Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are still a threat, say U.N. inspectors, who are now digesting a stunning load of incriminating documents found in a chicken coop on an Iraqi farm in August.
The 680,000 pages of documents were found a few days after Iraq revealed that, before the Gulf War, Iraqis had filled 166 bombs and 25 missile warheads with anthrax, botulinum and aflatoxin all deadly germ warfare agents and had tested missile warheads filled with VX, the most deadly known nerve gas. Some documents indicated that the weapons may have been deployed with a surprise attack in mind.
Iraq had also manufactured and tested its own Scud-type missile engines, and planned to divert nuclear material under international inspection to a crash program to make an atomic bomb. All of this was news to the inspectors. Saddam Hussein, they ruefully admitted, had hidden crucial parts of his mass-destruction war machine from them since the Gulf War, and could be hiding them still.
The revelations came only because one of Saddam Hussein’s sons-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, had defected to Jordan in early August and began divulging state secrets. The Iraqis reacted by taking U.N. inspectors to the chicken house. The Iraqis claimed Kamel had hidden documents from the Iraqi government there. Kamel was responsible for Saddam’s nuclear, chemical/biological and missile programs.
Iraq now says it has already destroyed everything revealed in August. The problem is that there is no documentation to prove the Iraqi claims; Iraq says the work was done under oral orders. The Iraqis have walked the inspectors over the ground where the destruction is supposed to have happened, but the inspectors are not convinced. “We have to assume the worst,” one inspector says. “They have destroyed things in a way that makes verification difficult.”
In an October report, the inspectors said they still did “not believe that Iraq has given a full and correct account of its biological weapons program.” Nor could they exclude the potential existence of stocks of VX nerve gas, its direct precursors and undeclared munitions in Iraq. And Iraq’s previously unknown production of Scud engines meant there was “no firm basis for establishing at this time a reliable accounting of Iraq’s proscribed missiles.” Thus, all the previous accounting for Iraq’s weaponry has to be revised.
The news was equally bad for export controls. The inspectors found that before the Gulf War, foreign companies had sold munitions specifically designed to hold chemical agents, had supplied technical help in making ingredients for VX nerve gas and had sent technical personnel directly to the Muthanna State Establishment, Iraq’s largest poison gas plant. The inspectors also reported in October that Iraq has secretly started to import missile parts again. They found “equipment, technologies, supplies and material” flowing to Iraq through middlemen and front companies. And according to one inspector, the purchases are not confined to missile components: “Why develop missiles without something to put on top?” he asked.
The most alarming revelations in August concerned nuclear material. Iraq planned to divert to bomb-making high-enriched uranium supplied by France and Russia before the Gulf War to fuel Iraq’s research reactors. There was enough in the fuel mix for one weapon. Iraq planned to divert it immediately after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had completed its bi-annual inspection in November 1990. Iraqi officials said they were set to remove the uranium from the reactor fuel by January 1991, but U.S. bombing raids stopped the work. Had the crash program gone according to schedule, the Iraqis said, there would have been enough material for a bomb by the end of 1991.