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Iraq and weapons of mass destruction

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At the beginning of 2003, the United States and the United Kingdom both claimed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction or were developing them, but that it shouldn't. Iraqi production and use of weapons of mass destruction are forbidden by the United Nations, but some thought there was substantial evidence that Iraq had defied UN resolutions. The stated intention of the U.S. plan to invade Iraq was to eliminate Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors or its own people with weapons of mass destruction.

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Documented uses of WMD

Substantial evidence existed (see links below) that chemical weapons and nerve gas were manufactured and used by Iraq internally against Kurdish villages and against Iran in the Iran-Iraq war. However, there is no evidence that Iraq made use of chemical weapons during the Gulf War. It is also known that at the time of Desert Storm and in the decades preceding, Iraq had an active nuclear weapons program.

U.N. Resolutions and Weapons Inspectors

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, Iraq was subjected to inspections by UN weapons inspectors and forbidden from developing weapons of mass destruction. The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was headed by Rolf Ekeus and later Richard Butler. Between 1991 and 1995, UN inspectors uncovered a massive program to develop nuclear weapons and large amount of equipment was confiscated and removed. Some experts believe that as of 1991, Iraq was within one to three years of developing nuclear weapons. However, some think Iraq's nuclear weapons program suffered a serious setback in 1981 when the reactor used to generate source material for its bomb was bombed[1] (http://www.wrmea.com/Washington-Report_org/www/backissues/0695/9506081.htm) by Israel.

In 1998, after more than seven years of inspections, Iraq charged that the commission was a cover for US espionage and refused UNSCOM access to certain sites. Although Ekeus has said that he resisted attempts at such espionage, many allegations have since been made against Butler, see for example [2] (http://www.cbc.ca/news/indepth/iraq/index5) or [3] (http://www.scoop.co.nz/archive/scoop/stories/a2/32/200208011613.f8b583f2). Butler has vehemently denied the charges. Amidst controversy, Butler withdrew the UNSCOM team for safety reasons ahead of US bombing.

Former UNSCOM weapons inspector Scott Ritter[?] stated that, as of 1998, 90-95% of Iraq's nuclear, biological, and chemical capabilities, and long-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering such weapons, had been verified as destroyed. Technical 100% verification was not possible, claims Ritter, not because Iraq still had any hidden weapons, but because Iraq had preemptively destroyed some stockpiles and claimed they had never existed.

That year, Ritter sharply criticized the Clinton administration and the U.N. Security Council for not being vigorous enough about insisting that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. Ritter also accused U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan of assisting Iraqi efforts at impeding UNSCOM's work. "Iraq is not disarming," Ritter said on August 27, 1998, and in a second statement, "Iraq retains the capability to launch a chemical strike."

2003 Crisis and Controversy

Between 1997 and 2002, Iraq prevented UN weapons inspectors from entering the country and the resulting controversy at the beginning of 2003 was whether or not Iraq used their absence to develop weapons of mass destruction in violation of UN resolutions. Another controversial point came from estimating the time it would take Iraq to produce nuclear weapons from raw materials.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies in Great Britain published (September 2002) a review of Iraq's current military capability, and concluded that Iraq could assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained.

Iraq insisted it no longer had any weapons of mass destruction.

The United States claimed the opposite and it may have had inside knowledge. One of the suppliers of biological weapons components to Iraq was the United States itself, in particular during the Iran/Iraq war. (From the Associated Press [4] (http://www.sunspot.net/news/nationworld/bal-te.bioweapons01oct01,0,4635016.story?coll=bal%2Dhome%2Dheadlines).) It was reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a biological sample company, the American Type Culture Collection, sent strains of anthrax, the bacteria that make botulinum toxin, the germs that cause gas gangrene, and samples of other deadly pathogens, including the West Nile virus, directly to several Iraqi sites.

In January 2003, United Nations weapons inspectors reported that they had found no indication that Iraq had a currently active program to make nuclear weapons, and that there was no credible evidence that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons.

Some former UNSCOM inspectors disagree about whether the United States could know for certain whether or not Iraq had renewed production of weapons of mass destruction. Robert Gallucci said, "If Iraq had [uranium or plutonium], a fair assessment would be they could fabricate a nuclear weapon, and there's no reason for us to assume we'd find out if they had." Similarly, former inspector Jonathan Tucker said, "Nobody really knows what Iraq has. You really can't tell from a satellite image what's going on inside a factory."

Ritter also made new statements in 2002 which seem to contradict statements he made in 1998. It is unclear why his opinion changed so drastically in four years without inspections.

However, a UN weapons inspector, Hans Blix, said in late January 2003 that Iraq had "not genuinely accepted U.N. resolutions demanding that it disarm." [5] (http://customwire.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/UN_IRAQ?SITE=DCTMS&SECTION=HOME). He claimed there were some materials which had not been accounted for.

The carefully-worded U.N. resolution put the burden on Iraq, not U.N. inspectors, to prove that they no longer had weapons of mass destruction. Iraq's weapons report which was filed with the U.N. leaves weapons and materials unaccounted for. According to reports from the previous U.N. inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq had 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gas, VX and sarin, and nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, that are still unaccounted for. In fact, in 1995, Iraq told the United Nations that it had produced at least 30,000 liters of biological agents, including anthrax and other toxins it could put on missiles.

Final Reckoning and Hindsight

Prior to the invasion, the U.S. said that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, and that it must either give them all up or undergo a regime change. Immediately prior to the invasion, the U.S. changed its position and declared that disarmament was no longer enough, and Saddam Hussein's government had to be removed. Finally, it changed its position once again, and said that even if Saddam Hussein abdicated and his government was changed, it would send in its forces to oversee the transition to a new government. Iraq variously claimed that it never had any WMD, or that it had gotten rid of them all (and asserted that it was thus in compliance with U.S. demands).

Some said before the invasion that if Iraq were to prove credibly that it no longer had such capability, by allowing unfettered access to inspectors and permitting the destruction of WMD stocks and production facilities as they were found, the primary claimed justification for the proposed US invasion would vanish.

As of April 16, 2003, Iraq's Baath regime had fallen to the invasion, all major cities have been captured, and no weapons of mass destruction had been reported found.

As of April 24, 2003, the United States may be backing off[6] (http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1051135611623&call_pageid=968332188492&col=968705899037) on the search for weapons of mass destruction. Although no WMDs have yet been found, UNMOVIC chief inspector Hans Blix has called for UN inspections to resume.[7] (http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Article_Type1&call_pageid=971358637177&c=Article&cid=1035781104667)

Various nuclear facilities, including the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility and Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center[?], were found looted in the month following the invasion. On June 20, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that tons of uranium had been recovered, and that the vast majority had remained on site.

On May 30, 2003, Paul Wolfowitz stated in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine that the issue of weapons of mass destruction was the easiest way to convince the public and allies about the need to remove Saddam Hussein from power. In Vanity Fair, he said, "The truth is that for reasons that have a lot to do with the U.S. government bureaucracy, we settled on the one issue that everyone could agree on, which was weapons of mass destruction as the core reason..." The remainder of the quote, which was not included in the article, is as follows, according to a Pentagon transcript: "...but, there have always been three fundamental concerns. One is weapons of mass destruction, the second is support for terrorism, the third is the criminal treatment of the Iraqi people. Actually I guess you could say there's a fourth overriding one which is the connection between the first two." [8] (http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2003/tr20030509-depsecdef0223) The same day, General James Conway, senior Marine commander in Iraq, expressed similar thoughts in a satellite interview with reporters at the Pentagon.

By June 7, 2003, many American and British media sources [9] (http://www.sundayherald.com/print34271)[10] (http://www.azcentral.com/news/articles/0607iraq-intell07) began questioning the credibility of the Bush administration, and John Dean even brought up the possibility of impeachment [11] (http://edition.cnn.com/2003/LAW/06/06/findlaw.analysis.dean.wmd/) for lying to Congress and the American people, although this idea has largely fallen by the wayside since some members of Congress had access to much of the same information as the White House.

Bush now suggests that all the documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned in Iraq by looters in the final days of the war before the US could find them. [12] (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/06/20030621)

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