you've got to understand Saddam,"
says a US official about the Survey Group's work.
The 1,500-page report made public Wednesday is the most
comprehensive yet in a series of studies produced by the Iraq Survey
Group beginning last year.
All have concluded that Iraq had no stockpiles of banned weapons in
2003 and had no ongoing large-scale effort to obtain any. Thus Iraq
did not represent an imminent threat to the United States, as the
White House insisted at the time of the US-led invasion.
The report "does reinforce what I think most people know by now -
the premise of the war was unsound in terms of protecting us from
WMD," says Hurst Hannum, an international law professor at Tufts
University's Fletcher School in Medford, Mass.
And it was UN-led international weapons inspections that helped
convince Hussein to rid himself of WMD evidence. He destroyed
weapons stockpiles in accordance with UN resolutions because he was
afraid that if he did not, he would be found out.
"Despite all the naysaying and criticism of inspectors and the
inspection regime ... [inspections] worked as well as you would have
wanted them to work," says Jim Walsh, an international security
expert at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.
So, rather than cheat and mislead weapons inspectors, Hussein
decided on another approach: getting sanctions lifted. His strategic
approach to his WMD problem through the middle and late 1990s
centered around a two-track effort to bust his sanction chains,
according to the Iraq Survey Report.
The first track was by going along and trying to placate UN members.
The second track was by subverting the oil-for-food program, to both
siphon off as much cash as possible, and curry favor with other
One source for these assertions is Hussein himself. In the course of
its work, the survey group had access to the captured former leader
of Iraq, who was apparently at least somewhat forthcoming about his
WMD decisions and how he related them to his beliefs about Iraq's
position in the world.
First of all, the weapons were obviously very important to him,
according to an official with access to survey group documents. The
Iraqi leader and his top generals believe that their long-range
strikes with chemical warheads was what ended the Iran-Iraq war.
They similarly appear to believe that in 1991 Hussein's order to
disperse WMDs, and preauthorize their use if necessary, is what
saved them from a final assault by the US on Baghdad.
Hussein's main strategic worry prior to the events that culminated
in his ouster was Iran, not the US, according to a US official.
Israel was second on the threat list. The US was third - apparently
because Hussein thought the US would eventually decide to deal with
him as a fact of Middle East life.
One FBI agent has been the deposed Iraqi leader's main debriefer.
His main argument to Hussein, in turn, has been this: Talk to us and
help shape your legacy. Otherwise, all your top aides, which are in
our custody, will do the shaping for you.
"He was not loquacious on his WMD activities. He put in perspective
how he viewed threats, his internal deliberations about how he
viewed the weapons," says a US official.
While ridding himself of physical aspects of a WMD program, Hussein
retained intellectual capability, in the form of scientists and
other experts, maintains the report. He intended to reconstitute his
programs at the proper time, to counter Iran's nuclear development,
if nothing else.
That's a point President Bush raised in a speech Wednesday.
Hussein "was a risk, a real risk," Bush said. "After 9/11 that was a
risk we could not afford to take."
But Democrats conclude from the report of the Iraq Survey Group,
headed by arms inspector Charles Duelfer, that Iraq was in fact a
diminishing threat at the time of the US invasion, not a gathering
"Intentions do not constitute a growing danger," says Rep. Jane
Harman (D) of California, a House Intelligence Committee member.
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