Oct. 12, 2004 – As the Bush administration continues to claim that Saddam Husseinâ€™s Iraq constituted the "most likely nexus" between weapons of mass destruction and "terrorists" looking to use them, two recent reports contain evidence that such a connection may finally exist in post-Saddam Iraq.
The Central Intelligence Agency has reported that insurgent groups within Iraq are seeking chemical and biological weapons. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency has told the United Nations that nuclear weapons components are missing from sites in Iraq.
Last week, a report by the CIAâ€™s chief weapons inspector in Iraq, Charles A Duelfer, seemed to put the last nail in the coffin of the administrationâ€™s claims that Iraq possessed or was seeking WMDs, which it in turn used as the primary justification for the March 2003 invasion of that country. As widely reported, the Duelfer report found that the Saddam Hussein regime had, as required by the international community, destroyed Iraqâ€™s chemical and biological weapons stockpiles and had not tried to rebuild them.
But a lesser-publicized section of the report (Annex E, Volume 3, page 93), describes a network of Iraqi "insurgents who," after the invasion, "actively sought chemical weapons for use against Coalition Forces." This group, dubbed by the report as the "Al-Abud network," had recruited chemists and acquired component chemicals from farmers who had looted state companies and shops in Baghdad.
Further, the report warns that the Al-Abud network is one group of many seeking to acquire chemical and biological weapons. "Recent reporting from a variety of sources shows insurgentâ€™s attempts to acquire and produce [chemical/biological weapon] agent throughout theatre," reads the report. "The availability of chemicals and materials dispersed throughout the country, and intellectual capital from the former WMD programs increases the future threat to Coalition Forces by groups such as the Al-Abud network."
The report says that while some of the known members of the Al-Abud network had business or political ties to Saddam Hussein regime, "There is no evidence that recent chemical weaponization attempts stem from the former regimeâ€™s [chemical weapons] program or represent a prescribed plan by the former regime to fuel an insurgency.
The report describes numerous failed attempts to produce deadly chemical weapons, but notes that, over time, the Al-Abud network may have been successful. "Despite the fleeting nature of the insurgentsâ€™ initial attempts, the Al-Abud chemists progressively gained experience with[chemical weapons], and continued different approaches with the same goal," it says.
The report also notes that while "a series of raids, interrogations, and detentions disrupted key activities at Al-Abud-related laboratories, safehouses, supply stores, and organizational nodesâ€¦ the insurgent leaders and financers within the network remain at large and alleged chemical munitions remain unaccounted [for]."
In related news, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced that it continues to be concerned about "the widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement" of sites "previously relevant to Iraqâ€™s nuclear programme."
As reported previously in The NewStandard, the IAEA has been monitoring satellite images of Iraq and has found that entire buildings have vanished.
In a letter to the president of United Nations Security Council dated October 1, but released today, IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei wrote: "The imagery shows in many instances the dismantlement of entire buildings that housed high precision equipment (such as flow forming, milling and turning machines; electron beam welders; coordinate measurement machines) formerly monitored and tagged with IAEA seals, as well as the removal of equipment and materials (such as high strength aluminium) from open storage areas."
Back in late May, the New York Times reported on a large-scale looting and export operation in which countless tons of materials from military and industrial sites in Iraq were transported across the border into Jordan.
"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping anything of perceived value out of the country," John Hamre of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Times. According to the Times, Hamreâ€™s Washington, DC-based research institute had, at the request of the Pentagon, sent a team to Iraq to investigate and report on reconstruction efforts. "This is systematically plundering the country. You're going to have to replace all of this stuff," said Hamre.
At the time, US government officials insisted that the Iraqi government was closely watching the scrap metal trade to make sure that nothing dangerous crossed the border. The Times quoted a "senior American intelligence official" as calling "far-fetched" the very notion that materials potentially used in manufacturing missiles or nuclear weapons had been taken from sensitive installations. Though, the official did concede that some of the "material might be dual-use in nature."
The IAEA now reports that while many of Iraqâ€™s industrial items, including some that are "radioactively contaminated," have been located by the Agency, "none of the high quality dual use equipment or materials referred to above has been found."
As in past letters to the Security Council, ElBaradei expressed frustration that his agency has been unable to fulfill its mandate in Iraq since March of 2003. He also wrote that Iraq has not met its obligation to declare twice a year any changes that have occurred or are planned for sites "deemed relevant" by the IAEA. "The Agency has received no such notifications or declarations from any State since the Agencyâ€™s inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in March 2003," wrote ElBaradei.