WASHINGTON -- Rolf Ekeus, living proof that not all Swedish arms inspectors are fools, may have been right.
Ekeus headed the U.N. inspection team that from 1991 to 1997 uncovered not just tons of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq, but a massive secret nuclear weapons program as well. This, after the other Swede, Hans Blix, then director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, had given Saddam a perfectly clean bill of health on being non-nuclear. Indeed, Iraq was sitting on the IAEA Board of Governors.
Ekeus theorizes that Saddam decided years ago that keeping mustard gas and other poisons in barrels was unstable and corrosive, and also hard to conceal. Therefore, rather than store large stocks of weapons of mass destruction, he would adapt the program to retain an infrastructure (laboratories, equipment, trained scientists, detailed plans) that could ``break out'' and ramp up production when needed. The model is Japanese ``just in time'' manufacturing, where you save on inventory by making and delivering stuff in immediate response to orders. Except that Saddam's business was toxins, not Toyotas.
The interim report of chief U.S. weapons inspector David Kay seems to support the Ekeus hypothesis. He found infrastructure, but as yet no finished product.
As yet, mind you. ``We are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapons stocks do not exist or that they existed before the war and our only task is to find where they have gone,'' Kay testified last week.
This is fact, not fudging. How do we know? Because Saddam's practice was to store his chemical weapons unmarked amid his conventional munitions, and we have just begun to understand the staggering scale of Saddam's stocks of conventional munitions. Saddam left behind 130 known ammunition caches, many of which are more than twice the size of Manhattan. Imagine looking through ``600,000 tons of artillery shells, rockets, aviation bombs and other ordnance'' -- rows and rows stretched over an area the size of even one Manhattan -- looking for a few barrels of unmarked chemical weapons.
And there are 130 of these depots. Kay's team has up to now inspected only 10. The question of whether Saddam actually retained finished product is still open.
But the question of whether Saddam was still in the WMD business is no longer open. ``We have discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities,'' Kay testified, ``and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002'' -- concealed, that is, from the hapless Hans Blix.
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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