Iraqi Chemical Weapons Programs
Iraq Survey Group Findings
In its 2004 report, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) concluded that Iraq did not reconstitute its Chemical Weapons (CW) program during the time before Operation Iraqi Freedom, as the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded. In addition, ISG found that following a particularly invasive IAEA inspection in late-June 1991, Saddam ordered Dr. Mahmud Faraj Bilal, former deputy of the CW program, to destroy all hidden CW materials, according to an interview with Bilal after Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Even with this finding, ISG was not able to satisfactorily determine the fate of several of Iraq's pre-1991 CW, in particular the 550 mustard-filled artillery rounds cited in pre-war estimates as proof of a renewed Iraqi CW program. Dual use equipment was kept, however, and expanded upon the conclusion of UNSCOM inspections in 1998, which was funded by diverted monies from the Oil for Food program accepted in 1996.
Alongside these conclusions, ISG also found that although Saddam destroyed his CW, he did not renounce CW and intended to restart the program when sanctions ended. Saddam believed Iraqi WMD capabilities had played a central role in the winning of the Iran-Iraq war and were vital to Iraq's national security strategy. ISG believed that neither rigerous UN inspections nor the defection of Husayn Kamil, then head of Iraq's WMD programs, in 1995 weakened Saddam's resolve to possess a robust CW capability. Baghdad believed its need for chemical weapons was justified, based on its fear of hostilities with Iran and Israel. The Regime, ISG judged, was also motivated by an unstated desire to elevate its status among Arab nations. Saddam thus deferred but did not abandon his CW ambitions.
ISG also investigated reporting that Iraq used a defensive doctrine during OIF that included the employment of a "red line," beyond which the Iraqis would have used available WMD against Coalition forces. The group found that there was indeed a "red line" defense for Baghdad, but it was a simple multi-ring conventional defense that quickly broke down under Coalition assault, and not the coordinated, prepared plan depicted in prewar intelligence reporting (diagrams of prewar reporting and postwar findings below). In addition, ISG could not find evidence that the defense plan explicitly called for CW use if triggered. The defensive ring around Baghdad consisted of the following 4 levels:
- 4th line (yellow)—line along which reconnaissance units usually deploy;
- 3rd line (green) —first line of defense against advancing units;
- 2nd line (blue)—first major fallback positions for the units stationed at the blue line—additional troops, supplies, and ammo stationed here;
- 1st line (red)—innermost defense line or last line of defense and final fallback position for troops. Advancing forces would meet the heaviest resistance here, and it was the final staging area.
Iraqi Chemical Industry
During the Gulf war in early 1991, Coalition Forces destroyed or extensively damaged most of Iraq's CW infrastructure, including many of the agent and precursor production facilities at Al Muthanna. For the next five years, Iraq maintained the hidden items useful for a CW program restart but did not renew its major CW efforts out of fear the UN sanctions would not be removed. UN sanctions severely limited Iraq's financial resources. Raw materials, precursors, equipment, and expertise became increasingly scarce. The crippling of Iraq's CW infrastructure by the war, and the subsequent destruction and UN monitoring of much of the remaining materials and equipment limited Iraq's ability to rebuild or restart a CW program.
Following Husayn Kamil's defection in 1995, Saddam reorganized the Iraqi Chemical industry by creating the Iraqi Industrial Committee (IIC) to coordinate Iraqi industrial activities. The IIC's membership included the heads of Iraq's military and civilian industrial ministries and sectors. ISG judged that the IIC had significant influence over Iraq's chemical infrastructure, industry, and research, even though it had not been constituted with that aim in mind. In effect, the IIC was the driving force behind an extensive, centralized national infrastructure improvement effort apparently focused on developing the pesticide and pharmaceutical industries and improving self-sufficiency, based on interviews with IIC officials and documentation. One of the IIC's main goals was to increase Iraq's self-sufficency regarding chemical procurement. In order to achieve this, IIC panels identified approximately 1,000 chemicals for initial R&D, including three dual-use chemicals used in Iraq's pre-1991 VX production: thionyl chloride, thiourea, and DCC. ISG judged, however, that these chemicals were destined for civilan purposes due to a lack of evidence to the contrary and that these chemicals were only 3 of many precursors needed for VX production.
As stated above, at the time of OIF, Iraq had not restarted its CW program. However, Iraq's rebuilt Chemical industry, though still not up to pre-Gulf war capacity, had a "breakout capability" to produce large quantities of sulfur mustard CW agent. ISG considered a CW breakout capability to be the capacity of Iraq to de novo produce and field militarily significant CW rapidly. Iraq declared to the UN an experimental sulfur mustard production route from locally available chemicals-sulfur, chlorine, and ethylene, all of which Iraq had access to at the time of OIF. As a result, ISG estimated that mustard production could have started within days if the necessary precursor chemicals were co-located in a suitable production facility; otherwise production could have started within weeks. This breakout capability could have used either corrosive resistant equipment from civilian plants to assemble a CW production plant or taken less-suitable machinery, lacking corrosive resistant materials, to assemble a short-term production capability. According to Dr. Bilal, Iraq's hypothetical break-out mustard production could be achieved by using equipment that could be sacrificed, instead of relying on specially lined vessels. ISG noted that Iraq had improvised and jury-rigged equipment in the past.
Regarding nerve agents, however, ISG judged that Iraq did not have breakout capability because it lacked indigenous sources for precursor chemicals, phosphorus in particular. With the importation of key phosphorus-based precursors, however, Iraq could have produced limited quantities of nerve agent. Phosphorus was vital for the Iraqi CW program because the backbone and toxicity of both G and V-series nerve agents was based on the phosphorus-carbon bond. Creating this bond utilizes trimethyl phosphite (CH3O)3P-used in most phosphorus-based agents. Other phosphorus containing compounds, such as phosphoric acid and phosphates used in fertilizer production, are not suitable for forming the necessary P-C bond.
Maintaining CW Competence
ISG judged that it was very ease for Iraq to mantain its CW competence. Iraqi scientists and engineers could maintain a minimal CW production proficiency without engaging in CW-related R&D and production because they were already experienced in key CW agent production processes. Largely based on data available in previously published technical literature, Iraq had sufficiently developed processes to produce nerve, blister, and psychological agents. Iraqi weapon designs made competency even easier to sustain: the best and easiest method was chosen for the preparation of VX agent and Iraqi chemical purity standards remained lower than those of Western governments. In addition, the issue of retaining scientists in Iraq was a Regime policy. However, given the command economy in Iraq, which offered limited possibilities for work at private chemical companies, it is not surprising that most key personnel from the former CW program remained employed in the government chemical sector. Former CW scientists became heavily involved in rebuilding Iraq's industrial infrastructure, and some experts were directed to work projects within various military organizations.
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