A search for weapons of mass destruction

Larry Elder

5/8/2003 12:00:00 AM - Larry Elder

The president based the war on Iraq on the presence (in that country) of weapons of mass destruction, principally chemical and biological weapons, despite U.N. resolutions mandating their declaration and destruction. A month ago, coalition forces caused the Iraqi government to collapse. Critics now ask: Where's the evidence?

The administration urges patience, noting that thousands of sites remain to be inspected. Remember that during the pre-1996 round of inspections, thousands of inspectors failed to uncover weapons of mass destruction until an Iraqi defector led the inspectors to them. Now, in addition to the military's 1,000-strong Mobile Exploitation Team forces (MET) engaged in the search, the administration anticipates hiking the number of scientists, technicians and analysts by 1,000 over the next three months.

Secretary of State Colin Powell, before the war, said, "If Iraq were genuinely committed to disarmament, Dr. Blix's document would not be 167 pages of issues and questions, it would be about thousands upon thousands of pages of answers about anthrax, about VX, about sarin, about unmanned aerial vehicles. It would set out in detail all of Iraq's prohibited programs. Then and only then could the inspectors really do the credible job they need to do of verification, destruction and monitoring. We've been down this road before. March 1998, Saddam Hussein was also faced with the threat of military action. He responded with promises -- promises to provide inspectors at the time with immediate, unconditional and unrestricted access. The then chief inspector reported to this council a new spirit of cooperation, along with his hope that the inspectors could move very quickly to verify Iraq's disarmament. . . . And nine months later, the inspectors found it necessary to withdraw."

And after United Nations Resolution 1441 demanded that Saddam Hussein fully and thoroughly declare his weapons, the regime, according to Powell, continued to thwart inspectors. Powell described intercepted phone and radio calls in which Iraqi weapons officials, in anticipation of a U.N. search, moved equipment and labs.

"A web of lies," said Powell regarding Iraq's continuous denials of any ties to terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. "When we confront a regime," said Secretary Powell, "that harbors ambitions for regional domination, hides weapons of mass destruction and provides haven and active support for terrorists, we are not confronting the past, we are confronting the present."

Now that the principal fighting is over, Iraqi scientists are beginning to talk.

Nissar Hindawi, who worked on the Iraqi biological warfare program, now admits that the statements made to the United Nations regarding their programs were "all lies." Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter "embedded" with the military inspections teams, writes that Hindawi claims the government forced him to work on the program from 1986-1989 and intermittently up to the mid-'90s. "He said that while he worked in the program," writes Miller, "or was ordered to brief the inspectors on it, Iraq made 8.9 cubic meters of concentrated liquid anthrax, one of the deadliest and most durable germ weapons, and even larger quantities of botulinum toxin, one of the most lethal poisons."

Miller also writes that an un-named Iraqi scientist claimed that Hussein ordered the destruction of chemical and biological weapons literally days before the coalition-led campaign. "The scientist," writes Miller, "also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990s, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with al-Qaida, the military officials said. The Americans said the scientist told them that President Saddam Hussein's government had destroyed some stockpiles of deadly agents as early as the mid-1990s, transferred others to Syria and had recently focused its efforts instead on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq's giant weapons plants. The American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq . . . said that they considered him credible and that the material unearthed during the past three days at sites to which he led them had proved to be precursors for a toxic agent that is banned by chemical weapons treaties."

According to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, "I never believed that we'd just tumble over weapons of mass destruction in that country. . . . We're going to find what we find as a result of talking to people, I believe, not simply by going to some site and hoping to discover it." And U.S. Central Command Chief General Tommy Franks, head of coalition troops in Iraq, estimates that it could take a year to search the almost 3,000 sites in Iraq where weapons might be hidden.

Before the war, opponents urged patience. After all, they claimed, the "inspections were working." With major fighting concluded, however, the very same people demand an immediate "smoking gun" to prove the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

And the beat goes on.