The administration's argument that Iraq was a grave threat even without stocks of illicit weapons and warranted a preemptive military attack centers on the answer to this question: Did Saddam Hussein intend to restart his weapons programs if the crippling U.N. sanctions were lifted? Or, as President Bush put it yesterday, "once the world looked away."
Charles A. Duelfer, the top U.S. weapons inspector in Iraq, found no plans and no existing capability to restart these programs, and he said in his report released Wednesday that divining Hussein's intention "is like having the picture box cover of a jigsaw puzzle to guide the assembly of the component puzzle pieces."
_____In Today's Post_____
Former U.N. Inspectors Cite New Report as Validation (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
U.S. Delaying Action on Violators of Iraq Sanctions (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
1,300 Oil Vouchers Begin to Tell Story (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Privacy Act, Order Shielded U.S. Names on List (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
Many Helped Iraq Evade U.N. Sanctions On Weapons (The Washington Post, Oct 8, 2004)
But, Duelfer concluded: "Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq's WMD capacity."
Duelfer based his conclusion about Hussein's intentions on the Iraqi leader's past actions; on post-invasion interviews with Hussein, his inner circle and weapons scientists; and on the type of industrial equipment the Iraqi government imported and maintained.
"Most senior members of the regime and scientists assumed that the programs would begin in earnest when sanctions ended," Duelfer said. "And sanctions were eroding." Others counter that sanctions had disrupted Iraq's weapons efforts and that there was no consensus at the United Nations for lifting them before the March 2003 invasion.
Referring to Hussein's view of himself, weapons of mass destruction and his country, Duelfer said: "What seems clear is that WMD was a tool of power or leverage that varied in its utility in advancing toward his goals for himself and Iraq."
Hussein's top goal was to defend Iraq against Iran. The neighbors had fought an eight-year war, and Iraq had used tens of thousands of chemical weapons to repel Iranian fighters.
"Saddam argued Iraqi WMD development, while driven in part by the growth of Iranian capabilities, was also intended to provide Iraq with a winning edge against Iran," the report noted.
Nuclear weapons were no longer Hussein's top priority, although he still aspired to have a nuclear capability, Duelfer said. Hussein was more keen on developing ballistic missiles and tactical chemical weapons suited for a battle with Iran.
Duelfer drew many of his conclusions from interviews with Hussein's top advisers and military leaders conducted while they were detained after the invasion.
"Many former Iraqi officials close to Saddam either heard him say or inferred that he intended to resume WMD programs when sanctions were lifted," the report noted. "Those around him at the time do not believe that he made a decision to permanently abandon WMD programs."
For example, former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz told interrogators that "Saddam never formally stated this intention," but that Hussein "did not believe other countries in the region should be able to have WMD when Iraq could not."
Abd Tawab Mullah Huwaysh, director of the Military Industrial Organization, which was the primary agency responsible for developing weapons of mass destruction, "speculated" to investigators that Hussein had increased funding to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, and took an interest in its achievement because he wanted to restart the nuclear program and would need the commission's scientists and staff.
Since 1991, the report noted, Hussein had ordered advisers to keep Iraq's nuclear scientists fully employed, and they made arrangements to do so.