Iraq Survey Group Final Report
Regime Strategic Intent
Saddam Husayn so dominated the Iraqi Regime that its strategic intent was his alone. He wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted.
- Saddam totally dominated the Regime’s strategic decision making. He initiated most of the strategic thinking upon which decisions were made, whether in matters of war and peace (such as invading Kuwait), maintaining WMD as a national strategic goal, or on how Iraq was to position itself in the international community. Loyal dissent was discouraged and constructive variations to the implementation of his wishes on strategic issues were rare. Saddam was the Regime in a strategic sense and his intent became Iraq’s strategic policy.
- Saddam’s primary goal from 1991 to 2003 was to have UN sanctions lifted, while maintaining the security of the Regime. He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections—to gain support for lifting sanctions—with his intention to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face. Indeed, this remained the goal to the end of the Regime, as the starting of any WMD program, conspicuous or otherwise, risked undoing the progress achieved in eroding sanctions and jeopardizing a political end to the embargo and international monitoring.
- The introduction of the Oil-For-Food program (OFF) in late 1996 was a key turning point for the Regime. OFF rescued Baghdad’s economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions. The Regime quickly came to see that OFF could be corrupted to acquire foreign exchange both to further undermine sanctions and to provide the means to enhance dual-use infrastructure and potential WMD-related development.
- By 2000-2001, Saddam had managed to mitigate many of the effects of sanctions and undermine their international support. Iraq was within striking distance of a de facto end to the sanctions regime, both in terms of oil exports and the trade embargo, by the end of 1999.
Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.
- Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of this policy. All senior level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraq’s principal enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary.
- Iraq Survey Group (ISG) judges that events in the 1980s and early 1990s shaped Saddam’s belief in the value of WMD. In Saddam’s view, WMD helped to save the Regime multiple times. He believed that during the Iran-Iraq war chemical weapons had halted Iranian ground offensives and that ballistic missile attacks on Tehran had broken its political will. Similarly, during Desert Storm, Saddam believed WMD had deterred Coalition Forces from pressing their attack beyond the goal of freeing Kuwait. WMD had even played a role in crushing the Shi’a revolt in the south following the 1991 cease-fire.
- 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.
Note on Methodological Approach
Interviews with former Regime officials who were active in Iraq’s governing, economic, security, and intelligence structures were critical to ISG’s assessment of the former Regime’s WMD strategy. While some detainees’ statements were made to minimize their involvement or culpability leading to potential prosecution, in some cases those who were interviewed spoke relatively candidly and at length about the Regime’s strategic intent.
- ISG analysts—because of unprecedented access to detainees—undertook interviews of national policy makers, the leadership of the intelligence and security services, and Qusay’s inner circle, as well as concentrated debriefs of core Regime leaders in custody, to identify cross-Regime issues and perceptions.
- As part of the effort aimed at the core leadership, analysts also gave detainees “homework” to give them more opportunity to discuss in writing various aspects of former Regime strategy. Many of these responses were lengthy and detailed. Secretary of the President, ‘Abd Hamid Al Khatab Al Nasiri, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq ‘Aziz ‘Aysa, and Minister of Military Industry ‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh answered questions in writing several times, providing information on both the former Regime and the mindset of those who ran it.
- Saddam’s debriefer was fully aware of ISG’s information needs and developed a strategy to elicit candid answers and insights into Saddam’s personality and role in strategy-related issues. Remarks from the debriefer are included.
- Analysts also used working groups to study themes and trends—such as intelligence and security service activity, weaponization, dual-use/break-out capabilities and timeline analysis—that cut across ISG’s functional teams, as well as to pool efforts to debrief members of the core leadership.
Analysts used subsource development and document exploitation to crosscheck detainee testimony, leverage detainees in debriefs, and to fill gaps in information. For example, analysts interviewing Huwaysh gained insights into his personality from subsources, while translated technical and procurement-related documents were critical to verifying the accuracy of his testimony. Likewise, we confronted Vice President Taha Yasin Ramadan Al Jizrawi with a captured document indicating his major role in allocating oil contracts and he divulged details on corruption stemming from the UN’s OFF program.
Nonetheless, the interview process had several shortcomings. Detainees were very concerned about their fate and therefore would not be willing to implicate themselves in sensitive matters of interest such as WMD, in light of looming prosecutions. Debriefers noted the use of passive interrogation resistance techniques collectively by a large number of detainees to avoid their involvement or knowledge of sensitive issues; place blame or knowledge with individuals who were not in a position to contradict the detainee’s statements, such as deceased individuals or individuals who were not in custody or who had fled the country; and provide debriefers with previously known information. However, the reader should keep in mind the Arab proverb: “Even a liar tells many truths.”
Some former Regime officials, such as ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid Al Tikriti (Chemical ‘Ali), never gave substantial information, despite speaking colorfully and at length. He never discussed actions, which would implicate him in a crime. Moreover, for some aspects of the Regime’s WMD strategy, like the role of the Military Industrialization Commission (MIC), analysts could only speak with a few senior-level officials, which limited ISG’s assessment to the perspectives of these individuals.
Former Iraqi Regime Officials Varied in Their Level of Cooperation
The quality of cooperation and assistance provided to ISG by former senior Iraqi Regime officials in custody varied widely. Some obstructed all attempts to elicit information on WMD and illicit activities of the former Regime. Others, however, were keen to help clarify every issue, sometimes to the point of self-incrimination. The two extremes of cooperation are epitomized by ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid—a key Presidential Adviser and RCC member—and Sabir ‘Abd-al-Aziz Husayn Al Duri, a former Lieutenant General who served in both the Directorate of General Military Intelligence and the Iraqi Intelligence Service. ‘Ali Hasan Al Majid was loquacious on many subjects, but remained adamant in denying any involvement in the use of CW in attacks on the Kurds and dissembling in any discussion of the subject. His circumlocution extends to most other sensitive subjects of Regime behavior. By contrast, Sabir has been forthcoming to the point of direct association with a wide range of Iraqi activities, including the management of Kuwaiti prisoners, the organization of assassinations abroad by the former Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS), and the torture of political prisoners.
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