A prominent Iraqi defector credited by President Bush and other senior U.S. officials with helping to reveal the full extent of Baghdad's secret biological, chemical and nuclear weapons told U.N. inspectors in 1995 that the vast majority of Iraq's deadliest weapons had already been destroyed, according to a confidential copy of the notes of the meeting.
Gen. Hussein Kamel, the former head of Iraq's secret weapons program and a son-in-law of President Saddam Hussein, told a United Nations delegation in a secret meeting in Amman, Jordan, on Aug, 22, 1995, that Iraq had halted the production of VX nerve agent in the late 1980s and destroyed its banned missiles, stocks of anthrax and other chemical agents and poison gases soon after the Persian Gulf War.
However, U.N. inspectors have challenged the veracity of Kamel's claims.
Kamel, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corp., which oversees the country's weapons programs, acknowledged that Iraq had preserved much of the technology and know-how required for producing banned weapons in order to reconstitute the program after U.N. inspectors left the country.
But he told the delegation, headed by then-chief U.N. weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus, that "I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons -- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed."
Ekeus and other former U.N. inspectors said this week that while Kamel provided valuable information, he frequently embellished and lied to enhance his reputation or to preserve illegal weapons programs. "He was a consummate liar," Ekeus said in a telephone interview. "He wanted to return [to Iraq] at some stage and make a political comeback when Saddam Hussein moved to the side. All the more reason to preserve some of the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] secrets."
Kamel returned to Baghdad in 1996, where he was killed.
Ekeus said Kamel's suggestions that Iraq had destroyed all of its chemical and biological weapons as early as 1991 were "absurd." The former U.N. Special Commission, which was responsible for destroying Iraq's weapons from 1991 to 1998, carried out the destruction of more chemical, biological weapons than occurred during the Persian Gulf War, Ekeus noted. He said also that the U.N. inspectors carried out the destruction of tons of chemical weapons and agents between 1992 and 1994.
The defection of Kamel to Amman on Aug. 7, 1995, prompted the Iraqi government to turn over millions of pages of documents with new information on Iraq's efforts to produce chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
The notes from Kamel's interview, which were obtained by Cambridge University lecturer Glen Rangwala and first reported this week in Newsweek, suggest that Bush may have overstated Kamel's importance in leading U.N. inspectors to the trail of tens of thousands of liters of anthrax and tons of VX nerve agent.
They indicated that the United States, which debriefed Kamel in Amman, may have ignored or dismissed his claims that many of Iraq's deadliest agents had been destroyed. The defection of Kamel "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learn more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself," Vice President Cheney said on Aug. 26.
U.N. inspectors familiar with the Kamel meeting cautioned that the quotes from the interview, which were translated into English from Arabic and written down by a Russian weapons inspector, may contain some mistakes or misunderstandings. "You have to take what he says with a grain of salt," one U.N. inspector said.
Kamel said that Hussein had no intention of abandoning his pursuit of banned weapons once inspectors left. He said that Hussein's special guards had hidden two Russian Scud rocket launchers and a computer disk with information on Iraq's banned nuclear weapons program. Asked why Iraq would destroy its missiles and keep the launchers and missile molds, he said, "It is the first step to return to production. All blueprints for missiles are in a safe place."
Kamel himself suggested the U.N. inspectors were a far more useful and reliable source than Iraqi defectors. "You should not underestimate yourself," Kamel said. "You are very effective in Iraq." In the interview, he described one well-known defector, Khidhir Hamza, a nuclear scientist who participated in Iraq's secret nuclear weapons program, as "a professional liar."