President Bush’s top political advisor, Karl Rove, said on July 15 that his biggest mistake was not fighting back against Democrats trying to score cheap political points by accusing the President of lying to get the country to support an invasion of Iraq. Rove is right, but another mistake was made: not trying to vindicate the removal of Saddam Hussein using evidence, including Iraqi government documents, that was obtained after the regime’s overthrow. Compelling evidence exists to show that Saddam’s regime was sponsoring terrorists (e.g., Al-Qaeda), had the ability to quickly produce weapons of mass destruction, and the will to use both against its enemies.
The Iraq Survey Group, the task force put together to find out what happened to Iraq’s WMD stockpiles, is often seen as the group that debunked the Bush Administration’s case for war. In reality, its conclusions did not significantly contradict the nature of the threat described by both President Bush and President Clinton. In fact, it demonstrated that the feared nexus between terrorists and those involved in WMD was coming together.
The Duelfer Report, the final assessment of the Iraq Survey Group, states that a former Iraqi intelligence officer testified that the M16 Directorate “had a plan to produce and weaponize nitrogen mustard in rifle grenades and a plan to bottle sarin and sulfur mustard in perfume sprayer and medicine bottles which they would ship to the United States and Europe.” The plot was not launched because of an inability to get the ingredients for the weapons. This substantiates intelligence received in 1998 that prompted the British government to put its airports and seaports on alert because Iraqis were planning to smuggle anthrax into several countries including the United Kingdom inside bottles used for cosmetics, cigarette lighters, perfume sprays, and other apparently harmless items.
The Iraq Survey Group also found that the M14 Directorate was giving terrorist training to Iraqis, Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Sudanese and other nationals at Salman Pak. The site that had an airliner and other Iraqi defectors reported that it was being used to provide training in tactics including hijacking. According to reporter Stephen Hayes, other documents show that Iraq trained 2,000 terrorists each year since 1999 at three camps. The ISG also said that it received testimony that Iraq had tried to recruit a former member of Hamas to kill Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Western Wall in Jerusalem using an unmanned aerial vehicle loaded with C4 explosives. Detainees later admitted that an undeclared site existed where such vehicles had been produced that ran test flights beyond the range allowed by the United Nations.
The Bush Administration could have saved its own credibility and that of the United States by explaining that the distinction between having the ability to quickly produce WMD and having actual stockpiles is minimal. The ISG confirmed that dual-use facilities had “assets that could be converted for BW [biological weapons] agent production within 4 to 5 weeks after the decision to do so.” One site had the ability to “provide the core of an alternative break-out capability…perhaps within 2 to 3 weeks.” Furthermore, Iraqi intelligence operated “a set of undeclared covert laboratories to research and test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for intelligence operations” and Iraq “intended to develop smallpox and possibly other viral pathogens.”
As for nuclear weapons, Saddam Hussein told his interrogator that he’d restart that program once U.N. sanctions were lifted, which he expected to happen in 2004. Even if they were not lifted, they were becoming weaker and weaker and the day was coming soon when Saddam would feel comfortable restarting his nuclear weapons work. These facts bolster the case for removing Saddam Hussein without even mentioning the possibility that WMDs went to Syria. Satellite photos provide credibility to the testimony of a Syrian journalist who identified three sites they were shipped to.
The first director of the ISG, David Kay, also raised the point that corruption was extremely high in the Iraqi government, leading to a strong possibility that terrorists could purchase weapons from officials.
“There were terrorist groups [in Iraq]…still seeking WMD capability. Iraq, although I found no weapons, had tremendous capabilities in this area. A marketplace phenomenon was about to occur, if it did not occur; sellers meeting buyers…No, Iraq remained a very dangerous place in terms of WMD capabilities, even though we found no large stockpile of weapons,” Kay said.
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