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26 March 2002

Iraq’s Weapons
US/UK Lies And Distortions
A Voices in the Wilderness UK briefing

US/UK Propaganda To Undermine Public Opposition

The Prime Minister seems determined to support an illegal war on Iraq led by the United States, despite public opinion - 51 per cent of people oppose war against Iraq (and only 35 per cent would support one). (Guardian, 19 Mar. 2002, p. 1) War propaganda designed to create public acquiescence in the war will play on our fears about weapons of mass destruction.

Blair Goes Further Than Bush Or Cheney

On 11 Mar. 2002, ‘Mr Blair was more hawkish than Mr Bush, declaring emphatically that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD): "There is a threat from Saddam and the weapons of mass destruction he has acquired. It is not in doubt."’ (Guardian, 12 Mar. 2002, p. 1) This is particularly interesting since the 10-page briefing document circulated by Jack Straw to sceptical Labour backbenchers at a private meeting on 12 Mar. acknowledged that ‘there is no firm evidence that President Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction at present’. (The Times, 13 March 2002)

Likewise a new British Joint Intelligence dossier on Iraq will apparently ‘focus on Saddam’s attempts to acquire weapons of mass destruction, but there is said to be little new or surprising evidence in this area.’ According to a senior Foreign Office official, "It will say what you would expect it to say: this is a man who is politically unpredictable, capable of doing bad things to his neighbours and to his own people. We have known that for a long time."

‘Blair has encouraged expectations among MPs and cabinet colleagues that [this] intelligence dossier would provide fresh support for action to overthrow the Iraqi dictator. But there is little new information worth sharing or publishing, according to insiders.’ (Sunday Times, 10 Mar. 2002, p. 2)

Potential Marriage

‘Mr Blair pointed out that as early as September 14 he had spoken of the threat of countries "trading" in such weapons’ (Times, 12 Mar. 2002, p. 1), but where’s the evidence of Iraq "trading" in weapons of mass destruction? US Vice-President Cheney has focused attention on the "potential marriage" between terrorist groups and those states with weapons of mass destruction. (Times, 12 Mar. 2002, p. 5) So far no evidence has been produced that Iraq has ‘traded’ - or might ‘trade’ - in WMD.

Iraq Was Qualitatively Disarmed By 1998

Scott Ritter, the former Marine who resigned from the UN weapons inspection agency UNSCOM because it was not pursuing Iraqi weapons programmes aggressively enough, suggests that instead of trying to verify the destruction of all Iraqi weapons and equipment related to weapons of mass destruction – "quantitative disarmament" – the UN should focus on ‘the more important task of monitoring Iraq to ensure that its dismantled weapons programs are not reconstituted’, or "qualitative disarmament".

Ritter wrote in Arms Control Today (June 2000 – hereafter ACT) that by 1998, Iraq ‘no longer possessed any meaningful quantities of chemical or biological agent, if it possessed any at all, and the industrial means to produce these agents had either been eliminated or were subject to stringent monitoring’. Ditto Iraq’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities. (ACT)

How the US reacted.

According to Ritter ‘By the end of 1998, Iraq had, in fact, been disarmed to a level unprecedented in modern history’ and ‘as long as monitoring inspections remained in place, Iraq presented a WMD-based threat to no-one’ (ACT). it is worth recalling how the US Government responded to this achievement: they chose first to subvert UNSCOM by infiltrating it with members of its intelligence agencies and then - with Britain - to destroy it by launching an illegal military assault against Iraq, knowing full well that this would terminate inspections. Clearly concern over Iraq’s WMD capabilities is not driving policy.

Since 1998?

If Ritter is correct, is there any evidence that Iraq has reconstituted its weapons capabilities since Dec. 1998, when UN weapons inspectors were pulled out on US instruction, as a precursor to the Operation Desert Fox bombing raids? Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, the new UN weapons inspection agency which has replaced UNSCOM, has said he ‘does not accept as fact the US and UK’s repeated assertions that Baghdad has used the time to rebuild its weapons of mass destruction’: ‘"It would be inappropriate for me to accept and adopt this position, but it would also be naïve of me to conclude that there may be no veracity – of course it is possible, I won’t go as far as saying probable," Mr Blix said.’ (Financial Times, 7 Mar. 2002, p. 20)

Ballistic Missiles

UN Security Council Resolution 687 banned Iraq from possessing ballistic missiles with a range of over 150 kilometres, because they might carry weapons of mass destruction. In Dec. 1992, UNSCOM reported that ‘All ballistic missiles and items related to their production and development… have been destroyed.’ Much has been made of Iraq’s (thwarted) attempts since 1991 to acquire missile guidance and control equipment yet Ritter points out that, ‘these covert procurement efforts, though illegal, were in support of a permitted missile system, the 150-kilometer-range Al Samoud’. (Ritter, ACT)

Nuclear Weapons

The head of German intelligence, August Hanning, claims, "It is our estimate that Iraq will have an atomic bomb in three years." (New Yorker, 25 Mar. 2002, p. 75) No evidence is provided. On the other hand, a British intelligence report, ‘not yet complete’ (it appears to be the same Joint Intelligence Committee report already referred to) concludes that, ‘The status of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme remains a mystery to Western Intelligence agencies’. (Times, 14 Mar. 2002, p. 17)

According to Ritter, the ‘massive infrastructure’ Iraq had built up in its nuclear weapons programme ‘had been eliminated by 1995’ by the IAEA. Even if some components have been retained, ‘it would be of no use to Iraq given the extent to which Iraq’s nuclear program was dismantled by the IAEA’. (ACT)

Rosemary Hollis, head of the Middle East programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, concludes that ‘Iraq does not have the capacity to build nuclear weapons’: ‘She suggests that the emphasis now on Saddam’s nuclear ambitions is dictated by Washington’s plans for a pre-emptive strike on Iraq.’ (Guardian, 15 Mar. 2002, p. 16)

Chemical Weapons

Ritter concedes that problems remain regarding VX nerve agent and mustard gas loaded onto 155mm artillery shells. He notes that VX mass-production equipment turned over to UNSCOM in 1996 was never actually used, and argues that the lack of any evidence of VX production found during UNSCOM’s ‘numerous inspections’ of possible storage and production sites ‘minimizes the likelihood that Iraq maintains any significant stockpile of VX weapons.’

As for the mustard gas artillery shells, 750 shells are unaccounted for. Ritter argues that ‘A meaningful CW attack using artillery requires thousands of rounds,’ ‘a few hundred 155mm mustard shells have little military value for use on the modern battlefield’, and ‘cannot be viewed as a serious threat’. (Ritter, ACT)

Chemical weapon production equipment could be easily distributed throughout Iraq’s commercial chemical-related facilities but according to Ritter, manufacturing chemical weapons ‘would require the assembling of production equipment into a single integrated facility, creating an infrastructure readily detectable by the strategic intelligence capabilities of the United States’, and ‘the CIA has clearly stated on several occasions since the termination of inspections in Dec. 1998 that no such activity has been detected.’ (Ritter, ACT)

Biological Weapons

For Charles Duelfer, former deputy chair of UNSCOM, ‘The biological issue is the biggest issue and least understood.’ Iraq has mobile laboratories capable of producing such weapons ‘in large quantities.’ Ritter, on the other hand, argues that unaccounted for stocks of chemical and biological weapons "would no longer be viable": ‘Weapons built before the Gulf war that slipped through the Unscom net would by now have passed their sell-by date.’ (Guardian, 5 Mar. 2002, p. 16) ‘Contrary to popular belief, BW cannot simply be cooked up in the basement; it requires a large and sophisticated infrastructure, especially if the agent is to be filled into munitions. As with CW, the CIA has not detected any such activity concerning BW since UNSCOM inspectors left Iraq.’ (Ritter, Arms Control Today, June 2000)

No Evidence

The head of the UN weapons inspectorate, Hans Blix, does not believe the available evidence proves the US/UK case regarding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. British intelligence apparently has no new evidence. Even if it were true that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, this would not justify a pre-emptive war. David Albright, former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector, remarks, ‘The evidence produced so far is worrying. It is an argument for getting the inspectors back in as fast as possible, but not for going to war.’ (Observer, 17 Mar. 2002, p. 15) There is no evidence concerning the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorists.

An Offer Rejected

On the other hand, Baghdad has offered to allow in British weapons inspectors, an offer that has been rejected and ignored (apart from a buried note in the Guardian, 4 Mar. 2002, p. 2). Baghdad will permit inspections if ‘the locations to be searched are identified and a timetable is set up and respected.’ (FT, 19 Mar. 2002, p. 11) These offers should be explored, not ignored.

Britain and the US reject such conditions, or any negotiation. ‘Key figures in the White House believe that demands on Saddam to re-admit United Nations weapons inspectors should be set so high that he would fail to meet them unless he provided officials with total freedom.’ (Times, 16 Feb. 2002, p. 19) A US intelligence official has said the White House ‘will not take yes for an answer’. (Guardian, 14 Feb. 2002, p. 1)

Unproven allegations about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction are being used to undermine public opposition to an illegal war.

Voices in the Wilderness UK breaks the economic sanctions on Iraq. For further information on Iraq go to the Voices website.

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