ast week, Dr. Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector for UNMOVIC (the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission), met in Vienna with officials responsible for Iraq's chemical, biological, and missile programs. Allegedly coming from this meeting was an agreement for unfettered access to all sites except Saddam's palaces. Barely had the meeting ended when Iraq's foreign minister added, "Iraq, of course, has a right to its sovereignty and dignity" a statement with which most might agree. It's also, however, the statement that in the past has most often been heard when a United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) team wanted to conduct an inspection to which Iraq was not amenable. To better understand this nuance, one needs to examine Iraq's attitude in recent years an attitude that has changed for the worse.
Iraq claims that it "obliterated" its biological-warfare program in 1991 (without supervision by the U.N., as was stipulated in ceasefire resolution 687, April 1991), and in so doing destroyed all weapons and bulk agents unilaterally, without any further documentation. The evidence indicates, however, that Iraq actually continued to expand its BW capabilities. Documentation recovered by UNSCOM showed an uninterrupted build-up of Iraq's BW capability. The organizations associated with its BW program continued to acquire equipment that would enhance its BW capability and that would seem to have little to do with animal-feed supplement (i.e., single-cell protein) production, as alleged by Iraq. From 1991 to 1995, Iraq was actively expanding Al Hakam, its major BW agent production facility, with additional infrastructure and facilities.
The expansion plans detailed among other projects the design and construction of 5,000- and 50,000-liter fermentation units for Al Hakam and Tuwaitha, and the establishment of a "biological hall" at Tuwaitha. Disturbingly, such procurement actions included a large production plant, in association with foreign assistance. Joint negotiations centered on the design, construction, and operation of a 50,000-liter fermentation facility consisting of five 10,000-liter fermenters as well as smaller fermenters and tanks. It is believed this unit was not delivered, though definitive evidence is lacking. The key players from Iraq on the negotiating team were the head of botulin-toxin production in 1990, two BW facility engineers, and an MIC representative. And Iraq has apparently continued the development of its "biological hall" at Tuwaitha, as evidenced by the tour reporters took through the new "pharmaceutical plant" at that location. The construction of this plant can only be called odd Iraq already had at least three operational pharmaceutical facilities for human products, in addition to its veterinary facilities.
Iraq has also developed the capability to produce critical equipment (fermenters, centrifuges, spray dryers, etc.) and to produce critical supplies for example, standardized growth media. Interestingly, Iraq only developed standardized media of direct importance to its BW program, rather than media types with more generalized medical applications. This effort continued at least through 1998. And the senior personnel who had been active in Iraq's BW program in the 1980s remained intact as a unit throughout the inspection period.
In short, Iraq retained the personnel for its BW program. When unable to keep all its BW equipment and supplies, Iraq developed the indigenous capability to produce crucial equipment and supplies. And while Al Hakam may have been completely destroyed, not all production-capable equipment in Iraq was destroyed or rendered harmless. Several large-capacity fermenters and tanks (which could be easily adapted as fermenters) and at least one spray dryer capable of producing the small-particulate powders for BW use remained in Iraq at the end of inspections. And Iraq's own reluctance to openly declare the full extent of its BW program only makes it the more plausible that Iraq still maintains a BW program.
Even when Iraq acknowledged its offensive BW program, in July/August 1995, it failed to be truthful in its declarations. Rather, Iraqi officials repeatedly lied to the inspectors and provided faked and altered documents to support their falsehoods. Iraq continued this pattern of denial and concealment of portions of its program not only through December 1998, but it now appears into 2002 as well. Beginning in 1996, Iraq attempted more and more to portray its BW capability as a minimal program conducted by ignorant scientists despite testimony and documentation to the contrary.
Then, in 1997, Iraq began to deny even significant items it had already acknowledged. On August 5, 1998, for instance, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz reported in a letter to the U.N. Security Council: "The programme [i.e., the BW program] was newly established. Its planning was not complete and it lacked the necessary personnel and expertise, particularly in respect of weapons. Because of the lack of specialized senior personnel, it had not become operational."
It may not have been "operational" according to Iraq's definition, but, by Iraq's own admission, it weaponized at least 157 R400 aerial bombs and 25 Al Hussein warheads in addition to successfully testing large-scale drop-tank delivery and both fixed- and rotary-wing release of BW agents.
The letter continued: "The equipment used in the context of the programme could not produce biological agents, and Iraq was not able to import the necessary equipment for this purpose." Yet somehow even though the equipment "could not produce biological agents" Iraq by its own admission produced 19,000 liters of 20x concentrated botulin toxin and 8,500 liters of 10x anthrax spores. (UNSCOM believes the real quantities were much larger.) Aziz went on to complain about UNSCOM's refusal to "recognize the truth" of Iraqi statements.
In 1999, Iraq submitted a report to the U.N. Security Council in preparation for the panel convened by the U.N. to review the status of Iraqi WMD programs. The panel was driven by Iraq and by its friends on the Security Council and, unsurprisingly, the report continued Iraq's pattern of denial. More recently, an updated version of this report has been circulated which states that Iraq "obliterated its program in 1991 and has met all the requirements for lifting sanctions" even though the world's leading experts have repeatedly testified to the contrary.
Iraq is still insisting that it obliterated its WMD programs and that it has no weapons of mass destruction. One should note, however, that it has not stated that it has no WMD programs. How, then, can Iraq account for the reviews of the international experts who held discussions with whomever the Iraqi side wished to bring to both the sessions in 1998 and the U.N.-convened panels in 1999?
Iraq has not given up its pursuit of WMDs. Until it does, there is little hope for inspections to succeed.
Richard Spertzel is former head of the biological-weapons inspection team for the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq. He can be reached through www.benadorassociates.com.