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Reports of Iraqi Missile Threat Are Greatly Exaggerated
Wednesday, September 14, 2000
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle
THE PENTAGON'S DECISION to place a Patriot missile battery on a
heightened state of alert for deployment to Israel underscores the
effort by the United States and others to create the perception of an
imminent threat from an Iraqi ballistic missile. It doesn't seem to
matter to the Pentagon that the Israeli Prime Minister himself
downplays the Iraqi missile threat as nonexistent.
In the nearly 20 months since U.N. weapons inspectors were last on
the job in Iraq, there has been no shortage of speculation on what
has transpired inside Iraq's weapons factories. Richard Butler, the
former executive chairman of the now-defunct United Nations Special
Commission (UNSCOM), has been at the forefront of those charging that
Iraq is actively rearming.
One of Ambassador Butler's favorite themes has been that ``Saddam
Hussein is back in the business of making long-range missiles.'' The
Pentagon's announcement appears perfectly constructed to play along
with this theme.
This is not the first time the United States has hyped an
``imminent'' threat from Iraqi missiles. This past summer, the
CIA reported that its satellites picked up evidence that Iraq had
resumed flight testing of the Al-Samoud missile. Even though the
Al-Samoud has a range of less than 150 kilometers and is permitted
under U.N. resolutions, the CIA highlighted these tests as proof that
Iraq had more nefarious plans for long-range missiles.
The United States has not been alone in ``exposing'' the threat from
Baghdad. In a rare public statement earlier this month, the German
Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) Intelligence Service confirmed a report
that its agents had located a ``secret Iraqi missile factory near
Baghdad,'' the Al Mamoun factory, which produces solid-
fuel missiles known as the Ababil-100.
Although the Ababil-100, like the Al-Samoud, possesses a range
less than 150 kilometers, the BND cited this latest discovery as
clear evidence that Saddam Hussein has continued to build up his
Given that inspectors have not been on the job for some time now,
such information, on the surface, would seem compelling. But the
reality is much different.
Contrary to the BND report, the Al-Mamoun factory was well known
to UNSCOM missile inspectors. Like the rest of the Iraqi weapons
ture, the Al Mamoun factory had been under continuous monitoring by
UNSCOM since 1993. The ``secret'' Ababil-100 missile project had in
fact been declared to UNSCOM by Iraq in the spring of 1998. UNSCOM
inspectors never felt that the Ababil-100 missile represented
anything close to a viable project, let alone the potential threat to
German cities that the BND report made it out to be.
Why would the Germans publish such a report at this time? The
answer lies in the current effort by UNSCOM's successor organization,
the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission
(UNMOVIC) to send inspectors back into Iraq. Iraq has made it clear
that it rejects such inspections, and the Security Council is bracing
itself for yet another confrontation. A report such as the one put
out by the BND will play a prominent role in any discussion
concerning Iraq's refusal to accept the UNMOVIC inspectors, and it
closely parallels the CIA reports of the past summer and complements
the recent Pentagon announcement on the Patriot missiles.
Given the lack of substance behind the reports from the CIA, BND
and the Pentagon, one couldn't help but conclude that these reports
are part of an overall cam
paign of disinformation designed to continue demonizing and isolating
Iraq. Such disinformation campaigns have long been associated with
the effort to contain Iraq through the continued economic sanctions.
In this regard, the key issue isn't the truth about Iraq's weapons of
mass destruction, but rather the perception, however incorrect, of
the threat such weapons pose in the hands of Iraq.
The continuation of economic sanctions, which have resulted in the
deaths of some 1.5 million innocent Iraqi civilians, hinges on the
issue of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. It is high time that
this issue be debated on the basis of fact, not fiction.
By spreading such misleading and inaccurate reports, the United
States and Germany have thrown away the credibility that comes by
embracing the truth, and instead have surrounded themselves with a
bodyguard of lies. Given the enormity of the tragedy unfolding in
Iraq today, the citizens of these two great democracies deserve, and
should demand, better.
Scott Ritter, the author of ``Endgame'' (Simon & Schuster, 1999), was a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle