IRAQ: How George Bush lied

February 5, 2003


"HOW IRAQ LIED" screamed the front page of the January 29 Sydney Daily Telegraph. "The case to disarm Iraq, by military force if necessary, is now made", fulminated the same day's editorial in the Australian. "The report to the UN Security Council by chief weapons inspector Hans Blix provides ample evidence that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein remains committed to weapons of mass destruction...", it asserted.

This claim, repeated ad nauseum by the rest of the corporate media, is false. Neither Blix's report to the Security Council on January 27, nor that other supposed propaganda "coup" of the warmongers, US President George Bush's State of the Union address on January 28, provided any evidence to support a war on Iraq to "disarm" Saddam Hussein's regime.

An article in the January 28 New York Times claimed that Blix "gave a broadly negative report ... on Iraq's cooperation with two months of inspections, providing support to the Bush administration's campaign to disarm Iraq by force if necessary".

This "broadly negative report" was composed of belligerent anti-Iraq rhetoric (part of a decisive shift by Blix since his meeting with US national security adviser Condoleezza Rice on January 14), recycling of assertions made by the CIA and US State Department last year and vague claims of non-cooperation with UN weapons inspectors by the Iraqi regime. All this amounts to "evidence" only for those who follow the now infamous philosophy of US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence".

Blix claimed: "Unlike South Africa, which decided on its own to eliminate its nuclear weapons and welcomed [weapons inspections] as a means of creating confidence in its disarmament, Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance ... of the disarmament which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace."

Despite this claim, Blix noted later in his report, "The most important point to make is that access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect and with one exception it has been prompt".

This "one exception" was outlined in Blix's interim report to the Security Council on December 19: "Some sites were inspected last Friday — the Muslim day of rest. In one of them, the Iraqi staff were absent and a number of doors inside locked, with no keys available. The Iraqi side offered to break the doors open — while videotaping the event. However, they agreed with a suggestion that the doors in question could be scaled [sic — Blix presumably meant sealed] overnight and the offices inspected the next morning."

Despite this admission, in his January 27 report Blix vituperated that "Paragraph 9 of [UN Security Council] resolution 1441 states that this cooperation [by Iraq with inspectors] shall be, quote/unquote, active. It is not enough to open doors. Inspection is not a game of catch as catch can". So, not even Iraqi officials offering to break down locked doors qualifies as "active" cooperation!

Iraqi cooperation

In his December notes, Blix stated that "Access to sites has been prompt and assistance on the sites expeditious. It seems probably that a general instruction has been issued not in any way to delay or impede inspection..." Even in the January 27 report he concedes: "We have ... had a great help in building up the infrastructure of our office in Baghdad and the field office in Mosul. Arrangements and services for our plane and our helicopters have been good. The environment has been workable. Our inspections have included universities, military bases, presidential sites and private residences."

The remainder of Blix's report proved none of Washington's accusations. Indeed, in a two-hour interview given at the UN headquarters with New York Times reporters Judith Miller and Julia Preston on January 30, Blix refuted assertions about Iraqi "cheating" and the notion that "time was running out for disarming Iraq through peaceful means".

According to Miller and Preston, Blix "took issue with what he said were US Secretary of State Colin Powell's claims that the inspectors had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials within and outside of Iraq to prevent their discovery. He said that the inspectors had reported no such incidents.

"Similarly, he said, he had not seen convincing evidence that Iraq was sending weapons scientists to Syria, Jordan or any other country to prevent them from being interviewed. Nor had he any reason to believe, as President Bush charged in his State of the Union speech, that Iraqi agents were posing as scientists...

"Finally, he said, he had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to al Qaeda, which Mr Bush also mentioned in his speech."

The substantive difference on Iraq between the Blix report and Bush's January 28 speech, is that while the former claimed "unknowns", the latter attempted to transform these into certainties — the ever-elusive "smoking gun".

The Blix report confirms that the only discovery that can in any way be construed as "weapons of mass destruction" are 11 artillery warheads of the type used by Iraq in its (US-backed) war against Iran in the 1980s, which can be filled with chemical agents — but, as far as inspectors could tell, haven't been.

The box with these warheads was covered in bird droppings and dust. Incredibly, the Blix report managed to take the rampant abuse of metaphor during the inspections to new levels by claiming these warheads "could ... be the tip of a submerged iceberg".

'Inadequate' documentation

The other "evidence" presented in the report remains "inadequate" or non-existent documentation of Iraq's unilateral destruction of its own biological and chemical weapons and of weapons destroyed during the 1991 Gulf War.

For example, Blix reported that a document handed over to UN inspectors by the Iraqis "gives an account of the expenditure of bombs, including chemical bombs by Iraq in the Iraq-Iran War... The document indicates that 13,000 chemical bombs were dropped by the Iraqi air force between 1983 and 1998; while Iraq has declared that 19,500 bombs were consumed during this period. Thus, there is a discrepancy of 6500 bombs. The amount of chemical agent in these bombs would be in the order of about 1000 tons."

However, former top UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter stated in a June 2000 article in Arms Control Today, "Through its inspection activities, UNSCOM [the precursor to the current weapons inspection body UNIMOVIC] obtained reasonable information concerning Iraq's chemical weapons (CW) activities from 1981 to 1987, with the exception of data on the use of CW against Iran. Iraq consistently refused to provide details to UNSCOM regarding such use, probably because of the political fallout that such an admission would cause."

Ritter noted: "While this refusal prevented a full accounting of Iraqi CW, Iraq could not still have viable CW from that period because the chemical agent would have long since deteriorated... As an internal UNSCOM working paper noted, an Iraqi declaration of CW use during the war with Iran was not required for any meaningful verification: 'Taking into consideration the conditions and the quality of CW-agents and munitions produced by Iraq at that time, there is no possibility of weapons remaining from the mid-1980s'."

Later in the article, Ritter pointed out, "What was overlooked in 1998 [when UNSCOM inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq] was the extent to which UNSCOM had actually eliminated Iraq's CW capability. The Muthanna State Establishment and most of Iraq's associated production equipment had been destroyed, either through aerial bombardment during Operation Desert Storm [the US military's operational designation for the 1991 Gulf War] or under the supervision of UNSCOM inspectors. Iraq's stockpiles of CW agent had either been destroyed in the same manner or could be assumed to have deteriorated."

The significance of this is outlined by Glen Rangwala in his analysis of US and British claims relating to Iraq's alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (available from the web site of Massachusetts' Traprock Peace Center, <>). Rangwala states: "It should ... be noted that the UK and US have never claimed that Iraq continued to produce chemical or biological weapons in the period of UNSCOM inspections, between 1991 and 1998 (although they do claim that infrastructure and equipment for the production of non-conventional weapons was developed). As a result, a stockpile of existing weapons must consist of those produced prior to 1991, or after 1998...

"If the allegations that Iraq possessed a stockpile of illicit weapons were to be true, then the UK and US would need to present credible evidence that Iraq had managed to stabilise its chemical and biological agents to a greater extent than it is previously thought to have done."

UN inspectors have examined some sites in Iraq previously associated with chemical weapons production. However, Blix's report reveals that there is no evidence from inspections that the sites are not being used for civilian purposes, as the Iraqi government has claimed.

Bush's claims

In his January 28 speech, Bush stated: "The United Nations concluded in 1999 that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons sufficient to produce over 25,000 litres of anthrax — enough doses to kill several million people. He hasn't accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it.

"The United Nations concluded that Saddam Hussein had materials sufficient to produce more than 38,000 litres of botulinum toxin — enough to subject millions of people to death by respiratory failure. He hadn't [sic] accounted for that material. He's given no evidence that he has destroyed it."

Rangwala notes in his analysis that a problem with these sorts of claims has been "a confusion between what Iraq could have produced before 1991, and what it actually did produce", observing: "Iraq could have produced considerably more biological agents than it declared if all of Iraq's claims to have lost, damaged and destroyed growth media were untrue, and furthermore, if its claim that its fermentors ... were not used for certain periods of time was also untrue."

A study by Professor Anthony Cordesman for the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies notes: "Iraq does not seem to have produced dry, storable agents and only seems to have deployed wet Anthrax agents, which have a relatively limited life... The shelf-life and lethality of Iraqi's [biological] weapons is unknown, but it seems likely that the shelf-life was limited. In balance, it seems probable that any agents Iraq retained after the Gulf War now have very limited lethality, if any."

Ritter points out in his Arms Control Today article that, after post-Gulf War UN supervised disarmament program in Iraq, "regardless of UNSCOM's ability to verify Iraq's declarations regarding its past BW [biological weapons] programs, the major BW production facility at Al Hakum had been destroyed, together with its associated equipment, and extensive monitoring of Iraq's biological infrastructure could find no evidence of continued proscribed activity".

IAEA report

Bush also claimed that the "International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] confirmed in the 1990s that Saddam Hussein had an advanced nuclear weapons development program, had a design for a nuclear weapon and was working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb". Bush then added that the "British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa".

Rangwala notes that "Iraq is indeed known to have sought to import significant quantities of uranium ... from Niger; this was in 1981-82. The absence of any detail in the reports ... may indicate that this is the incident referred to..."

Additionally, the IAEA report to the Security Council states that "No progress has been made on the issue of Iraq's alleged attempt to import uranium from abroad". Why? Because "it is not possible for the IAEA to draw any conclusions with respect to this issue without more specific information" — which neither US or British "intelligence" agencies have been able or willing to provide.

The accusation of a revitalised nuclear program in Iraq has been proven to be groundless. For example, on October 7 Bush claimed that "satellite photographs reveal that Iraq is rebuilding facilities at sites that have been part of its nuclear program in the past". However, inspections by the IAEA of the suspect facility found no nuclear-related activity. (The December 5 British Independent described the current state of most of the facility: "Twisted pieces of metal rise from the rubble, rainwater lies in craters gouged into the earth, a scorched chimney leans into a jagged wall.")

In his January 28 address, Bush further claimed: "Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production." The previous day, however, the IAEA report had stated that in response to inspectors' queries "the Iraqi authorities indicated that unsuccessful attempts had been made between 2000 and 2002 to procure high-strength aluminium tubes, but that the tubes had been intended for use in connection with a program aimed at reverse engineering 81-millimetre rockets..."

The IAEA reported that as a result of its inspection efforts, "it has been possible to confirm the existence of a program for producing 81-millimetre rockets. The IAEA's analysis to date indicates that the specifications of the aluminium tubes recently sought by Iraq appear to be consistent with reverse engineering of rockets. While it would be possible to modify such tubes for the manufacture of centrifuges, they are not directly suitable for such use."

The IAEA's report is consistent with a January 24 Associated Press article which reported, "The head of the UN nuclear agency will tell the Security Council next week that his inspectors need more time in Iraq, but that Saddam Hussein gets 'quite satisfactory' grades for his cooperation".

Indeed, the conclusion of the IAEA report reveals a source of some of the urgency in Bush's war drive. The organisation's report states that it "expects to be able, within the next few months, barring exceptional circumstances and provided there is sustained proactive cooperation by Iraq, to provide credible assurance that Iraq has no nuclear weapons program". That is, conclusive proof will be provided by the organisation that Bush's justification for a war against Iraq has no factual foundation.

The substantive conclusion of both Blix's report and the IAEA's report is that there is no proof of Iraq possessing an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction — despite the claims by the US and British governments of "mountains" of evidence.

From Green Left Weekly, February 5, 2003.
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