Iraq Survey Group:

Straw clutches at straws


Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, defected in August 1995.  For almost a decade, he had been the director of Iraq's Military Industrialisation Corporation, which was responsible for Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes.  He later returned to Iraq and was executed.


After he defected in August 1995, he was interviewed by UN weapons inspectors and told them that, on his orders, all Iraq’s proscribed weapons and weapons-related material had been destroyed in the summer 1991.  A note on that interview by the inspectors came into the public domain a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. 


Kamal was also interviewed by CIA and MI6.  There is no reason to suppose that he told them any different, but in any case they would have seen known what he told the UN inspectors, since they had their operatives embedded in UNSCOM.  So, there is no doubt that as long ago as August 1995, the CIA was told that Iraq’s proscribed agents and weapons had been destroyed, told by the person who, as the head of Iraq’s Military Industrialisation Corporation, had ordered their destruction.


Nearly a decade later, on 6 October 2004, the CIA presented a report to the US Senate Armed Services Committee, which said that Iraq’s proscribed agents and weapons had been destroyed on the orders of Hussein Kamal in the summer of 1991.  Needless to say, the report doesn’t say that the CIA were told this nearly a decade earlier by Hussein Kamal himself.


The report, by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) headed by Charles Duelfer, cost nearly a billion dollars to compile.  Since the CIA was first told that Iraq was disarmed, tens of thousands – perhaps, hundreds of thousands – of Iraqis have died as a result of economic sanctions and war, and they are still dying.


Key findings

The report is extremely long – over 1,200 pages – and it is difficult to extract the key findings from it, not least because they are not always in the sections, headed “Key Findings”, at the beginning of each of the 6 chapters.


For example, the answer to the biggest question of all – Had Iraq any proscribed weapons in March 2003? – is buried away in the middle of Chapter 1 (entitled Regime Strategic Intent)


“ISG has not found evidence that Saddam Husayn possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but the available evidence from its investigation – including detainee interviews and document exploitation – leaves open the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq although not of a militarily significant capability.” (Chapter 1, page 64)


When were the stocks unaccounted for by UN inspectors destroyed?  Answer:


“Following unexpectedly thorough inspections, Saddam ordered Husayn Kamil in July 1991 to destroy unilaterally large numbers of undeclared weapons and related materials to conceal Iraq’s WMD capabilities.” (Chapter 1, page 46)


Specifically, on delivery systems:


“Desert Storm and subsequent UN resolutions and inspections brought many of Iraq’s delivery system programs to a halt. While much of Iraq’s long-range missile inventory and production infrastructure was eliminated, Iraq until late 1991 kept some items hidden to assist future reconstitution of the force. …


“The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has uncovered no evidence Iraq retained Scud-variant missiles [capable of reaching Cyprus], and debriefings of Iraqi officials in addition to some documentation suggest that Iraq did not retain such missiles after 1991.” (Chapter 3, Key Findings)


On nuclear weapons:


“Iraq Survey Group (ISG) discovered further evidence of the maturity and significance of the pre-1991 Iraqi Nuclear Program but found that Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after that date.


“Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.


“Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years.” (Chapter 4, Key Findings)


On chemical weapons:


“While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.”  (Chapter 5, Key Findings)


On biological weapons:


“ISG judges that in 1991 and 1992, Iraq appears to have destroyed its undeclared stocks of BW weapons and probably destroyed remaining holdings of bulk BW agent. However ISG lacks evidence to document complete destruction.” (Chapter 6, Key Findings)


In summary, the report says that it is virtually certain that within months of the Security Council passing resolution 687 in April 1991, all weapons and weapons-related material, proscribed in that resolution, were destroyed and the weapons programmes abandoned – just as Hussein Kamal told the CIA in August 1995.  What is more, there is no evidence that programmes were restarted thereafter.


That is the central conclusion of the ISG report.  Understandably, the Government has been anxious to divert attention from that conclusion, which flies in the face of what it told us prior to March 2003 (and what successive Governments have told us for over a decade).  When the invasion began in March 2003, ostensibly to disarm Iraq in accordance with Security Council resolutions, it had been disarmed for well over a decade.


Straws of speculation

To divert attention from that awkward fact, the Government has been clutching at the straws of speculation in the report about whether Saddam Hussein intended to resume the development of non-conventional weapons, if economic sanctions were lifted.  In a statement to the Commons on 12 October, for example, giving the Government’s reaction to the report, Jack Straw said:


“Saddam Hussein's regime was dedicated to deceiving the international community, and it was working flat out to undermine containment and rebuild the weapons capability that it had already used on its own people and neighbours.”


What, according to the report, did this “flat out working” to rebuild weapons capability amount to?  It is true that the report says, without apparent justification:


Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability – which was essentially destroyed in 1991 – after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized …” (Chapter 1, Key Findings)


But it also says:


“The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead, his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.” (Chapter 1, Key Findings)


“As late as 2003, Iraq’s leadership discussed no WMD aspirations other than advancing the country’s overall scientific and engineering expertise, which potentially included dual-use research and development, according to the former Minister of Military Industrialization [and Deputy Prime Minister, Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh].” (Chapter 1, page 60)


According to Straw, this means that the Iraqi regime was “working flat out” to rebuild its weapons capability.  Has he finally lost his grip on reality?


Middle East free zone

The ISG interviewed senior figures in the former regime, now in US custody, including Saddam Hussein himself.  Some of them made written statements as well.  A few snippets of what they said about the recreation of weapons capability are given in a section entitled Looking Ahead to Resume WMD Programs in Chapter 1 of the report (pages 49-51).


These suggest that, contrary to what the report concludes, Saddam Hussein was not dogmatically committed to the reconstitution of non-conventional weapons capability.  Rather, it would depend on whether anything was done about the commitment in paragraph 14 of resolution 687 to establish a zone free from “weapons of mass destruction” in the Middle East.


According to the report, Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh, the Minister of Military Industrialization, told the ISG that:


“Saddam briefed senior officials on several occasions saying, ‘We do not intend or aspire to return to our previous programs to produce WMD, if the Security Council abides by its obligations pertaining to these resolutions [UNSCR 687, paragraph 14]’.  Saddam reiterated this point in a cabinet meeting in 2002, according to Dr. Humam ‘Abd-al-Khaliq ‘Abd-al Ghafur, the former Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.”


The report continues:


“Huwaysh believed that Saddam would base his decision regarding future Iraqi WMD development on how the Security Council followed through on its promise in paragraph 14 to establish ‘in the Middle East a zone free from weapons of mass destruction and all missiles for their delivery’. If this promise was not fulfilled, Iraq should be free to act in its own interests.”


So, as long as Israel has a non-conventional weapons capability, and in particular nuclear weapons capability, Saddam Hussein reserved the right for Iraq to develop nuclear weapons.  That is a rational response to the threat from Israel, the threat which prompted Iraq to attempt to develop nuclear weapons in the first place.


Strange how this important caveat got omitted from the report’s key findings, and from Jack Straw’s account of the report.


Saddam Hussein’s former Secretary is quoted as saying:


“He [Saddam] would say if only Iraq possessed the nuclear weapon then no one would commit acts of aggression on it or any other Arab country, and the Palestinian issue would be solved peacefully because of Iraq.”


Indeed: when you have a real weapon of mass destruction, and the means of delivering it, you don’t get attacked, and neither do your friends.


* * * *


Iraq’s token effort to disarm

The section entitled Looking Ahead to Resume WMD Programs begins with the following extraordinary remark:


“The Regime made a token effort to comply with the disarmament process, but the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions. Outward acts of compliance belied a covert desire to resume WMD activities.


It seems that Jack Straw is not alone in losing his grip on reality.  Charles Duelfer has similar problems.  Iraq disarmed within months of resolution 687 being passed, but according to him Iraq only made “a token effort” to comply Iraq’s token effort to comply with the disarmament process.


As for Iraq not intending to meet the spirit of Security Council resolutions, the US stated openly from the outset that they would never comply with paragraph 22 of 687, which specified that economic sanctions would be lifted, if Iraq fulfilled its disarmament obligations.  But, throughout the 1990s, the US made it clear that it would never honour that obligation, saying publicly and explicitly that sanctions would not be lifted as long Saddam Hussein remained in power – which meant that the last thing the US wanted was for Iraq to be declared disarmed.


* * * *


Straw losing his grip

We quoted above one example of Jack Straw’s losing his grip on reality in the Commons on 12 October.  It wasn’t the only remark that day, which suggested that men in white coats will be coming for him soon.  For example, in his opening statement he said:


“Even after reading all the evidence detailed by the Iraq survey group, it is still hard to believe that any regime could behave in so self-destructive a manner as to pretend that it had forbidden weaponry, when in fact it had not.”


Does he not remember that, far from pretending to have forbidden weaponry, for many years Iraq repeatedly said that it had none?  And it was telling the truth, which is more than can be said for the Government of which he is a senior member.




“It is still hard to comprehend the logic of Saddam's behaviour in resisting UN inspections in 1998, and indeed driving out the inspectors, when he could have demonstrated that he had no weapons of mass destruction.”


Saddam Hussein didn’t drive out the UN inspectors: Clinton and Blair drove them out in December 1998, in order to bomb Iraq (and Bush and Blair drove them out in March 2003, in order to invade Iraq).


And, speaking about March 2003:


“We would have had to decide, with no evidence, and despite Saddam's resistance to inspections, that he had in fact disposed of his WMD without telling the UN.”


Does he not remember that Iraq told the UN inspectors repeatedly that it had disposed of its proscribed weapons, and showed them where?




“Instead [in March 2003], we made the judgment that it would not be safe to turn away and leave Saddam re-empowered and re-emboldened.”


Does he not know that inspection and monitoring could have been continued indefinitely?


Finally, in reply to Robin Cook, speaking about the situation at the UN in March 2003:


“One permanent member of the Security Council said that “whatever the circumstances” – the exact phrase used – France would veto any decision in respect of military action.”


That is a straightforward lie: in President Chirac’s TV interview in which he used the phrase “whatever the circumstances”, he said that "war would be inevitable", if the UN inspectors reported that they couldn't achieve their goal of disarming Iraq.



Labour & Trade Union Review

November 2004