No WMD, but Hussein's threat clear

The Duelfer report pretty much established that Saddam Hussein didn't have the weapons of mass destruction that US intelligence - and the intelligence agencies of various other countries - calculated he had when President Bush launched the Iraq war last year.

The miscalculation was caused in part by Saddam Hussein's own clever shell game, assuring the United Nations that he'd destroyed such weapons while at the same time carrying out a series of deceptions designed to keep enemies such as the US, Israel, and Iran - and even his own generals - guessing that he might still have them.

Delving further into the 960-page report by Charles Duelfer, top US inspector of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), it is clear that while the threat may not have been imminent, it wasn't nonexistent or fanciful.

While Iraq's WMD capability was virtually eliminated by the first Gulf War, the ISG established, from captured documents and interrogations of Saddam and his imprisoned aides, that he never abandoned his intention to recreate it, focusing on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare capability, but not excluding nuclear arms. His aim was to get the post-1991 sanctions lifted to permit such a resumption, and permanent UN Security Council members Russia, France, and China were especially targeted. By 2001, he had substantially undermined the sanctions and was within striking distance of a de facto end to them. He had corrupted the UN's Oil for Food program to acquire foreign exchange for potential weapons development. Procurement was under way for illicit imports of goods and technologies for both conventional arms and WMD. The Duelfer report says the Saddam Hussein regime subverted more than $11 billion for such purposes, primarily by illegal deals with senior foreign government officials.

Ironically, Iran was the main motivator of this lust for WMD. "All senior-level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraq's principal enemy in the region," according to the Duelfer report. "The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary."

While other WMD programs were strictly prohibited, the UN permitted Iraq to develop and possess delivery systems provided their range did not exceed 150 kilometers. In fact, the ISG uncovered Iraqi designs for three long-range ballistic missiles with ranges from 400 to 1,000 kilometers, and for a 1,000-kilometer cruise missile. None of these systems were in production, but they demonstrated "Saddam's continuing desire for a long-range delivery capability."

As for chemical weapons, the ISG determined that while Saddam destroyed his major stocks in 1991, he "never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical warfare effort when sanctions were lifted and conditions were judged favorable." However, throughout 2003 the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) maintained a string of "undeclared covert laboratories to research and test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for intelligence operations."

The IIS also was instrumental in originating Iraq's biological-warfare program in the 1970s. A secret team developed poisons or toxins, including ricin and aflatoxin, for use against regime opponents. The ISG found no major stocks of biological weapons in the aftermath of the 2003 US incursion into Iraq. But Richard Spertzel, an ISG biological-weapons expert, wrote last week in the Wall Street Journal that Iraqi intelligence agents "had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades and a plan to bottle sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayers and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe." Are we to believe, he asked, that this plan "existed because they liked us? Or did they wish to do us harm?"

On the nuclear front, while Iraq's significant program was largely defused after the first Gulf War, Saddam did express to senior aides his intent to reactivate it once UN sanctions ended.

While all this may not have amounted to an imminent threat, it was hardly inconsequential.

John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, is editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret Morning News.

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