Testimony: The WMD Threat Posed by Iraq

Testimony of Gary Milhollin

Professor Emeritus, University of Wisconsin Law School and
Director, Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control

Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia
Committee on International Relations
United States House of Representatives

October 4, 2001

I am pleased to appear before this distinguished subcommittee to discuss the situation in Iraq. I direct the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, a research project here in Washington that is devoted to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.

I will begin by describing the threat from Iraq and some recent Iraqi procurement attempts, and then I will comment on the “smart sanctions” proposal put forth by the administration. I will conclude with a few words on the recent terrorist attacks on America.

I would like to submit three items for the record. The first presents the findings from a roundtable that my organization conducted in May 2001. The five panelists were experts chosen on the basis of their experience in Iraq and the Middle East. The second item is a recent article authored by myself and Kelly Motz in Commentary Magazine (accompanied by a news story in the New York Times) which revealed that Iraq continued to buy prohibited military items throughout the 1990s, despite U.N. sanctions. The third is a table my organization prepared after the inspectors left Iraq in 1998, which lists what remains unaccounted for in Iraq’s mass destruction weapon programs. This list is still relevant to the issues we face today.

These documents can also be found electronically on our Iraq Watch web site: http://www.iraqwatch.org. This comprehensive web site monitors Iraq’s progress in building weapons of mass destruction and has as its goals increasing public awareness of the strategic situation in Iraq and making detailed knowledge of Iraq’s weapon status available to policy-makers, the media, private scholars and the general public.

What has Iraq been doing recently?

Since the cease fire agreement that terminated the Gulf War in 1991, Iraq has waged an unceasing political struggle with the United States and its allies, the object of which has been to undo the strategic results that the Gulf War produced. Iraq sees its programs for developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, together with long-range missiles, as essential to the achievement of this goal.

The main restraint on Iraqi arms has been the international trade embargo. It, however, is now eroding – with increasing speed – because key countries no longer support it. The decline of the embargo has removed virtually all incentive for Iraq to disarm or to re-admit U.N. inspectors, who were forced out in December 1998. These developments, coupled with the present rise in Iraq’s oil income, will produce a steady increase in Iraq’s military might, with weapons of mass destruction as part of the mix.

Such a military resurgence in Iraq is certain to destabilize the Middle East. It will also complicate the peace process. If Iraq continues an all-out drive for mass destruction weapons, Iran must try to match the effort. Egypt and Saudi Arabia will also be watching. A growing nuclear, chemical, and biological arms race between Iraq, Iran and possibly other countries in the region will, in turn, make it difficult for Israel to feel secure enough to make the concessions that would have to accompany peace in the Middle East. The price of not making things better in Iraq could be to make them worse in the region.

Iraq’s procurement network is a vital component of its weapon effort. This network, which years of U.N. inspections have failed to eradicate, has remained active despite the embargo. It can be expected to put Iraq’s recently-enhanced oil revenues immediately to work.

Iraq’s mass destruction weapon threat

Iraq’s biological capability now presents the greatest threat. Iraq has become self-sufficient in biological weaponry; it possesses the strains, growth media and infrastructure necessary to build a biological arsenal. Iraq also retains stocks of chemical agent from the period of the Gulf War and is known to have all the elements of a workable nuclear weapon except the fissile material needed to fuel it. Iraq’s authorized program for developing short-range missiles will also enable the building of longer-range missiles, and Iraq is showing an interest in cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, apparently to deliver chemical or biological payloads.

When the U.N. inspectors left Iraq in December 1998, they were convinced that Iraq had not revealed the full extent of its weapon programs, and still retained important capabilities. Iraq now seems to have everything it needs, for example, to produce biological weapons. Iraq already possesses the necessary biological strains, some of which are endemic, so there is no need to rely on imports. It also has equipment for producing microorganisms. The total amount of germ agent Iraq produced (anthrax, botulinum, gas gangrene, aflatoxin) was never revealed to the inspectors, who know only that Iraq’s production capacity far exceeded what it admitted producing. Iraq has simply alleged that its production facilities were not run at full capacity, a claim contradicted by its all-out drive to mass-produce germ warfare agents. Inspectors believe that Iraq retains at least 157 aerial bombs and 25 missile warheads filled with germ agents, retains spraying equipment to deliver germ agents by helicopter, and possessed enough growth media to generate three or four times the amount of anthrax it admits producing. Iraq either claims that these items were destroyed unilaterally, claims they were used for civilian purposes or simply refuses to explain what happened to them. Nor can inspectors account for the results of a known project to deliver germ agents by drop tanks or account for much of the equipment Iraq used to produce germ agents. Finally, Iraq contends that many essential records of its biological weapon program, such as log books of materials purchased, lists of imported ingredients, and lists of stored ingredients, simply “cannot be found.”

There are signs Iraq may be back in the business of developing biological weapons, if indeed it ever left that business. In March 2001, Iraq created considerable suspicion by asking the United Nations for permission to “renovat[e] the laboratories for the production of foot-and- mouth vaccine” using oil-for-food monies. The laboratories in question were at the Daura site, which Iraq had admitted converting in 1990 to its secret biological weapon program. Daura conducted research on hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, human rota virus, and camelpox, as well as enterovirus 70. Iraq also produced thousands of liters of botulinum toxin and admitted to having undertaken genetic engineering research and development there.

Nuclear weapons also remain a clear and present danger in Iraq. Baghdad presently possesses a workable nuclear weapon design and all of the necessary components to build it except the fissile material needed for fuel. It is also known that Iraq has decided to keep its nuclear weapon teams intact. With sanctions against Iraq declining, foreign travel to Iraq increasing, and interactions becoming more common with Russians trying to recover billions of dollars in pre-Gulf War debts, the odds are going up that Iraq may get what it needs. If Iraqcould import the necessary fissile material, it could fashion a bomb in weeks or months.

Iraq’s chemical weapon program is also a danger, despite the fact that U.N. inspectors managed to destroy large amounts of it. Iraq appears to retain small stocks of chemical agents, which could include the highly destructive nerve agent VX. Iraq would, however, have to restart its production plants before turning out strategically significant quantities of chemical munitions.

There is at least some evidence that it may be doing so. In an August 2000 report to Congress, the CIA said Iraq is continuing to rebuild former dual-use chemical weapon plants and missile production facilities, as well as installing or repairing necessary dual-use equipment. In January 2001, Iraq was reported to have rebuilt two factories in the Falluja complex, which produced chemical and biological agents before the Gulf War, and to have resumed the production of chlorine at a third factory. Iraq claimed one of the factories was making castor oil used in brake fluid, but castor beans also contain ricin, a biological agent. The other factory is believed to be producing pesticides and herbicides. Then in April, August Hanning, the director of German intelligence (BND), was reported by the press as saying that Iraq was developing new chemical weapons and that “German companies apparently delivered important components for the production of poison gas to Iraq’s Samarra plant.” Iraq denied these allegations.

U.N. resolutions presently limit Iraq to developing missiles with a range of not more than 150 kilometers. A missile beyond that range would be hard to develop without flight tests, which would probably be discovered. The technologies Iraq has chosen for its short-range missiles, however, are clearly intended to permit follow-on systems with longer ranges. Thus, Iraq’s 150 kilometer Al Samoud missile, which is now under development, is little more than a reduced-range SCUD missile, which has a range of 300 kilometers. Iraq has already shown theability to modify SCUDs to fly more than double their original range, and Iraq still appears to retain a few SCUD-type missiles at a secret location. In addition, the inspectors cannot account for up to 150 tons of missile production materials, or for Iraq’s stockpile of liquid rocket fuel. There is also the problem that the 150 kilometer limit is not self-defining. Iraq could test a longer-range missile by burning only a portion of its fuel, so that it would travel only 150 kilometers, or Iraq could test a longer-range missile with a warhead heavier than the one intended for use, which would cause the test missile to fly a shorter distance than the real one would.

There are also signs that Iraq may be working on other means to deliver biological or chemical weapons. In the same August 2000 report to Congress, the CIA warned that Iraq is still developing an unmanned aerial vehicle, converted from an Eastern European L-29 trainer jet, which the CIA believes is intended to deliver chemical or biological agents. This effort is taking place at the Al-Faris Factory, located in Al-Amiriyah, Baghdad, the same site where Iraq built drop tanks to deliver biological agents before the Gulf war. Iraq actually deployed L-29s to an air base in November 1997 when threatened with attack by the United States.

Iraq also took over several Russian-built crop-dusting helicopters from the U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization in May 2001. While only about half of the original six helicopters are still airworthy, the remaining three could possibly be used to disseminate biological or chemical agents. Before the Gulf War, Iraq’s Technical Research Center at Al Salman developed an aerosol generator for the dispersal of biological agents by modifying helicopter-borne disseminators for chemical insecticides.

Iraq’s Suppliers

Iraq has built these capabilities almost entirely with imports. Before the Gulf War, Western companies sold Iraq turbopumps and rocket nozzles for extended-range Scud missiles, sold special furnaces and presses capable of shaping nuclear weapon components, and built turn-key plants for manufacturing poison gas agents. Without this help, Iraq’s weapon programs could not have achieved anything near the success they enjoyed when the Gulf War began.

These procurement efforts continued during the 1990s, despite the prohibitions of the U.N. embargo. In 1999, our organization revealed that Iraq had imported a half dozen machines called “lithotripters” (which pulverize kidney stones inside the body without surgery) under the guise of humanitarian supplies. Each machine, however, required a high-precision electronic switch that had a second use: it could trigger an atomic bomb. Iraq wanted to buy 120 extra switches as “spare parts.” Iraq placed the order with the German electronics firm Siemens, which supplied the machines but forwarded the order for the extra switches to its supplier, Thomson-C.S.F., a French military-electronics company. It is uncertain whether the French government barred the sale. Stephen Cooney, a Siemens spokesman, claimed that Siemens shipped only eight switches, one in each machine and two spares. Sources at the United Nations and the State Department, however, believe that the number supplied is higher. It only takes one switch to detonate Iraq’s latest bomb design.

In March 2001, our organization disclosed that the Chinese company Huawei Technologies, recently caught supplying fiber optic technology to Iraq’s air defenses, had previously imported a large amount of sensitive U.S. equipment, and had an important license application pending to import more from Motorola. In fact, Motorola proposed to sell routing and switching technology that would have been ideal for improving an air defense network. The technology allows communications to be shuttled quickly across multiple transmission lines, increasing efficiency and immunizing the network from air attack.

Iraq also shopped for military items throughout the 1990s, despite U.N. sanctions. In the article in Commentary, Ms. Motz and I showed that Iraq’s procurement efforts were focused mainly in former eastern bloc countries. We based the article on a series of U.N. reports in which the U.N. inspectors detailed what they knew about Iraq’s foreign suppliers. The reports revealed that in violation of the U.N. embargo, Iraq had continued to “import goods . . . from at least . . . twenty different countries” and that Iraq’s shopping list included “turnkey facilities, full-sized production lines, industrial know-how, high-tech spare parts, and raw materials.”

Iraq made agreements to buy missile and conventional weapon components from companies in Ukraine, Belarus, Romania and Russia. The deals also included high-tech machine tools useful in building both nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Jordanian middlemen played a key role in most of the sales.

“Smart Sanctions”

The “smart sanctions” proposed by the administration are not likely to improve the situation in Iraq and could make it worse. The U.S. proposal would retain U.N. control over Iraq’s oil income, would bar Iraq from purchasing arms, and would bar Iraq from purchasing sensitive dual-use items; however, it would allow Iraq to buy almost everything else. The U.N. would stop controlling most of the goods that Iraq now buys with its oil-for-food revenue.

The U.S. proposal is unlikely to help the Iraqi people. Saddam Hussein has deliberately chosen to maintain the suffering of the Iraqi population by refusing to buy civilian goods with his existing oil-for-food revenue. He has used the suffering, in turn, to build pressure for ending U.N. control over his oil revenue. In fact, none of the major players on Iraq’s side in the present debate – Russia, China or France – appear to be motivated by concern about the Iraqi population and neither does Saddam Hussein. Ordinary Iraqis are only pawns in the struggle for control of Iraq’s bank accounts.

Under the administration’s plan, Iraq could find it easier to buy what it needs to rebuild its conventional forces and even mass destruction weapons. Militarily useful items will probably be sent to Iraq under the guise of civilian purchases. In effect, the U.S. plan is a unilateral concession. It relaxes controls on what Iraq can buy, but asks nothing in return. It does not require Iraq to re-admit U.N. inspectors or to take any steps toward disarmament. Its main virtue seems to be that it will diminish complaints from Russia and France that the United States is holding up too many contracts. Simply diminishing these complaints is not an effective policy.

Moreover, there is no reason to believe that Iraq will cooperate with the new sanctions any more than with the previous ones. Thus, the new sanctions may be a slippery slope, with further reductions of sanctions to follow. The illusion of controls would be preserved while sanctions continue to erode.

There is also the problem of smuggling: oil is being smuggled out of Iraq; goods are being smuggled in. In recent years, Iraq’s methods for smuggling oil have grown more sophisticated and the financing harder to trace or block. The smuggling of goods has also grown, and become more sophisticated. It now consists of a multilayered infrastructure that reaches back through the highest levels in Jordan, Syria, Turkey and even Iran. Overall, Saddam’s oil revenue has now reached the levels he enjoyed before the Gulf War. This increased stream of petrodollars has created a political momentum in Iraq’s favor that will be difficult to stop.

There is a reason, for example, why Jordan has not been policing its borders or tracking what goes through its free-trade zones. If machine tools stopped coming out of Jordan, discounted oil would stop coming in. Jordanian middlemen, officials, and others who live off the discount would be hit hard. In addition to $750 million in unregulated oil, Iraq directs oil-for-food contracts through Jordan. The money gives Baghdad enormous leverage.

A similar situation is developing in Syria. Last November, oil began to flow through a newly repaired Iraq/Syria pipeline, all outside U.N. control, at a value estimated at $1 billion a year. Although Secretary of State Colin Powell announced in February a Syrian pledge to bring this revenue under U.N. jurisdiction, Syria has taken no discernible action. As billions of dollars in unregulated cash flow through Damascus, smuggling can be expected to explode. And Lebanon, which this past April was offered a deal similar to Jordan’s, appears to be next. Because Iraq could sell its oil at a much higher price by operating through the United Nations, Iraq is obviously expecting something from the slush funds it has created around its borders.

It is not evident how the administration’s new sanctions proposal could change this equation. The proposal does try to help Iraq’s neighbors pay for more border guards, but it seems to lack any mechanism for replacing the secret profits now flowing from billions in illicit oil sales. There is real doubt whether some of Iraq’s neighbors have the internal coherence to counteract such a large stream of money to their elites – a weakness that Iraq is now exploiting. Moreover, by removing a greater quantity of goods from U.N. review, the proposal may actually increase the opportunities for smuggling in dangerous technology.

Iraq has essentially won the public relations battle over sanctions. The general public no longer realizes that if Saddam Hussein truly decided to disarm, he could clear Iraq’s name in a matter of months, end the embargo, and remove any restraint on the flow of goods to the Iraqi population. He has been rejecting this opportunity, however, for a full decade. Saddam Hussein obviously believes that his ability to produce mass destruction weapons is more important than the billions of dollars in oil income that his country has foregone annually.

In light of this public relations victory, there is no reason for Iraq to see its intransigence as bringing anything but gain. It has achieved much of what it sought – including an easing and possibly a near lifting of sanctions – without conceding anything. By promising and actually providing financial advantages to key countries, Iraq has assembled a number of supporters in both the United Nations and the Gulf region. Therefore, Iraq has little or no incentive to now disarm or cooperate with U.N. inspectors. Iraq is instead buying its way out of the “box” in which the United States says it has been confined.

As a result, Iraq’s procurement network, already back in operation, can be expected to fuel new mass destruction weapon efforts at secret sites, just as it did before the Gulf War. These weapon programs are seen by Iraq as essential to its aims of winning the war of attrition against the United States and dominating the Middle East region. These programs will not be abandoned unless Iraq’s strategic goals were to change.

Links to terrorism

The September 11 attacks on the United States have forever altered the way U.S. officials look at terrorism and the countries that support it. A new sense of urgency can be expected to affect America’s position on every issue touching Iraq, including the debate over sanctions, Iraq’s disarmament obligations, and the enforcement of the no-fly zones.

The United States officially considers Iraq to be a country that supports international terrorism. According to press reports, some U.S. officials have pushed for an immediate attack on terrorist sites in Iraq. Others have been more cautious. Vice President Richard B. Cheney said on September 16 that the administration did not yet have evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks. Secretary of State Colin Powell has argued that time is needed to prepare the diplomatic groundwork for military action, which should take place at first only in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, reports in the media have pointed to possible ties between Iraq and Osama bin Laden. On September 19, an American press report cited U.S. intelligence officials as saying that an Iraqi intelligence official had met secretly one year ago with Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers on the first flight to hit the World Trade Center. A second press report cited U.S. intelligence officials as saying that Osama bin Laden had been in contact with Iraqi government agents in the days just prior to the attacks. More recently, the press cited a U.S. official as saying that Farouk Hijazi, an Iraqi intelligence officer who is currently the Iraqi ambassador to Turkey, met with bin Laden in Afghanistan in December 1998. These reports, standing alone, do not constitute evidence of Iraqi state sponsorship of the terrorists who struck America. They do show, however, that possible links to Iraq are being actively investigated.