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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq Survey Group Final Report


The Regime Timeline

For an overview of Iraqi WMD programs and policy choices, readers should consult the Regime Timeline chart, enclosed as a separate foldout and in tabular form at the back of ISG report. Covering the period from 1980 to 2003, the timeline shows specific events bearing on the Regime’s efforts in the BW, CW, delivery systems and nuclear realms and their chronological relationship with political and military developments that had direct bearing on the Regime’s policy choices

Readers should also be aware that at the conclusion of each volume of text, we have also included foldout summary charts that relate inflection points—critical turning points in the Regime’s WMD policymaking—to particular events, initiatives, or decisions the Regime took with respect to specific WMD programs. Inflection points are marked in the margins of the text with a gray triangle.

Ambition (1980-91)

During the Ambition phase in Iraq, Saddam and his Regime practiced open, traditional procurement of conventional weapons and developed clandestine methods for obtaining WMD materials and dual-use items. Iraq’s oil wealth allowed Saddam to overcome the inherent inefficiencies of a centrally planned economy. After the costly war with Iran, Saddam’s procurement efforts focused primarily on restocking Iraq’s war materials. These defense-related procurement goals, however, were hindered by economic weakness. In the later part of this period, the Iraqi economy began to falter, saddled with a high international debt from the war, rising costs of maintaining a generous welfare state, low international oil prices, and the high cost entailed in weapons and WMD programs. Saddam’s ill-conceived, shortsighted economic reforms in 1987 and reactionary price controls, nationalization, and subsidies in 1989 pushed the Iraqi economy further into crisis. Capping the Ambition phase, Saddam chose to fight his way out of economic crises by invading Kuwait.

Decline (1991-96)

In the post-Gulf war decline phase, the possession of WMD remained important to the Regime. Saddam’s procurement of conventional weapons and WMD, however, was hindered severely by a potent combination of international monitoring and a collapsing oil-based economy. These constraints were compounded by the decision not to make full WMD disclosures and the subsequent attempt to remove WMD signatures through unilateral destruction. The poor handling of the WMD disclosures further hardened the international community. UN sanctions, resulting from Saddam’s refusal to comply with UN resolutions, froze the Regime’s export of oil and import of commodities—cutting off Saddam’s ability to generate the revenue needed for illicit purchases on international arms and dual-use markets. The Iraqi economy also suffered under UN sanctions during this period as gross domestic product (GDP) per capita fell from $2304 in 1989 to an estimated $495 in 1995. The decline in the street-value of the Iraqi Dinar rendered the average Iraqi citizen’s savings worthless, casting the Iraqi middle-class into poverty. Simultaneously, this period of decline exhibited an increase in corruption, incompetence, and patronage throughout Saddam’s Regime.

Husayn Kamil’s flight to Jordan in 1995 and Saddam’s handling of the issue led to further WMD disclosures and subsequent international opprobrium. Saddam retained a desire for WMD, but economic growth and the ending of sanctions became the overriding concern as the economy hit rock bottom in late 1995. The combination of these factors motivated Saddam’s decision to accept UNSCR 986, the UN OFF in 1996.

Recovery (1996-98)

The Recovery phase was ushered in by Saddam’s acceptance of UN SC 986 and the UN OFF Program. Trade fostered under the OFF program starting in 1997 allowed Saddam to pursue numerous illicit revenue earning schemes, which began generating significant amounts of cash outside of the auspices of the UN. With the legitimate side of the OFF program providing the Iraq population with economic relief, Saddam was free to develop illicit procurement programs to arm his Regime against perceived and real threats. By the end of this period, Iraq had developed a growing underground network of trade intermediaries, front companies, and international suppliers willing to trade oil or hard currency for conventional weapons, WMD precursors, and dual-use technology. After 1996, the state of the Iraqi economy no longer threatened Saddam’s hold on power in Iraq, and economic recovery underpinned a more confident Regime posture.

Transition and Miscalculation (1999-2003)

The Transition and Miscalculation phases opened with Iraq’s suspension of cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA. The subsequent lack of effective monitoring emboldened Saddam and his procurement programs. The Regime successfully manipulated Iraq’s oil production and sales policies to influence international political actors and public opinion. However, during this period, Iraq’s long-neglected oil infrastructure began to falter, resulting in an inability to meet demand. As a result, the growth in the legitimate side of the Iraq economy slowed. Meanwhile, Saddam’s increasing illegitimate revenue and profits from UN oil sales compensated for legitimate revenue loses. Illicit oil revenue provided Saddam with sufficient funds to pay off his loyalists and expand selected illicit procurement programs. From 1999 until he was deposed in April 2003, Saddam’s conventional weapons and WMD-related procurement programs steadily grew in scale, variety, and efficiency. Saddam invited UNMOVIC and IAEA back into Iraq in September 2002, in the face of growing international pressure, calculating that a surge in cooperation might have brought sanctions to an end.


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