It was January 1991. Half a million U.S. and allied troops were deployed in Saudi Arabia ready to roll north.
Backed by a vote just taken -- or about to be taken -- in Congress and a U.N. Security Council resolution, President George H.W. Bush had delivered an ultimatum to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: Withdraw your forces from Kuwait by Jan. 15 -- or else.
The week before the deadline, Saddam met with his air force commander, Muzahim Sa'b Hasan al Masiri, and his son-in-law, Husayn Kamil -- the minister responsible for Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
Saddam tape-recorded the conversation. More than a dozen years later, the Iraq Survey Group, headed by Charles Duelfer, a special assistant to the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, discovered the recording and translated it.
Annexed to Duelfer's 2004 report on Iraq's WMD programs -- and largely ignored by the establishment media -- the translation is posted on the CIA's website.
What Saddam said is horrifying and instructive.
Like a scene from a Mel Brooks movie, the meeting began with the all-too-real Saddam talking about a traditional Arab-style suit he had recently ordered.
"I was talking to Abd, and I told him there is no need to make a big fuss about these suits because we are going to use them in this special occasion," said Saddam.
His lieutenants expressed obsequious concerns about their leader's new clothing. "Then my design is right?" asked Saddam.
"Absolutely right, sir!" said his son-in-law, Husayn.
Saddam then segued from suits to WMDs. "I want to make sure -- close the door (sound of door slamming) -- the germ and chemical warheads, as well as the chemical and germ bombs are available to the 'concerned people,' so that in case we ordered an attack, they can do it without missing any of their targets," he said.
Son-in-law Husayn began a long explanation of how chemical weapons were being deployed. Saddam interrupted: "This is not important to me."
The son-in-law said: "So, sir, regarding the germs and--
Saddam: "And the chemicals."
Son-in-law: "No, we have some of the chemicals available--"
Saddam: "So, we qualify that the missiles, by tomorrow, will be ready on the 15th" -- the day Bush's ultimatum expired.
Son-in-law: "Sir, we don't have the germs."
Saddam: "Then, where are they?"
Son-in-law: "It's with us."
Saddam: "What is it doing with you? I need these germs to be fixed on the missiles, and tell them to hit, because starting on the 15th, everyone should be ready for the action to happen at any time, and I consider Riyadh a target."
A moment later, a waiter entered the room. Saddam briefly suspended the conversation. Then the door slammed again.
"Sir," said the son-in-law, "we have three types of germ weapons, but we have to decide which ones we should use. Some types stay capable for many years --"
Saddam: "We want the long term, the many years kind."
The son-in-law then said the options for delivering the germs included "a missile, a fighter bomb or a fighter plane."
Saddam: "With them all, all the methods."
A moment later, the son-in-law said: "The bombs or warheads are all available, but the moment for using them at zero hour is something we should indicate, sir. We will say that this will be launched --"
Saddam: "At the moment of use (zero hour), you should launch them all against their targets."
The son-in-law expressed his concern that transporting the germs to deploy them might contaminate Iraqis. Saddam then issued what sounded like an order to launch a WMD attack in the event he was killed.
"I want as soon as possible, if we are not transferring the weapons, to issue a clear order to the 'concerned people' that the weapons be in their hands ASAP," said Saddam.
"I will give them an order stating that at 'one moment,' if I'm not there and you don't hear my voice, you will hear somebody else's voice, so you can receive the order from him, and then you can go attack your targets," said Saddam.
"I want the weapons to be distributed to the targets," said Saddam. "I want Riyadh and Jeddah, which are the biggest Saudi cities with all the decision makers, and the Saudi rulers live there. This is for the germ and chemical weapons."
The son-in-law then said, "In terms of chemical weapons, we have an excellent grip on them."
Saddam responded: "Only in the case we are obliged and there is a great necessity to put them into action. Also, all the Israeli cities, all of them. Of course you should concentrate on Tel Aviv, since it is their center."
"Sir," said the son-in-law, "the best way to transport this weapon and achieve the most harmful effects would come by using planes, like a crop plane; to scatter it. This is, sir, a thousand times more harmful. This is according to the analysis of the technicians --"
Saddam: "We should consider alternatives, Husayn. Meaning that if the planes don't arrive, then the missile will, and if the missile is intercepted, the plane will arrive."
Someone suggested targeting refineries, power plants and water resources. Saddam said these should be targeted by routine air force operations. But his son-in-law objected.
"Sir, these vital locations must be added to the mission and become priority targets to the biological and chemical weapons, because this will end all sorts of life," said Husayn. "People are drinking water from these desalination plants and getting their fuel from refineries, thus ending the mission."
Saddam affirmed his son-in-law's thought and noted that the air force commander had already taken them down. "The refineries and desalination plants, sir," the general said dutifully.
"May God help us do it," said Saddam.
The Duelfer report concluded the "Iraqis believed that their possession and willingness to use WMD (CW and BW) contributed substantially to deterring the United States from going to Baghdad in 1991" and that Saddam decided "to eliminate his existing stocks of WMD weapons" later in 1991 in an effort to free Iraq from international sanctions.
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