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Iraq War: WMD capability and disarmament.

Paper no. 641        25. 03. 2003


by Sangeeta Debashis

United States and its allies by starting Gulf War II have put an end to the peaceful disarmament first advocated and implemented by the UN.  It now looks that US wants to have a  base in  the Middle East and the target is Saddam and not the danger of the weapons of mass destruction.  It was Saddam and his two sons who were given notice to quit within forty eight hours.  Mr. Bush now says  that he wants to save Iraqis from the brutal and cruel Saddam regime.

Saddam Hussein has not always been “the enemy”. Saddam in the past is blamed for using these WMDs  (specifically chemical ones) during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war but it was the US that urged its allies to supply Iraq with money and weapons and provided military protection for tankers transporting Iraqi oil. The US also turned a blind eye to Hussein's human rights violations, including chemical attacks on the Kurds in 1988.

Who supplied it?  

It is not as if Washington, suddenly “discovered” Iraq's “weapons of mass destruction.”  These weapons were developed with equipment and materials -- including the anthrax and botulinum bacteria -- supplied by US companies under licences issued by the Reagan and Bush administrations.

* Berlin's left-wing Die Tageszeitung newspaper reported on December19, 2002 a list of US corporations that supplied Iraq with nuclear, chemical, biological, and missile technology.  The list comes from the original Iraqi 11,000-pages report to the Security Council lists of 150 foreign companies, including some from America, Britain, Germany and France that supported Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programme. The original dossier was handed to the five permanent Security Council members two weeks ago. An edited version was passed on to the remaining 10 members of the Security Council later. On 18 December 2002 British officials confirmed that the list of companies appeared to be accurate.  24 US companies are reported to have supplied Iraq with equipment and know-how for its weapons programmes from 1975 onwards and in some cases support for Baghdad's conventional arms programme had continued until last year.  

* During most of the 1980s, USA knowingly permitted the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission to import bacterial cultures that might be used to build biological weapons. Saddam was visited not only by Rumsfeld but also by congressional delegations led by Senators Bob Dole of Kansas and Alan Simpson of Wyoming, who were eager to promote American farm and business interests.

* According to confidential Commerce Department export-control documents obtained by NEWSWEEK, the shopping list included a computerized database for Saddam's Interior Ministry (presumably to help keep track  of political opponents); helicopters to transport Iraqi officials; television cameras for "video surveillance application chemical-analysis equipment for the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC), and most unsettling, numerous shipments  "bacteria/fungi/ protozoa" to the IAEC.  According to former officials, the bacterial cultures could be used to make biological weapons, including anthrax. The State Department also approved the shipment of 1.5 million atropine injectors, for use against the effects of chemical weapons, but the Pentagon blocked the sale. The helicopters, some American officials later surmised, were used to spray poison gas on the Kurds.

The United States almost certainly knew from its own satellite imagery that Saddam was using chemical weapons against Iranian troops. When Saddam bombed Kurdish rebels and civilians with a lethal cocktail of mustard gas, sarin, tabun and VX in 1988 Reagan administration first blamed Iran, before acknowledging, under pressure from congressional Democrats, that the culprits were Saddam's own forces. (Newsweek, September 23, 2002).

Why was Saddam not stopped at that point?

* In 1993, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) forwarded to President’s office a list of all biological materials, including viruses, retroviruses, bacteria, and fungi, which CDC provided to the government of Iraq from October 1, 1984, through October 13, 1993. Dr. Mohammad Mahoud of Iraq spent three months training in a CDC laboratory.

* Several shipments of Escherichia Coli (E.Coli) and genetic materials, as well as human and bacterial DNA, were shipped directly to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission, according to the Department of Defense's own Report to Congress on the conduct of the Persian Gulf War, released in April 1992.

Was America not aware of Iraq’s capability of an offensive or defensive biological warfare programme?

What went wrong?

It was only when Hussein invaded Kuwait, gaining control of 20% of the world's oil supply and possibly threatening Saudi Arabia that the US turned on Iraq and this led to Gulf War I in1991.

On June 27, 1993, when former American president Sr. Bush visited Kuwait, there was an alleged attempt on his life. President Clinton retaliated with a cruise missile attack on Iraq. This was the first wave of what would become another cycle of tension between Iraq and the United States.

Now Bush wants to finish the incomplete task.  He wants to remove Saddam, as it was his main agenda. He tried to link Al Qaeda to Iraq but could not show sufficient credible evidence.  He sanctioned $396b i.e., 3 times more for his military in this 2003 year budget.  He made plans for post war Iraq in advance before starting the war for  disarming Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction. 

Inspections of WMD was a trumpet before the war?

The suspension of the work of inspection teams led by Mr. Blix and Mr. El Barade calls into question the usefulness of inspections in general. How can the Inspections remain a necessary tool to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction?  What is the role of UN? America’s impatience has shown that there is no role for UNMOVIC and IAEA in carrying out further monitoring in the future? The US has said that in the past Iraq did not allow the weapon inspectors to do their job.  UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter in December 1998, when he left Iraq said, “we had fundamentally disarmed Iraq”. The counter argument was that inspection is not investigation. Still America said Iraq has biological and chemical weapons and can use it.

In February, 2003 UN Inspectors were satisfied with Iraq’s cooperation and development. They were sure that after few months they could finish their jobs.  Why was  US so impatient?

Weapons sites

Iraq is believed to have extensive biological and chemical weapons preparation sites.  They are still active but these may only be for the civilian use. The ingredients of these weapons are commonly used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries.  Moreover the stock of the weapons bought way back in 1980s may lose its effectiveness right now and Iraq lacks effective means of delivery.  Iraq, if it wanted to use the biological and chemical weapons it could have used it in 1991 war or later.  It is not clear what stopped them from using these weapons then.

Dr. Rihab Taha, architect of Iraq’s biological weapons program, told that Iraq once had the capability to kill everyone on Earth twice but the weapons were all destroyed in 1991, including 2,200 gallons of anthrax.  UNSCOM [United Nations Special Commission] themselves verified this matter in1991 and later in December 2002 she gave a  clean report about the amount and destruction of biological weapons to UN inspectors.   She confirmed that Iraq would never use them against the US as Iraq no longer has these weapons now.

 The 2003 War

The war for disarmament and saving the world from the weapons of mass destruction is strongly opposed by the people throughout the world and protests are building up and the Muslims particularly around the world are sure to get angry.   Massive bombardments in Iraq will not only affect  Iraq’s oil well but will also affect the chemical and other industries, which are believed to be the feeder industries of WMD.

It is not only the biological and chemical weapons but also the types and the advancement in their delivery systems that will be of great concern.

* In chemical attack Iraq needs sophisticated delivery system.  Large quantity at static region is important for weapon’s lethal effect.

* In biological attack the strain type and its form are very important.  The sun and heat resistant coated micro powdered form will be the most effective as a potent lethal weapon whereas Iraq is believed to have “wet version” of biological weapons e.g. anthrax.    Making powder needs repeated washings in huge centrifuges, followed by intensive drying, which requires sealed environments. The technology would cost millions.

 The preparedness against CBW is difficult as the type, strains and development is unpredictable.  Hence it is not only the soldiers but also the civilians at the military bases and ports who will be under this serious threat.

The allied forces  have taken vaccination as a preventive measure against the biological and chemical weapons  This can affect the troops in long run.  After 1991 some soldiers are  reported to have suffered from the Gulf War illness (Gulf war syndrome)-headache, fever, swollen glands and chronic fatigue.

The question that is intriguing in this war is

1. Is Iraq still capable of using chemical and biological weapons as a defensive measure?

2. If so, will they and when?

3. What, if no weapon of mass destruction is now found in Iraq?

In the present scenario when all eyes are on Iraq war, the terrorist groups can still utilize this opportunity. They may use WMD either to show their strong protest against the war or otherwise.  The preferred weapon will be a  biological one because of its availability and cannot be detected quickly and easily either.