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[casi] Iraqi WMD story from Associated Press (AP)

Aide: Saddam Did Get Rid of Iraq WMD
47 minutes ago

By SLOBODAN LEKIC, Associated Press Writer

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A close aide to Saddam Hussein says the Iraqi dictator did
in fact get rid of his weapons of mass destruction but deliberately kept the
world guessing about it in an effort to divide the international community
and stave off a U.S. invasion.

The strategy, which turned out to be a serious miscalculation, was designed
to make the Iraqi dictator look strong in the eyes of the Arab world, while
countries such as France and Russia were wary of joining an American-led
attack. At the same time, Saddam retained the technical know-how and brain
power to restart the programs at any time.

Both Pentagon (news - web sites) officials and weapons experts are
considering this guessing-game theory as the search for chemical, biological
and nuclear weapons continues. If true, it would indicate there was no
imminent unconventional weapons threat from Iraq (news - web sites), an
argument President Bush (news - web sites) used to go to war.

Saddam's alleged weapons bluff was detailed by an Iraqi official who
assisted Saddam for many years. The official was not part of the national
leadership but his job provided him daily contact with the dictator and
insight into the regime's decision-making process during the past decade and
in its critical final days.

The official refused to be identified, citing fear of assassination by
Saddam's paramilitaries who, he said, remain active throughout Iraq. But in
several interviews, the former aide detailed what he said were the reasons
behind Saddam's disinformation campaign - which ultimately backfired by
spurring, rather than deterring a U.S. invasion.

According to the aide, by the mid-1990s "it was common knowledge among the
leadership" that Iraq had destroyed its chemical stocks and discontinued
development of biological and nuclear weapons.

But Saddam remained convinced that an ambiguous stance about the status of
Iraq's weapons programs would deter an American attack.

"He repeatedly told me: 'These foreigners, they only respect strength, they
must be made to believe we are strong,'" the aide said.

Publicly Saddam denied having unconventional weapons. But from 1998 until
2002, he prevented U.N. inspectors from working in the country and when they
finally returned in November, 2002, they often complained that Iraq wasn't
fully cooperating.

Iraqi scientists, including those currently held by the U.S. military, have
maintained that no new unconventional weapons programs were started in
recent years and that all the materials from previous programs were

Both Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair (news - web sites) have come
under fire in recent weeks as weapons hunters come up empty and prewar
intelligence is questioned.

The White House acknowledged recently that it included discredited
information in Bush's State of the Union speech about alleged Iraqi attempts
to purchase uranium - a key ingredient for nuclear weapons.

More importantly, no chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been

Before the invasion, the British government claimed Saddam could deploy
unconventional weapons within 45 minutes. The Bush administration insisted
the threat was so immediate that the world couldn't afford to wait for U.N.
inspectors to wind up their searches. Despite the warnings, Iraqi troops
never used such weapons during the war.

Intelligence officials at the Pentagon, who spoke on the condition of
anonymity, said some experts had raised the theory that Iraq put out false
information to persuade its enemies that it retained prohibited chemical,
biological and nuclear weapons programs.

"That explanation has plausibility," said Robert Einhorn a former assistant
secretary of State for nonproliferation. "But the disposition of those
missing weapons and materials still has to be explained somehow."

Iraq's claims that it destroyed stockpiles of chemical and biological
weapons materials could never be verified by U.N. inspectors who repeatedly
requested proof.

However, U.N. inspectors, who scoured Iraq for three and a half months
before the war, never find any evidence of renewed weapons programs.

"The longer that one does not find any weapons in spite of people coming
forward and being rewarded for giving information, etc., the more I think it
is important that we begin to ask ourselves if there were no weapons, why
was it that Iraq conducted itself as it did for so many years?" Hans Blix,
the former chief U.N. weapons inspector, told The Associated Press in June.

Saddam's aide suggested the brinkmanship ultimately backfired because U.S.
policy switched in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, from containing the
Iraqi leader, to going after those who could supply terrorists with deadly

He described Saddam as almost "totally ignorant" of how Western democracies
functioned and attributed his failure to grasp the impact of Sept. 11 to the
fact that he increasingly surrounded himself with yes-men and loyalists who
were not qualified to give him expert advice on economic, military or
foreign policy matters.


EDITOR'S NOTE: Associated Press reporter John Lumpkin in Washington D.C.,
contributed to this report.

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