WASHINGTON, United States (Kurdistan24) – The 2005 Iraq Survey Group (ISG) and the recent Chilcot report on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) both affirm that the former Iraqi regime destroyed the weapons long ago; declaring that Baghdad pretended to have WMD to scare Iran.
The historical record contradicts that claim. In late 1994, after nearly four years’ work by the UN weapons inspectors, UNSCOM—Iraq began to insist its pre-war WMD had been destroyed, and sanctions should be lifted. Russia and France pressed UNSCOM on Iraq’s behalf. Rolf Ekeus, UNSCOM’s chairman, informed his staff that he was moving to declare Iraq in compliance with the ceasefire, which would trigger the end of sanctions.
There seemed only one small problem. Some UNSCOM staff believed Iraq had an undeclared biological weapons (BW) program. Ekeus advised them that they needed to produce hard evidence soon.
Israel produced that evidence, providing documents detailing Iraq’s import of large quantities of biological growth material. UNSCOM quizzed Baghdad about what had happened to that supply. Baghdad produced no credible answer, and in April 1995, UNSCOM formally stated that Iraq had an undeclared BW program.
Nevertheless, Iraq and its allies continued to pressure UNSCOM. In June, UNSCOM formally cleared Iraq on its chemical and missiles programs, while the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had already cleared Iraq on its nuclear program.
In July, Iraq finally acknowledged having had a BW program but claimed to have destroyed it years before. UNSCOM asked for evidence. None was forthcoming. Rather, in early August, Iraq demanded that UNSCOM clear it on all its weapons programs by the end of the month, or it would expel UNSCOM from Iraq.
Ekeus asked me then—if I thought Baghdad was serious. Yes, I replied. On August 7, however, Hussein Kamil, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, who had overseen Iraq’s WMD programs, defected to Jordan. Ekeus was to meet Kamil, but the Iraqis asked Ekeus to visit Baghdad first.
Ekeus played skillfully on the Iraqis’ fears of what Kamil might say. They revealed that all their WMD programs were larger and more sophisticated than they had acknowledged. But, they claimed, whatever had not been turned over to UNSCOM, had been destroyed years before.
Ekeus did not believe them. Most alarming was Iraq’s BW program. As Ekeus concluded, anthrax was the “backbone” of Iraq’s BW program. But Iraq had also done extensive research on exotic diseases, including Ebola and Camelpox, which Ekeus suspected was a cover for smallpox. It also emerged that Iraq’s BW production had continued after the war.
At first, Iraq cooperated with UNSCOM. But in early 1996, Iraq again began to block weapons inspections regularly.
In February, Saddam lured Kamil back to Iraq and promptly had Kamil—his daughter’s husband and father of his grandchildren—killed.
In June, UNSCOM was obliged to retreat from an inspection, because the US failed to back it up. National Security Advisor Anthony Lake told Ekeus, “Don’t give me sweaty palms.” Ekeus subsequently referred to him as “Tony Lake of the sweaty palms.”
Ekeus—and almost everyone else following this issue—concluded that Iraq retained the proscribed material it claimed to have destroyed, as it provided no credible evidence of the destruction of that material. Russia and France ceased to pressure UNSCOM, and sanctions remained in place.
In 1997, Baghdad initiated a series of crises that drove UNSCOM out of Iraq in 1998. There were no weapons inspectors in Iraq for the next four years—until the fall of 2002, as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) loomed.
This is why so many people believed that Saddam had proscribed WMD on the eve of OIF. Certainly, it was not a matter of “Bush Lied,” as the president’s more fevered critics—including Donald Trump—had it.
“Occam’s razor” embodies the principle that the simplest explanation is most often the best explanation. The ISG and Chilcot reports would have us believe that for the first four years after the 1991 war, Iraq sought to persuade the world that it destroyed its WMD and sanctions should be lifted.
But in 1995, according to these two reports, Saddam changed his mind and decided to create the impression that he retained proscribed WMD to deter Iran. So he sent his son-in-law to Jordan, and then had him killed, all to create the pretext for the shocking revelations about Iraq’s WMD programs that followed Kamil’s defection.
There is a much simpler explanation: after the 1991 war, Saddam sought to maintain his most sophisticated WMD capabilities, including his BW program. So the Iraqis hid key aspects of those programs from UNSCOM. Following Kamil’s defection, however, they acknowledged what they had tried to keep hidden. But they did not relinquish the material itself. And on the eve of OIF, Saddam shipped it to Syria—just as the authorities cited above have said.
Laurie Ann Mylroie, Ph.D., taught at Harvard University and the US Naval War College. Most recently, she served as a cultural advisor to the US military in Afghanistan.
Editing by Delovan Barwari