Iraq Survey Group Final Report
23 September 2004
Introduction. Iraq has endured decades of collapsing hopes and accumulating tragedy. It is numbing to consider the waste of so much human and resource potential. Saddam’s ambitions conflicted with the region and the international community. True to his name, he too often chose confrontation over cooperation. Ultimately these decisions led to total collapse.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) were an integral element in the range of tools Saddam drew upon to advance his ambitions. WMD was not an end in itself. Therefore, to examine meaningfully WMD in Iraq means examining the leadership of Iraq concomitantly.
The Iraq experience with WMD stretches over 30 years and three wars. Thousands of victims died on battlefields, and civilians have been gassed in domestic terror campaigns. War and sanctions have ground civil society down to rudimentary levels. The most talented of Iraq have faced excruciating dilemmas—to comply with the Regime’s directions or risk careers, their lives, and the lives of loved ones. Chronic, systemic fear on the part of the best and the brightest was a feature of the intellectual elite.
The international community has struggled with the Regime. Various attempts to coerce, co-opt, placate, or ignore Iraq produced confusion and inconstancy. It is understandable that Saddam may not have understood where international forces were headed. Indeed, the international community’s focus on Iraq and WMD was affected by serendipity as well as considered national policies. Had the events of 11 September 2001 not occurred, Saddam might well be still in power. But, he deeply miscalculated one last time and curtailed his own leadership.
Saddam, his family, and cronies rose, enriched themselves, became corrupt, combusted, and collapsed. Saddam’s huge commitment to weapons technology consumed the best and brightest and led them to nothing but destruction. The Fertile Crescent was turned into a land filled with risk and chaos. In many ways the arms inspectors have merely been leading the way in exploring the decay that Iraq became, and, indeed the corrupt systems that grew parasitically on Iraq as it decayed.
Dynamic Vice Static Analysis. The goal of this report is to provide facts and meaning concerning the Regime’s experience with WMD. It aims to provide a dynamic analysis rather than simple static accounting of the debris found following Operation Iraqi Freedom. The report will put into context the WMD activities of the Regime and the trends and directions of the Regime with respect to WMD. Artificially separating the WMD from the Regime would not provide a synthetic picture. Such a picture would seem to be more instructive than a simple frozen inventory of the program remnants at one point in time.
Readers will draw their own conclusions about various national and international actions and policies. This report will, hopefully, allow a more complete examination of these events by showing the dynamics involved within the Regime and where it was headed as well as the status of the WMD on the ground in 2003. The events surrounding Iraqi WMD have caused too much turmoil to be reduced to simple binary discussions of whether weapons existed at one moment in time versus another. They deserve at least an attempt to look at the dynamics rather than a description of a single frame of a movie. It deserves calculus not algebra. This report will deny the reader any simple answers. It will seek to force broader and deeper understanding from multiple perspectives over time.
This report will also attempt to broaden understanding by recalibrating the perspective of the reader. The Regime was run by Saddam and the calculations he made concerning WMD were based on his view of relevant related factors—not ours. Optimally, we would remove the reader temporarily from his reality and time. We would collect the flow of images, sounds, feelings, and events that passed into Saddam’s mind and project them as with a Zeiss Planetarium projection instrument. The reader would see the Universe from Saddam’s point in space. Events would flow by the reader as they flowed by Saddam.
Ideally, the reader would see what Saddam saw—not our television pictures of him. Saddam saw adulation in a crowd cheering him when he fired a rifle over their heads—not what we Westerners may see as a guy in a funny hat recklessly firing a weapon. Imagine Saddam’s window to the outside world limited to television reports regularly reporting the statements by the President of the United States about him. . . calling him a madman.
Imagine Saddam’s view of the fear/hate/confidence/idolatry in the eyes of his chosen ministers and wonder if what they were saying was true or what they were not saying. How did he see the reports of uprisings tentatively offered to him by underlings filled with fear. The reader could see how various moves and pressures are either advancing or delaying greater achievement. The reader could see the dubious quality of the data presented directly and through the reports of underlings.
Such a transmutation is impossible. However, this report will provide the reader a handrail to grasp in the form of a time line that will also serve as a constant reminder of contemporaneous events that filled the field of Saddam’s view. The objective throughout this, perhaps unusual presentation, is to emphasize that WMD is always part and parcel of something else. The timeline is a tool to collect significant events as they flowed past Saddam. Examining this flow shows inflection points where fundamental decisions were made concerning WMD. These will be addressed in detail since they are moments when factors determining the course selected by Saddam can be illuminated with some degree of confidence.
Expectations/Hidden Assumptions. Complicating understanding and analysis of the former Regime’s WMD is the tendency to bring our own assumptions and logic to the examination of the evidence. Western thought is filled with assumptions. Like the operating system of our computers, we have logic and assumptions that are virtually built in. We have been applying them successfully so long in our own frame of reference that we forget they are present and shape our thinking and conclusions. When considering the very different system that existed under the government of Saddam Hussein, there is a risk of not seeing the meaning and not seeing the implications of the evidence.
Analysts were asked to look for something they may notexpect or be able to see. A challenge like that faced by scientists engaged in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. They have to consider what evidence they might see that they could not recognize. They cannot expect to detect radio transmissions like ours. Likewise, analysts here should not expect to find extensive government documents or parliamentary records reflecting Saddam’s decisions on WMD. The Regime simply did not operate that way. An obvious corollary is that not finding such documents is not meaningful one way or the other.
The Regime Was Saddam—and Saddam Is Different. The former Regime was Saddam, and he was the one person who made important decisions. It was his assessment of the utility of various policy options that was determinant. It was Saddam’s calculations of risk and timing that mattered.
A corollary to this is that the relevance and importance of his top advisors and ministers is also very different from that of similarly titled functionaries in other countries. The testimony of such individuals is interesting, but must be understood for what it is in the Iraqi context. These individuals had a role and existence vastly different than in other countries.
Those around Saddam knew their future depended on their ability to divine what he wanted and to be able to respond favorably to his requests. Those who survived knew how to relate in this environment. This meant that they were often forced to anticipate what Saddam wanted because they did not want to be in a position to have to say no.
Complicating their lives was the tendency of Saddam to hold his cards close while he allowed minions to debate. Saddam did not lead by espousing detailed goals and objectives. He tended to allow ideas to float up and he would consider them—often never pronouncing on them one way or the other. This meant that much guidance to the government was implicit rather than explicit. For investigators, a consequence is that forensic evidence of Presidential direction may not exist, but it does not mean that such guidance was not there, but simply that we cannot see it in the usual ways. Implicit guidance may exist and be of equal or greater importance than explicit direction. This reality of life in Baghdad under Saddam has the consequence of diminishing the ability to document governmental policies of directions.
Saddam’s Views. Debriefings of Saddam and those around him must be evaluated in this light. There was no incentive and/or motivation for Saddam to cooperate with the debriefer, except to shape his legacy. Saddam is concerned with his place in history and how history will view him. Therefore, Saddam had no choice but to engage his debriefer in both formal and informal discussions on events that occurred during his reign.
The debriefing strategy was designed to elicit candid responses from Saddam, specifically regarding his previous actions and reasoning without the benefit of incentives. These discussions were conducted and controlled by one debriefer and spanned several months. Some vital insights emerged during these discussions, which elicited views and information that may be considered revelatory. Undoubtedly, Saddam will continue to take advantage of any opportunity to defend his past actions and state his case while attempting to shape his legacy, very likely contradicting previous statements and actions.
We have tried to sort through the data available and have tried to judge candid views from Saddam on WMD as well as his likely vision of the future of Iraq and the role of WMD. What seems clear is that WMD was a tool of power or leverage that varied in its utility in advancing toward his goals for himself and Iraq.
In Saddam’s view, Iraq was the natural leader of the Arab world. Its people, history, and resources combined with his leadership made it the inevitable leader in the region—perhaps not without struggle, but struggle contributes to the overall glory. Saddam sees himself as the most recent of the great Iraqi leaders like, Hammurabi, Nebuchadnezzar, and Saladin. In Babylon, where Iraq was reconstructing the historical city, the bricks were molded with the phrase, “Made in the era of Saddam Hussein”—mimicking the ancient bricks forged in ancient Babylon and demonstrating his assumption that he will be similarly remembered over the millennia. This narcissism characterizes his actions, and, while it is not always visible, it is always there.
Iran. Saddam sustained the historical Iraqi Arab animosity toward the Persians. His view on the threat of Iran was not just a simple present day calculation, but includes the emotive content of a sense of the long-standing rivalry over the centuries and his own desire to be seen as an historic military leader. This was an important motivation in his views on WMD—especially as it became obvious that Iran was pursuing the very capabilities he was denied. From Saddam’s viewpoint the Persian menace loomed large and was a challenge to his place in history.
Gulf States. Saddam viewed the Gulf States as undeserving of the respect they were accorded in the West. His Regime viewed the Gulf Arabs as undeserving. They simply enjoyed the geological good fortune of sitting on large oil reserves. They did not earn respect; the West simply wanted their oil. In particular, Saddam resented the Saudis. The Saudi position of leadership in OPEC and by extension in the Western world rankled him. It was clearly an objective to supplant the Saudi position of leadership in whatever way he could. He strove to undermine their influence in the oil markets and the prestige they accrued through association with the United States.
United States. Saddam’s view of the United States was complicated. He accrued power and prestige far beyond his inherent weight by positioning himself as the only leader to stand up to the last superpower. To the extent that you assume some of the stature of your enemy, Saddam derived prestige from being an enemy of the United States. Conversely, it would have been equally prestigious for him to be an ally of the United States—and regular entreaties were made, during the last decade to explore this alternative.
Saddam apparently calculated that Iraq’s natural resources, secular society, and dominance in the region would inevitably force the United States to deal with Iraq (He may have been correct, but he mistakenly thought his leadership of Iraq was immutable.) Indeed, throughout the 1990s he tested Washington’s willingness to open a dialogue. On multiple occasions very senior Iraqis close to the President made proposals through intermediaries (the author among others) for dialogue with Washington. Baghdad offered flexibility on many issues, including offers to assist in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Moreover, in informal discussions, senior officials allowed that, if Iraq had a security relationship with the United States, it might be inclined to dispense with WMD programs and/or ambitions.
Long View. Saddam’s perspective on the world and his place in history was naturally a very long view. He had long timelines—certainly as compared with Western democracies, which are driven by news and election cycles. He also had a strong sense of the glory of a long struggle. For example, he romanticized his period of exile from Iraq following his participation in the failed assassination attempt against Qasim. He accepts setbacks as noble challenges to be overcome.
Saddam refused to admit that Iraq lost the war in 1991. His diplomats were always quick to point out that the resolution ending the war was a cease-fire agreement, not a peace treaty or capitulation. This was not simply bombastic propaganda. Saddam saw it only as a temporary setback. Indeed, Saddam displayed a remarkable ability to recover from this loss. Following the war in 1991, rebellions had broken out in all but two provinces. From this new nadir, Saddam restored his internal power and control with speed and devastating efficiency—including another instance of his use of chemical munitions once again. In the decade that followed, his struggle against international constraints continued September 11, 2001.
Levers of Power/Prestige. Saddam conducted his confrontation with the United States on many fronts. The main military front was the no-fly zone skirmishes. It must be said that, as much as Saddam hated the intrusion over his airspace of American and British patrols (and, it may be recalled, with the French initially participating as well), this was a battle he was fighting with a very favorable exchange ratio. He cost the United States a lot with almost no cost to himself, and he could readily sustain the battle indefinitely. Again, this was a typically shrewd method of exercising leverage.
Saddam believed Iraq and its people should be leaders in all ways—sciences, art, engineering, military, economics, construction, etc. He supported the range of these functions, and in fact Iraq had a well-funded education and health system during his early years before the disasters of war. He aspired to the prestige associated with the advanced arts and sciences. In his view, the most advanced and potent were nuclear science and technology. By all accounts, and by the evidence of the massive effort expended by the Regime, nuclear programs were seen by Saddam as both a powerful lever and symbol of prestige. He also did not want to be second to the Persians in neighboring Iran.
Saddam has a remarkable sense for the use of power. For Saddam there was always a duality to influence. He consistently applied both positive and negative currents in all aspects of his rule. Reward and punishment would be presented to the same subject to contrive the behavior he desired. The approach was evident in his personal dealings with individuals as well as international relations. His staff would recount that he could have his immediate servants severely punished or jailed for some infraction. Yet, later, they would be released and Saddam might cook a meal for them himself.
Jail was frequently on the resume of even some of his higher ranking staff. For example, Presidential Advisor and leader of the former Iraqi Nuclear Weapon program, Ja’far Dhia Ja’far, was jailed by Saddam and released only when he agreed to work on the nuclear weapon program.
Saddam also, of course, rewarded handsomely those who supported him. New cars were a small token of appreciation, which he dispensed.
The same duality of pressure and reward was used by Saddam internationally. For example, in the spring and summer of 1995, Iraq attempted to bring to closure the disarmament inspections of UNSCOM by offering a deal. UNSCOM experts had been pressuring Iraq to acknowledge an offensive biological weapons program. Tariq Aziz informed UNSCOM Chairman Rolf Ekeus that, if his upcoming June 1995 report to the Security Council was positive in the missile and chemical weapons areas, then Iraq would “satisfy” Ekeus in the biological weapons area.
UNSCOM gave a sufficiently positive report on Iraq to the Security Council, and Aziz invited Ekeus to Baghdad where he made a partial admission to having made biological weapons. During the same time (in a 17 July national day address), Saddam gave a speech threatening to end all cooperation with the Security Council unless the Council acted to fulfill its obligation to lift the oil embargo. Days later, Baghdad even set a deadline for the Security Council to act. Saddam regularly combined concessions with attempts at coercion.
This approach turned out badly for Iraq because only a few weeks later, Saddam’s son-in-law, Husayn Kamil, defected to Jordan. He had been the key Regime force in managing all WMD programs, and his defection forced the Regime to reveal that Iraq had not been fully forthcoming, thus undermining Iraq’s position and the position of Iraq’s key supporters in the Security Council.
Security Threats Internally, it was always the case that, if Saddam perceived a challenge or a potential risk among those around him, he would address it early and vigorously. Those around him feared that he would know if they even thought of something that was less than fully supportive of the Regime. Jailing, or worse, of those thought to be disloyal was commonplace. It was not just an urban legend that, if someone became too popular or too powerful, he would quickly be removed.
Externally, Saddam applied the same predilection to attack perceived threats preemptively. Saddam acted against Iran when he thought he had the advantage. Saddam attacked Kuwait in response to perceived economic aggression by Kuwait.
Saddam’s rule was driven first by security concerns. Survival came first. This produced the multiple security organs, and their prime objective was protection of the leadership. It was natural that the objectives of United Nations inspectors collided with the security apparatus. Inspections aimed at deciphering the most sensitive weapons programs would transgress the security apparatus protecting the president. This was obvious and unavoidable if both objectives were pursued to the maximum.
Saddam also encouraged a multiplicity of reporting systems, formal and informal. Since no one ever knew for sure how certain their position was, it bred anxiety and uncertainty even among the longest serving Ministers. He fostered competition and distrust among those around him. There was survival value to him in this method of management. However, it greatly colored and contorted the perspectives of reality that his top aides had.
This method of management makes interpreting their descriptions of the inner workings of Regime figures very difficult. They often did not know the truth. Hence, when they would describe something that is wrong, it is difficult or impossible to know if they are purposely dissembling. ISG investigators suffered some of the same problems as Saddam; not knowing if senior advisors are telling the truth, or leaving out important facts.
Evidence. The problem of discerning WMD in Iraq is highlighted by the prewar misapprehensions of weapons, which were not there. Distant technical analysts mistakenly identified evidence and drew incorrect conclusions. There is also the potential of the obverse problem. Observers may have evidence before them and not recognize it because of unfamiliarity with the subject. Often ISG found no evidence of one thing or another. It may be that a more accurate formulation might be we recognized no evidence. This is a fundamental conundrum in assessing alien circumstances.
It is vital to understand that in such an environment—an environment alien to those accustomed to Western democracies—implicit guidance from the leader can be as compelling and real as explicit guidance. Indeed, in the security-conscious world of Saddam, it would be surprising to find explicit direction related to sensitive topics like WMD. This would especially be the case for programs of presidential interest or direction. It is important to understand what one should expect to see and what one should not expect to see.
Related to this is a further important factor that greatly affects how evidence is viewed. The key Regime figures in the WMD area had a much better understanding of how the West viewed their programs than the other way around. Consider how many Western technocrats studied in Baghdad compared with how many key WMD figures studied in the West (many, if not most, speak English).
Likewise, many years of inspections taught the Iraqi WMD counterparts how their country was being examined. It might well be expected that they would seek to elude such examination as a result.
Two examples from interactions in the 1990s may be illustrative. An Iraqi minister in 1994 asked, “Why do you Americans always attack buildings?” Iraq, of course had been subject to several bombing attacks, and the question seems simple on the surface. However, it reveals something about American assumptions. Intelligence analysts look at overhead imagery and identify buildings with some function. Digital Imagery is also used for targeting weapons such as cruise missiles. Implicit in this process is an assumption that destroying a building will destroy the capability. Discussions and observations of the Iraqis showed that they reacted to this understanding of the American process by effectively dissolving the images we were focusing on. They disassociated capability from the buildings we were able to image. To wit, they would simply take key equipment and move it out of buildings and disperse it in ways that we could not resolve into our targeting and intelligence-operating system. This was shrewd but obvious. It affected the data we were examining.
A second example of Iraq learning the signatures inspectors sought occurred while UNSCOM was attempting to investigate the governmental apparatus the Regime used to conceal material from UN inspectors. The inspectors assumed that only Saddam would give instructions on such sensitive matters. Hence, inspectors investigated those governmental arms directly connected to the Presidency, e.g., the Diwan, the Special Security Organization, the Special Republican Guard, etc. In effect, the inspectors were modeling an organization chart that branched out from the President. These organs became high-priority targets for the UN inspectors. This was perfectly logical from their perspective.
Of course, one effect of this investigation was to teach the Iraqis how we investigated and what we looked for. And, like the previous case where Iraq reacted by dissolving the image that we looked for, it should be expected that Iraq would avoid using entities that would show up on organization charts or that would follow the types of order we had earlier tried to picture.
The Regime, drawing on the experience of the 1990s with the UN and given the priorities to which it subscribed, scrambled the types of signatures they knew we would be searching for. This contributed to the difficulty in verifying what happened to Iraq’s WMD.
The Timeline Tool. The role and use of WMD and how it played in Saddam’s calculations varied over the last 30 years. This analysis includes an examination of a few key inflection points when Saddam made clear decisions regarding WMD. ISG analysts studied individual programs bearing in mind contemporaneous events. A timeline annotated with the events that would have filled the vision of Saddam is used as a device to continuously relate WMD to other changing factors.
Through this methodology an attempt is made to understand the overall intentions of the Regime, i.e., Saddam. With this perspective a better understanding of the evidence of the elements of the WMD programs can be made. This is like having the picture on the box cover of a jigsaw puzzle to guide the assembly of the component puzzle pieces.
Throughout this report, timeline sections are repeated to remind continuously the reader of the events going on that impinge on Saddam’s field of vision.
Key Inflection Points. A few unique points in time shaped Saddam’s perspectives regarding WMD after the 1991 Gulf war. However, it must be stated that Saddam’s experience with WMD previously had been very positive. Senior Iraqis have said that it was their firm conviction that the use of ballistic missiles and chemical munitions saved them in the war against Iran. Missiles allowed them to hit Iranian cities, and chemical munitions (101,000 were used) countered the Iranian “human wave” attacks.
In addition, 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. WMD demonstrated its worth to Saddam. Moreover, senior Iraqis have observed that, if Saddam had waited until he finished his nuclear weapon before invading Kuwait, the outcome would have been much different.
Therefore, it was a tough decision he faced when confronted by the UN resolution linking lifting the of sanctions with WMD disarmament. Ultimately, his top priority (after survival) was to get out of the UN constraints. That priority underlies the actions of the Regime during the past 13 years. This may seem obvious but is easily forgotten. The spring and summer of 1991 were defining moments for Baghdad on this point.
During the first few inspections (June-July 1991), it became clear that the inspectors were more serious and intrusive than Baghdad expected of the United Nations. Baghdad was still surrounded by a huge array of military force that was fully capable of invading. Baghdad nevertheless initially chose to conceal WMD capabilities with a goal of preserving future WMD options. Indeed, Iraq used CW against Shia within its own borders just two months earlier.
Baghdad was found blatantly cheating. The immediate consequence during this period was that the UN Security Council, including the United States, did not restart the recently ended conflict but did pass a new resolution on 15 August 1991 (UNSCR 707) demanding more access and more intrusive rights for UN inspectors. The message was thus mixed. The UN Security Council could agree on demands but not on enforcement. What was the impression received by Saddam? He was clearly refusing cooperation with the UN resolutions. Saddam crushed internal dissent, including the use of chemical weapons, just as he did in the late 1980s. Yet, military force was not used against him. However, more intrusive legal strictures were imposed. Saddam identified the envelope of limits around him.
The Regime continued to mix compliance with defiance. It now appears clear that Saddam, despite internal reluctance, particularly on the part of the head of Iraq’s military industries, Husayn Kamil, resolved to eliminate the existing stocks of WMD weapons during the course of the summer of 1991 in support of the prime objective of getting rid of sanctions. The goal was to do enough to be able to argue that they had complied with UN requirements. Some production capacity that Baghdad thought could be passed off as serving a civilian function was retained, and no admission of biological weapons was made at all. But the clear prime theme of Saddam was to defeat the UN constraints. Dispensing with WMD was a tactical retreat in his ongoing struggle.
From the evidence available through the actions and statements of a range of Iraqis, it seems clear that the guiding theme for WMD was to sustain the intellectual capacity achieved over so many years at such a great cost and to be in a position to produce again with as short a lead time as possible—within the vital constraint that no action should threaten the prime objective of ending international sanctions and constraints.
Yet, Saddam was not willing to give up sovereignty and security in an immediate gamble that the UN Security Council would lift sanctions. Bearing in mind that at this very time, Saddam was in a hugely weakened state domestically, still acting with defiance by retaining some capacity and, at that time, refusing to accept certain UN resolutions, most notably UNSCR 707 and 715, which demanded that Iraq accept a system of monitoring to detect a reconstitution of Iraqi WMD programs. This Saddam flat out refused as an invasion of his sovereignty that would be permanent, not temporary.
1996 Beginning of Oil-for-Food. Another example of a key inflection point was the 1996 decision to accept the Oil-for-Food (OFF) program. Internally, Iraq was in trouble. The economy was in tatters. The middle class was decimated by the collapse of the dinar and the impact of sanctions. The hobbling of Saddam by the 1991 cease-fire resolution, UNSCR 687, was still persisting despite vocal support of some members of the Security Council. Saddam had long refused to accept the option of exporting oil with constraints on revenues. He was concerned that, once started, the pressure on the Security Council to lift sanctions—his real goal—would be lifted. It was clear he was using the pain endured by his people and the concern by some members of the Security Council that sustaining civil destruction as pressure to get the Security Council to remove the sanctions. However, by 1996, it became apparent that the United States had a lock in the Security Council on lifting the sanctions and Saddam accepted UN Security Council Resolution 986 initiating the OFF program.
The onset of the OFF program began what became a burgeoning source of real disposable income. The revenues Iraq garnered grew incredibly from an estimated $250 million in 1996 to $2.76 billion in 2001. The process of oil exports offered leverage in the international oil markets. The UN system for controlling Iraqi oil exports had the unintended consequence of allowing ample opportunities for corruption. Corruption of this process suited the objectives of Saddam of escaping the fetters of the sanctions controlled by the UN Security Council.
As experience grew with the process of the Oil for Food program, Iraq found that the allocation of oil liftings was also a splendid opportunity to develop influence. Iraqi oil liftings were priced below market substantially; hence, obtaining the right to lift a tanker full of Iraqi oil was worth a considerable amount of money. While Iraq, due to the constraints imposed upon it by the UN system, could not legally receive cash, the price differentials could be pocketed by whatever trader designated to lift Iraqi oil. Saddam, again demonstrating his style of influence, distributed these allocations to those he deemed helpful in eroding support for sanctions.
Saddam applied a dual approach to this objective. On the one hand he emphasized the suffering of the innocent Iraqi civilian population and argued that the sanctions were immoral. At the same time he gave prominent vocal Iraq supporters and willing influential UN-officials lucrative oil allocations. He gave individuals a moral rationalization for their support and friendship to the Regime. This worked with individuals as well as countries.
The Regime’s strategy was successful to the point where sitting members of the Security Council were actively violating the resolutions passed by the Security Council.
1998—End of Inspections. The patience and utility of cooperating with the Security Council and the UN inspectors were diminishing in the view of Baghdad during the course of 1998. The potential of the inspection process leading to a formal lifting of sanctions by the Security Council was seen as diminishing. The approach of eroding the constraints of sanctions until they collapsed appeared more promising. Certainly the flow of imports and revenues was growing. The divisions in the Security Council were greater between the United States and the United Kingdom on one side and France and Russia on the other. (Iraq encouraged competition between France and Russia to do more to support Baghdad.)
At the same time, Baghdad viewed the domestic controversies in the United States as indicating, if not weakness, certainly a distraction to the White House. During the summer of 1998, when UNSCOM surfaced its concern over the evidence it found that Iraq had, contrary to its declarations, weaponized VX in missile warheads, Baghdad appears to have concluded that there was no prospect of satisfying the inspection teams. Cooperation with UNSCOM was seen as a trap, not a path to ending sanctions.
Baghdad ended full cooperation in August and began a series of confrontations with the UN that aimed at bringing its dialogue to the Secretary General and Security Council directly, and marginalizing UNSCOM. Baghdad was largely successful in drawing the Secretary General into the controversy and causing France and Russia to take firmer positions on its behalf. Ultimately, Iraq did not fully cooperate with UNSCOM in a test period of renewed inspection activity during December 1998. The United States and United Kingdom reacted militarily with a circumscribed bombing campaign that took place between the time President Clinton completed a previously scheduled visit to Israel and the beginning of Ramadan, about four days later.
The Security Council was left deeply divided. UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors departed Iraq just before the bombing and never returned. The Iraqis were satisfied with the outcome. They said, given a choice of sanctions with inspections or sanctions without inspections, they would prefer without.
The UN Security Council struggled for a year to find a new consensus on Iraq. Finally, after much debate they passed a new resolution in December 1999 (UNSCR 1284). It included (largely at Russian insistence) language about the suspension and ultimate lifting of sanctions. Nevertheless, Iraq ignored its demands and also paid no further consequences. Clearly their strategy was to erode sanctions, and they saw no need to accept a new set of inspectors.
2000—The End is in Sight. By 2000, the erosion of sanctions accelerated. The semi-annual debates over the renewal of sanctions in the Security Council became the forum for Iraqi proponents to argue the case for relaxing sanctions further. Out of concern that this pillar of containment policy was about to collapse, the United States (under a new administration) proposed “Smart Sanctions” in early 2001. This was an attempt to bolster support for sanctions within the Security Council by narrowing the targeted items subject to scrutiny. There was a reversal of a presumption of denial to a presumption of approval of items to be acquired under the Oil-For-Food program.
Syria had recently signed an oil export protocol that provided for reopening of the Iraq-Syria pipeline. Initially, the United States tried to curtail this program, but failed. Baghdad could read this turn of events only as growing momentum of its strategy to undermine sanctions with the goal of an ultimate collapse.
The new administration in Washington gave no evidence of changing the approach toward Iraq. The sanctions debate in the Security Council in June 2001 was indicative with the Russians demanding further relaxation and a concrete signal from the Council that sanctions would be lifted if Iraq satisfied the elements of UNSCR 1284. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and the new Foreign Minister, Naji Sabri, were making progress internationally. France, Russia, and Syria (then a member of the Security Council) were all quite vocally supporting Iraq in sanctions debates in the Security Council.
Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem. The only notable items stopped in this flow were some aluminum tubes, which became the center of debate over the existence of a nuclear enrichment effort in Iraq. Major items had no trouble getting across the border, including 380 liquid-fuel rocket engines. Indeed, Iraq was designing missile systems with the assumption that sanctioned material would be readily available.
Politically, the Iraqis were losing their stigma. The Baghdad International Fair in November 2001 was attended by hundreds of companies. The Rasheed Hotel was filled with businessmen from all over the world. The Arab summit in Beirut in March 2002 offered the headline photo of Taha Yasin Ramadan embracing his Saudi counterpart. Funding filled the coffers of various ministries. The Iraqi OPEC delegations were treated with as much or greater interest than the Saudis. The Oil Minister was treated like a rock star. The oil markets were extremely sensitive to the prospects for Iraqi oil on the market. In fact, the very uncertainty about Iraqi oil gave Baghdad even greater leverage over the international community since, by its whims, energy prices would vary significantly and have corresponding effects on the world economy.
In international politics, Saddam capitalized on his position as the only Arab leader willing to stand up to the Americans. This position undermined the positions of the leadership in neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Their populations, being sympathetic to the Palestinians, saw Saddam as bolder than their own leaders. By this stance, Saddam created a powerful lever against these governments at virtually no cost.
From Baghdad the long struggle to outlast the containment policy of the United States imposed through the UN sanctions seemed tantalizingly close. There was considerable commitment and involvement on the part of states like Russia and Syria, who had developed economic and political stakes in the success of the Regime. From Baghdad’s perspective, they had firm allies, and it appeared the United States was in retreat. The United Nations mechanism to implement the Oil For Food program was being corrupted and undermined. The collapse or removal of sanctions was foreseeable. This goal, always foremost in Saddam’s eyes, was within reach.
11 September 2001 The progress Baghdad had made toward escaping sanctions changed following 11 September 2001. Saddam did not immediately understand this.
Reflecting Saddam’s ill-formed understanding of the United States, Baghdad fully grasped neither the effect of the attacks on the United States nor their implications for Iraq’s position in the United Nations. The seriousness of the change in the international atmosphere and Iraq’s diplomatic position became clear to Saddam only after President Bush’s 2002 State of the Union speech. He saw a seriousness he had not earlier recognized. Still, he tried to bargain with the Security Council rather than outright accept new inspections. The dithering cost him.
Washington was building a huge and expensive military force around Iraq. Efforts to secure access and support for potential military action were pursued. In the Security Council a new, tougher resolution was passed (UNSCR 1441). Momentum was building that would be increasingly hard to deflect. Belatedly, following the speech by President Bush at the UN General Assembly in September 2002, Saddam finally agreed to unconditional acceptance of the UNMOVIC weapons inspectors.
The work of UNMOVIC inspectors on the ground was pursued energetically and in a charged political environment. Iraq was surrounded by a large and expensive, military force. Sustaining such a force for any length of time would be impossible. It was not a stable situation, and Saddam realized his position far too late.
Readers of this report can weigh for themselves the actions taken by all governments in response to Saddam and his WMD ambitions. It is a complicated story over a long period of time. Hopefully, this report will illuminate some of the important dynamics and the trends.
Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence
Baghdad, September 2004
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|