Did Iraq Have Weapons Of Mass Destruction?

I have written several postings related to Various topics including the military, Voting, the economy, religion and etc in America. A list of links have been provided at bottom of this article for your convenience. This article will, however address additional issues in these topics.

Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction?

The second article will be a discussion on Iraq and WMD (weapons of mass destruction). The theory is that no actual weapons of WMD were ever found because in fact the US helped to supply them with WMD. If they were found this would be embarrassing for the US. So as part of this discussion, I will try to find information to either prove or disprove this premise.

“The Iraq war began sixteen years ago tomorrow. There is a myth about the war that I have been meaning to set straight for years. After no WMDs were found, the left claimed ‘Bush lied. People died.’ This accusation itself is a lie. It’s time to put it to rest.” — Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer, in a Twitter thread, March 19, 2019

Sixteen years after the Iraq War started, the White House press spokesman at the time sought to rebut a claim he called a “liberal myth” — that George W. Bush lied about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to launch the invasion. (Never mind that the current Republican president also has made this claim, saying in 2016: “They lied. They said there were weapons of mass destruction; there were none.”)

In more than 20 tweets, Fleischer laid out the case that the intelligence community failed — and Saddam Hussein for unknown reasons lied about having illicit weapons. He quoted at length from findings made in 2005 by the Robb-Silberman Commission that was set up to investigate the intelligence failures.

A careful reading of Fleischer’s Twitter thread shows he’s only talking about Bush and himself; he conveniently leaves out other administration officials, especially Vice President Dick Cheney — who stretched the available intelligence in his public remarks and frequently hinted there was more he could not say.

“My tweets were about me and Bush,” Fleischer acknowledged to The Fact Checker.

Moreover, he leaves out the fact that there was a second report — by the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2008 — that examined whether the public statements by U.S. government officials were substantiated by the intelligence.

In particular, the committee looked at five major policy speeches by Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell. The Robb-Silberman report specifically was not allowed to look at that issue, noting, “We were not authorized to investigate how policymakers used the intelligence assessments they received from the Intelligence Community.”

The Senate report was adopted on a bipartisan vote of 10-5.

Fleischer argues the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee report are undercut by this line in Robb-Silverman: “Finally, it was a failure to communicate effectively with policymakers; the Intelligence Community didn’t adequately explain just how little good intelligence it had — or how much its assessments were driven by assumptions and inferences rather than concrete evidence.”

Fleischer said: “I can state with certainty no one expressed doubts to me. I was told Saddam had chemical and biological stockpiles. I was told he did not have nuclear, but he was working on it. There were no doubts, hesitations or nuances raised. If there had been, it would have been reflected in what I said.”

He also supplied excerpts from Bush’s 2010 memoir, in which the president reflects that even countries opposed to the war, such as Germany, agreed that Iraq had WMDs. “The conclusion that Saddam had WMD was nearly a universal consensus. My predecessor believed it. Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill believed it. Intelligence agencies in Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia, China, and Egypt believed it,” Bush wrote in “Decision Points.”

It’s worth recalling that the Bush administration appeared determined to attack Iraq for any number of reasons beyond suspicions of WMDs; officials simply seized on WMDs because they concluded that that represented the strongest case for an invasion.

“For bureaucratic reasons we settled on one issue, weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everyone could agree on,” then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Vanity Fair in 2003.

Fleischer’s deputy at the time, Scott McClellan, put it this way in his own memoir, “What Happened”: “In the fall of 2002, Bush and his White House were engaging in a carefully orchestrated campaign to shape and manipulate sources of public approval to our advantage. . . . Our lack of candor and honesty in making the case for war would later provoke a partisan response from our opponents that, in its own way, further distorted and obscured a more nuanced reality.” (He added “the media would serve as complicit enablers.”)

So in the interest of providing the historical record, what was the U.S. intelligence community’s record on Iraqi WMDs, and did the Bush administration hype the evidence?

The facts

The short answer is that both played a role. There were serious problems in the intelligence, some of which were relegated to dissenting footnotes. But the Bush administration also chose to highlight aspects of the intelligence that helped make the administration’s case, while playing down others.

The clearest example of stretching the intelligence concerned Saddam Hussein’s links to al-Qaeda and by extension the 9/11 attacks, which were thin and nonexistent — but which the Bush administration suggested were deeply suspicious.

Cheney especially banged the drum of a possible link, long after the intelligence was discredited. The Washington Post reported in 2003:

“In making the case for war against Iraq, Vice President Cheney has continued to suggest that an Iraqi intelligence agent met with a Sept. 11, 2001, hijacker five months before the attacks, even as the story was falling apart under scrutiny by the FBI, CIA and the foreign government that first made the allegation.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee report was unsparing in its criticism of this aspect of the White House’s case for war. The 170-page report said such Iraq/al-Qaeda statements were “not substantiated by the intelligence,” adding that multiple CIA reports dismissed the claim that Iraq and al-Qaeda were cooperating partners — and that there was no intelligence information that supported administration statements that Iraq would provide weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.

The committee further said there was no confirmation of a meeting between Mohamed Atta, a key 9/11 hijacker, and an Iraqi intelligence officer.

Note, however, that Fleischer kept his Twitter thread confined to intelligence findings that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. In this case, the Senate report found that remarks by administration officials generally reflected the intelligence, but failed to convey “substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community.” In general, officials strongly suggested that WMD production was ongoing, reflecting “a higher degree of certainty than the intelligence judgments themselves.”

Here are the findings in the Senate report on key weapons:

1. Nuclear weapons. Before the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate, some intelligence agencies assessed that the Iraqi government was reconstituting a nuclear weapons program, while others disagreed. The NIE reflected a majority view that it was being reconstituted, but there were sharp dissents by the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and the Department of Energy (which is the main source of nuclear weapons expertise in the U.S. government).

In particular, administration officials leaked to the New York Times that Iraq had obtained large quantities of aluminum tubes for use in the uranium enrichment project — though the Energy Department experts were convinced that the tubes were poorly suited for such uses and instead were intended for artillery rockets.

Also, before the war, CIA Director George Tenet warned the White House not to use sketchy intelligence about Iraqi purchases of uranium in Africa. But the White House inserted it into a presidential speech anyway, much to its later embarrassment.

After the invasion, officials discovered Iraq had basically ended its nuclear weapon program in 1991.

Conclusion: “Statements by the president, vice president, secretary of state and the national security advisor regarding a possible Iraqi nuclear weapons program were generally substantiated by the intelligence community, but did not convey the substantial disagreements that existed in the intelligence community.”

2. Biological weapons. The intelligence community consistently stated between the late 1990s and 2003 that Iraq retained biological warfare agents and the capability to produce more. However, there were intelligence gaps in Iraq’s biological weapons programs, made explicit in the October 2002 NIE, which policymakers did not discuss.

After the war, officials discovered that Iraq had not conducted biological weapons production research since 1996. Iraq could have reestablished an elementary program within weeks, but no indications were found that Iraq intended to do so.

Conclusion: “Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well as additional statements, regarding Iraq’s possession of biological agents, weapons, production capability and use of mobile biological laboratories were substantiated by intelligence information.”

3. Chemical weapons. The October NIE said that Iraq retained between 100 and 500 metric tons of chemical weapons. The intelligence community assessed that Hussein wanted to have chemical weapons capability and that Iraq was seeking to hide its capability in its dual-use chemical industry. However, intelligence assessments clearly stated that analysts could not confirm that production was ongoing.

After the war, officials could find no caches of chemical weapons munitions and only a handful of pre-1991 chemical munitions. There was no credible evidence that Iraq resumed its chemical weapons program after 1991.

Conclusion: “Statements in the major speeches analyzed, as well as additional statements, regarding Iraq’s possession of chemical weapons were substantiated by intelligence information. Statements by the president and vice president prior to the October 2002 NIE . . . did not [reflect] the intelligence community’s uncertainties as to whether such production was ongoing.”

The minority views of the Senate report include many statements by Democrats that echoed the certainty of the Bush administration. For instance: “All U.S. intelligence experts agree that Iraq is seeking nuclear weapons,” then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said on Oct. 9, 2002. “There is little question that Saddam Hussein wants to develop nuclear weapons.”

But Kerry was wrong: Not all intelligence agencies agreed with that claim.

One problem is that few members of Congress actually read the classified 2002 NIE. Instead, they relied on the sanitized version distributed to the public, which was scrubbed of dissenting opinions. (It was later learned that the public white paper had been drafted long before the NIE had been requested by Congress, even though the white paper was publicly presented as a distillation of the NIE. So that should count as another manipulation of public opinion.)

One of the few lawmakers who did read the classified report, Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., voted against the congressional resolution to authorize an attack on Iraq. He later wrote that the classified version “contained vigorous dissents on key parts of the information, especially by the departments of State and Energy. Particular skepticism was raised about aluminum tubes that were offered as evidence Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. As to Hussein’s will to use whatever weapons he might have, the estimate indicated he would not do so unless he was first attacked.”

Graham said that the gap between the 96-page document that was secret and the 25-page version made public made him “question whether the White House was telling the truth — or even had an interest in knowing the truth.”

The bottom line

The intelligence community’s assessments on Iraq’s WMD stockpiles and programs turned out to be woefully wrong, largely because analysts believed that Iraq had kept on a path of building its programs rather than largely abandoning them after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. Thus the stockpiles theoretically got larger as time went on.

But at the same time, the Senate report shows Bush administration officials often hyped the intelligence that supported their policy goals — while ignoring or playing down dissents or caveats from within the intelligence community. The intelligence was used for political purposes, to build public support for a war that might have been launched no matter what intelligence analysts had said about the prospect of finding WMDs in Iraq.

(We do not know whether Bush read the dissents in the NIE. His memoir just says the NIE was based on “much of the same intelligence the CIA had been showing to me for the past eighteen months.” Then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice wrote in her memoir that “NSC Principals, all experienced people, read the NIE from cover to cover.” The National Security Council is chaired by the president, and regular attendees include the vice president, secretary of state, defense secretary, treasury secretary and national security adviser.)

Fleischer says it is “a lie” that Bush lied. Regular readers know we generally do not use the word “lie.” Fleischer is offering his opinion — one that conveniently ignores the Senate report that looked at this issue. His own deputy at the time certainly said the White House spun the intelligence for political purposes, while Fleischer still argues the White House was misled by the intelligence community.

Is there a fine line between hyping the evidence and lying about it? It’s too fuzzy for the Pinocchio Test, as it also falls in the realm of opinion. But we will let our readers offer their own opinion.

If I am going to get to the bottom of this discussion, I think it is important to give a little background information on the subject.

Iraq actively researched and later employed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) from 1962 to 1991, when it destroyed its chemical weapons stockpile and halted its biological and nuclear weapon programs as required by the United Nations Security Council. The fifth President of IraqSaddam Hussein, was internationally condemned for his use of chemical weapons during the 1980s campaign against Iranian and Kurdish civilians during and after the Iran–Iraq War. In the 1980s, Saddam pursued an extensive biological weapons program and a nuclear weapons program, though no nuclear bomb was built. After the Persian Gulf War (1990–1991), the United Nations (with the Government of Iraq) located and destroyed large quantities of Iraqi chemical weapons and related equipment and materials; Iraq ceased its chemical, biological and nuclear programs.

In the early 2000s, the administrations of George W. Bush and Tony Blair asserted that Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs were still actively building weapons, and that large stockpiles of WMDs were hidden in Iraq. Inspections by the UN to resolve the status of unresolved disarmament questions restarted between November 2002 and March 2003, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441, which demanded Hussein give “immediate, unconditional and active cooperation” with UN and IAEA inspections, shortly before his country was attacked. The United States asserted that Hussein’s frequent lack of cooperation was a breach of Resolution 1441, but failed to convince the United Nations Security Council to pass a new resolution authorizing the use of force due to lack of evidence. Despite this, Bush asserted peaceful measures could not disarm Iraq of the weapons he alleged it to have and launched a second Gulf War instead. A year later, the United States Senate officially released the Senate Report of Pre-war Intelligence on Iraq which concluded that many of the Bush Administration’s pre-war statements about Iraqi WMD were misleading and not supported by the underlying intelligence. United States–led inspections later found that Iraq had earlier ceased active WMD production and stockpiling; the war was called by many, including 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a “mistake”.

Iraq signed the Geneva Protocol in 1931, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1969, and the Biological Weapons Convention in 1972, but did not ratify it until June 11, 1991. Iraq ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention in January 2009, with its entry into force for Iraq coming a month later on February 12.

Program development 1960s–1980s

Nuclear program start date1959
First nuclear weapon testNone
First fusion weapon testNone
Last nuclear testNone
Largest yield testNone
Total testsNone
Peak stockpileNone
Current stockpileNone; programme was infiltrated, abandoned, destroyed by Israel in 1981 and Iran in 1989. Officially program ended in 1990.
Maximum missile rangeAl-Hussein (400 km)
NPT signatoryYes

Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility – 10 March 1991. The Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, Baghdad, Post-strike.

1959 – August 17 USSR and Iraq signed an agreement for the USSR to build a nuclear power plant and established a nuclear program as part of their mutual understanding.

1968 – a Soviet supplied IRT-2000 research reactor together with a number of other facilities that could be used for radioisotope production was built close to Baghdad.

1975 – Saddam Hussein arrived in Moscow and asked about building an advanced model of an atomic power station. Moscow would approve only if the station was regulated by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but Iraq refused. However, an agreement of co-operation was signed on April 15, which superseded the one of 1959.

After 6 months Paris agreed to sell 72 kg of 93% uranium and built a nuclear power plant without IAEA control at a price of $3 billion.

In the early 1970s, Saddam Hussein ordered the creation of a clandestine nuclear weapons program. Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs were assisted by a wide variety of firms and governments in the 1970s and 1980s. As part of Project 922, Iraq built chemical weapons facilities such as laboratories, bunkers, an administrative building, and first production buildings in the early 1980s under the cover of a pesticide plant. German firms sent 1,027 tons of precursors of mustard gassarintabun, and tear gasses in all. This work allowed Iraq to produce 150 tons of mustard agent and 60 tons of Tabun in 1983 and 1984 respectively, continuing throughout the decade. Five other German firms supplied equipment to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin for germ warfare. In 1988, German engineers presented centrifuge data that helped Iraq expand its nuclear weapons program. Laboratory equipment and other information was provided, involving many German engineers. All told, 52% of Iraq’s international chemical weapon equipment was of German origin. The State Establishment for Pesticide Production (SEPP) ordered culture media and incubators from Germany’s Water Engineering Trading.

Western help with Iraq’s WMD program

United States

The United States supported Iraq during the Iran–Iraq war with over $500 million worth of dual-use equipment that were approved by the Commerce department. Among them were advanced computers, some of which were used in Iraq’s nuclear program. The non-profit American Type Culture Collection and the Centers for Disease Control sold or sent biological samples of anthraxWest Nile virus and botulism to Iraq up until 1989, which Iraq claimed it needed for medical research. A number of these materials were used for Iraq’s biological weapons research program, while others were used for vaccine development. For example, the Iraqi military settled on the American Type Culture Collection strain 14578 as the exclusive anthrax strain for use as a biological weapon, according to Charles Duelfer.

The United States government invited a delegation of Iraqi weapons scientists to an August 1989 “detonation conference” in Portland, Oregon. The U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Energy conference featured experts that explained to the Iraqis and other attendees how to generate shock waves in any needed configuration. The conference included lectures on HMX, a powerful explosive generally preferred for nuclear detonation, and on flyer plates, which are devices for generating the specific type of shock waves necessary for nuclear bomb ignition. Both HMX and flyer plates were in fact later found at Iraqi nuclear research sites by United Nations weapons inspectors.


In the late 1980s, the British government secretly gave the arms company Matrix Churchill permission to supply parts for Saddam Hussein’s weapons program, while British Industry supplied Gerald Bull as he developed the Iraqi supergun. In March 1990, a case of nuclear triggers bound for Iraq was seized at Heathrow Airport. The Scott Report uncovered much of the secrecy that had surrounded the Arms-to-Iraq affair when it became known. The British government also financed a chlorine factory that was intended to be used for manufacturing mustard gas.

Iraq’s nuclear weapons program suffered a serious setback in 1981 when the Osiraq reactor, which would have been capable of breeding weapons-usable nuclear material, was bombed by Israel before it could be commissioned. David Albright and Mark Hibbs, writing for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, disagree with this view, however. There were far too many technological challenges unsolved, they say.

Iran–Iraq War

In 1980, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency filed a report stating that Iraq had been actively acquiring chemical weapons capacities for several years, which later proved to be accurate. In November 1980, two months into the Iran–Iraq War, the first reported use of chemical weapons took place when Tehran radio reported a poison gas attack on Susangerd by Iraqi forces. The United Nations reported many similar attacks occurred the following year, leading Iran to develop and deploy a mustard gas capability. By 1984, Iraq was using poison gas with great effectiveness against Iranian “human wave” attacks. Chemical weapons were used extensively against Iran during the Iran–Iraq War. On January 14, 1991, the Defense Intelligence Agency said an Iraqi agent described, in medically accurate terms, military smallpox casualties he said he saw in 1985 or 1986. Two weeks later, the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center reported that eight of 69 Iraqi prisoners of war whose blood was tested showed an immunity to smallpox, which had not occurred naturally in Iraq since 1971; the same prisoners had also been inoculated for anthrax. The assumption being that Iraq used both smallpox and anthrax during this war.

The Washington Post reported that in 1984 the CIA secretly started providing intelligence to the Iraqi army during the Iran-Iraq War. This included information to target chemical weapons strikes. The same year it was confirmed beyond doubt by European doctors and UN expert missions that Iraq was employing chemical weapons against the Iranians. Most of these occurred during the Iran–Iraq War, but chemical weapons were used at least once against the Shia popular uprising in southern Iraq in 1991. Chemical weapons were used extensively, with post-war Iranian estimates stating that more than 100,000 Iranians were affected by Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons during the eight-year war with Iraq. Iran today is the world’s second-most afflicted country by weapons of mass destruction, only after Japan. The official estimate does not include the civilian population contaminated in bordering towns or the children and relatives of veterans, many of whom have developed blood, lung and skin complications, according to the Organization for Veterans. Nerve gas agents killed about 20,000 Iranian soldiers immediately, according to official reports. Of the 90,000 survivors, some 5,000 seek medical treatment regularly and about 1,000 are still hospitalized with severe, chronic conditions. Many others were hit by mustard gas. Despite the removal of Saddam Hussein and his administration by American forces, there is deep resentment and anger in Iran that it was Western nations that helped Iraq develop and direct its chemical weapons arsenal in the first place and that the world did nothing to punish Iraq for its use of chemical weapons throughout the war. For example, the United States and the UK blocked condemnation of Iraq’s known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticized Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. On March 21, 1986 the United Nation Security Council recognized that “chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces”; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).

On March 23, 1988, western media sources reported from Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan, that several days before Iraq had launched a large-scale chemical assault on the town. Later estimates were that 7,000 people had been killed and 20,000 wounded. The Halabja poison gas attack caused an international outcry against the Iraqis. Later that year the U.S. Senate proposed the Prevention of Genocide Act of 1988, cutting off all U.S. assistance to Iraq and stopping U.S. imports of Iraqi oil. The Reagan administration opposed the bill, calling it premature, and eventually prevented it from taking effect, partly due to a mistaken DIA assessment which blamed Iran for the attack. At the time of the attack the town was held by Iranian troops and Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas allied with Tehran. The Iraqis blamed the Halabja attack on Iranian forces. This was still the position of Saddam Hussein in his December 2003 captivity. On August 21, 2006, the trial of Saddam Hussein and six codefendants, including Hassan al-Majid (“Chemical Ali”), opened on charges of genocide against the Kurds. While this trial does not cover the Halabja attack, it does cover attacks on other villages during the Iraqi “Anfal” operation alleged to have included bombing with chemical weapons.

Chemical weapon attacks

LocationWeapon UsedDateCasualties
Haij UmranMustardAugust 1983fewer than 100 Iranian/Kurdish
PanjwinMustardOctober–November 19833,001 Iranian/Kurdish
Majnoon IslandMustardFebruary–March 19842,500 Iranians
al-BasrahTabunMarch 198450–100 Iranians
Hawizah MarshMustard & TabunMarch 19853,000 Iranians
al-FawMustard & TabunFebruary 19868,000 to 10,000 Iranians
Um ar-RasasMustardDecember 19861,000s Iranians
al-BasrahMustard & TabunApril 19875,000 Iranians
Sumar/MehranMustard & nerve agentOctober 19873,000 Iranians
HalabjahMustard & nerve agentMarch 19887,000s Kurdish/Iranian
al-FawMustard & nerve agentApril 19881,000s Iranians
Fish LakeMustard & nerve agentMay 1988100s or 1,000s Iranians
Majnoon IslandsMustard & nerve agentJune 1988100s or 1,000s Iranians
South-central borderMustard & nerve agentJuly 1988100s or 1,000s Iranians
an-Najaf –
Karbala area
Nerve agent & CSMarch 1991Unknown

1991 Gulf War

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait and was widely condemned internationally.

An international coalition of nations, led by the United States, liberated Kuwait in 1991.

In the terms of the UN ceasefire set out in Security Council Resolution 686, and in Resolution 687, Iraq was forbidden from developing, possessing or using chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by resolution 686. Also proscribed by the treaty were missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres. The UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was created to carry out weapons inspections in Iraq, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was to verify the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear program.

UN inspections

UNSCOM inspections 1991–1998

The United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was set up after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait to inspect Iraqi weapons facilities. It was headed first by Rolf Ekéus and later by Richard Butler. During several visits to Iraq by UNSCOM, weapons inspectors interviewed British-educated Iraqi biologist Rihab Rashid Taha. According to a 1999 report from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, the normally mild-mannered Taha exploded into violent rages whenever UNSCOM questioned her about al-Hakam, shouting, screaming and, on one occasion, smashing a chair, while insisting that al-Hakam was a chicken-feed plant. “There were a few things that were peculiar about this animal-feed production plant”, Charles Duelfer, UNSCOM’s deputy executive chairman, later told reporters, “beginning with the extensive air defenses surrounding it.” The facility was destroyed by UNSCOM in 1996.

In 1995, UNSCOM’s principal weapons inspector, Dr. Rod Barton from Australia, showed Taha documents obtained by UNSCOM that showed the Iraqi government had just purchased 10 tons of growth medium from a British company called Oxoid. Growth media is a mixture of sugarsproteins and minerals that provides nutrients for microorganisms to grow. It can be used in hospitals and microbiology/molecular biology research laboratories. In hospitals, swabs from patients are placed in dishes containing growth medium for diagnostic purposes. Iraq’s hospital consumption of growth medium was just 200 kg a year; yet in 1988, Iraq imported 39 tons of it. Shown this evidence by UNSCOM, Taha admitted to the inspectors that she had grown 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin; 8,000 litres of anthrax; 2,000 litres of aflatoxins, which can cause liver failure; Clostridium perfringens, a bacterium that can cause gas gangrene; and ricin. She also admitted conducting research into cholerasalmonellafoot and mouth disease, and camel pox, a disease that uses the same growth techniques as smallpox, but which is safer for researchers to work with. It was because of the discovery of Taha’s work with camel pox that the U.S. and British intelligence services feared Saddam Hussein may have been planning to weaponize the smallpox virus. Iraq had a smallpox outbreak in 1971 and the Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC) believed the Iraqi government retained contaminated material.

The inspectors feared that Taha’s team had experimented on human beings. During one inspection, they discovered two primate-sized inhalation chambers, one measuring 5 cubic meters, though there was no evidence the Iraqis had used large primates in their experiments. According to former weapons inspector Scott Ritter in his 1999 book Endgame: Solving the Iraq Crisis, UNSCOM learned that, between July 1 and August 15, 1995, 50 prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison were transferred to a military post in al-Haditha, in the northwest of Iraq. Iraqi opposition groups say that scientists sprayed the prisoners with anthrax, though no evidence was produced to support these allegations. During one experiment, the inspectors were told, 12 prisoners were tied to posts while shells loaded with anthrax were blown up nearby. Ritter’s team demanded to see documents from Abu Ghraib prison showing a prisoner count. Ritter writes that they discovered the records for July and August 1995 were missing. Asked to explain the missing documents, the Iraqi government charged that Ritter was working for the CIA and refused UNSCOM access to certain sites like Baath Party headquarters. Although Ekéus has said that he resisted attempts at such espionage, many allegations have since been made against the agency commission under Butler, charges which Butler has denied.

In April 1991 Iraq provided its first of what would be several declarations of its chemical weapons programs. Subsequent declarations submitted by Iraq in June 1992, March 1995, June 1996 came only after pressure from UNSCOM. In February 1998, UNSCOM unanimously determined that after seven years of attempts to establish the extent of Iraq’s chemical weapons programs, that Iraq had still not given the Commission sufficient information for them to conclude that Iraq had undertaken all the disarmament steps required by the UNSC resolutions concerning chemical weapons.

In August 1991 Iraq had declared to the UNSCOM biological inspection team that it did indeed have a biological weapons program but that it was for defensive purposes. Iraq then provided its first biological weapons declaration shortly after. After UNSCOM determined such declarations to be incomplete, more pressure was placed on Iraq to declare fully and completely. A second disclosure of the biological weapons came in March 1995. After UNSCOM’s investigations and the discovery of ireffutable evidence, Iraq was forced to admit for the first time the existence of an offensive biological weapons program. But Iraq still denied weaponization. Further UNSCOM pressure resulted in a third prohibited biological weapons disclosure from Iraq in August 1995. Only after General Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Minister of Industry and Minerals and former Director of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Corporation, with responsibility for all of Iraq’s weapons programs, fled Iraq for Jordan, Iraq was forced to reveal that its biological warfare program was much more extensive than was previously admitted and that the program included weaponization. At this time, Iraq admitted that it had achieved the ability to produce longer-range missiles than had previously been admitted to. At this point, Iraq provides UNSCOM and IAEA with more documentation that turns out Hussein Kamel al-Majid had hidden on a chicken farm. These documents gave further revelation to Iraq’s development of VX gas and its attempts to develop a nuclear weapon. More declarations would follow in June 1996 and September 1997. However, in April and July 1998, the biological weapons team and UNSCOM Executive Chairman assessed that Iraq’s declarations were as yet “unverifiable” and “incomplete and inadequate”, seven years after the first declarations were given in 1991.

In August 1998, Ritter resigned his position as UN weapons inspector and sharply criticized the Clinton administration and the UN Security Council for not being vigorous enough about insisting that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction be destroyed. Ritter also accused UN 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.” In 1998 the UNSCOM weapons inspectors left Iraq. There is considerable debate about whether they were “withdrawn”, “expelled” from the country by Iraqi officials (as alleged by George W. Bush in his “axis of evil” speech), or they chose to leave because they felt their hands were tied sufficiently to see the mission as hopeless. According to Butler himself in his book Saddam Defiant, it was U.S. Ambassador Peter Burleigh, acting on instructions from Washington, who suggested Butler pull his team from Iraq in order to protect them from the forthcoming U.S. and British airstrikes which eventually took place from December 16–19, 1998.

Between inspections: 1998–2003

In August 1998, absent effective monitoring, Scott Ritter remarked that Iraq could “reconstitute chemical biological weapons, long-range ballistic missiles to deliver these weapons, and even certain aspects of their nuclear weaponization program.”

In June 1999, Ritter responded to an interviewer, saying: “When you ask the question, ‘Does Iraq possess militarily viable biological or chemical weapons?’ the answer is no! It is a resounding NO. Can Iraq produce today chemical weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Can Iraq produce biological weapons on a meaningful scale? No! Ballistic missiles? No! It is ‘no’ across the board. So from a qualitative standpoint, Iraq has been disarmed. Ritter later accused some UNSCOM personnel of spying, and he strongly criticized the Bill Clinton administration for misusing the commission’s resources to eavesdrop on the Iraqi military. According to Ritter: “Iraq today (1999) possesses no meaningful weapons of mass destruction capability.”

In June 2000, Ritter penned a piece for Arms Control Today entitled The Case for Iraq’s Qualitative Disarmament. 2001 saw the theatrical release of his documentary on the UNSCOM weapons inspections in Iraq, In Shifting Sands: The Truth About Unscom and the Disarming of Iraq. The film was funded by an Iraqi-American businessman who, unknown to Ritter, had received Oil-for-Food coupons from the Iraqi administration.

In 2002, Scott Ritter stated that, by 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, said Ritter, not because Iraq still had any hidden weapons, but because Iraq’ had preemptively destroyed some stockpiles and claimed they had never existed. Many people were surprised by Ritter’s turnaround in his view of Iraq during a period when no inspections were made.

During the 2002–2003 build-up to war, Ritter criticized the Bush administration and maintained that it had provided no credible evidence that Iraq had reconstituted a significant WMD capability. In an interview with Time in September 2002 Ritter said there were attempts to use UNSCOM for spying on Iraq. According to the New York Times and Washington Post media of Jan. 8, 1999, “In March [1998], in a last-ditch attempt to uncover Saddam Hussein’s covert weapons and intelligence networks, the United States used the United Nations inspection team to send an American spy into Baghdad to install a highly sophisticated electronic eavesdropping system.”

UNSCOM encountered various difficulties and a lack of cooperation from the Iraqi government. In 1998, UNSCOM was withdrawn at the request of the United States before Operation Desert Fox. Despite this, UNSCOM’s own estimate was that 90–95% of Iraqi WMDs had been successfully destroyed before its 1998 withdrawal. After that, for four years (from 1998 to 2002) Iraq remained without any outside weapons inspectors. During this time speculations arose that Iraq had actively resumed its WMD programs. In particular, various figures in the George W. Bush administration, as well as Congress, went so far as to express concern about nuclear weapons.

There is a dispute about whether Iraq still had WMD programs after 1998 and whether its cooperation with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) was complete. Chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said in January 2003 that “access has been provided to all sites we have wanted to inspect” and Iraq had “cooperated rather well” in that regard, although “Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance of the disarmament.” On March 7, in an address to the Security Council, Hans Blix stated: “Against this background, the question is now asked whether Iraq has cooperated “immediately, unconditionally and actively” with UNMOVIC, as is required under paragraph 9 of resolution 1441 (2002)… while the numerous initiatives, which are now taken by the Iraqi side with a view to resolving some long-standing open disarmament issues, can be seen as “active”, or even “proactive”, these initiatives 3–4 months into the new resolution cannot be said to constitute “immediate” cooperation. Nor do they necessarily cover all areas of relevance.” Some U.S. officials understood this contradictory statement as a declaration of noncompliance.

There were no weapon inspections in Iraq for nearly four years after the UN departed from Iraq in 1998, and Iraq asserted that they would never be invited back. In addition, Saddam had issued a “secret order” that Iraq did not have to abide by any UN Resolution since in his view “the United States had broken international law”.

In 2001, Saddam stated: “we are not at all seeking to build up weapons or look for the most harmful weapons . . . however, we will never hesitate to possess the weapons to defend Iraq and the Arab nation”. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in Britain published in September 2002 a review of Iraq’s military capability, and concluded that Iraq could assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained. However, IISS also concluded that without such foreign sources, it would take years at a bare minimum.

Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, who created Saddam’s nuclear centrifuge program that had successfully enriched uranium to weapons grade before the 1991 Gulf War, stated in an op-ed in The New York Times that although Iraqi scientists possessed the knowledge to restart the nuclear program, by 2002 the idea had become “a vague dream from another era.”

2003 Iraq War

February 5, 2003 – United States Secretary of State Colin Powell holding a model vial of anthrax while giving the presentation to the United Nations Security Council.

Possession of WMDs was cited by the United States as the primary motivation instigating the Iraq War.


In late 2002 Saddam Hussein, in a letter to Hans Blix, invited UN weapons inspectors back into the country. Subsequently, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 was issued, authorizing new inspections in Iraq. The United States claimed that Iraq’s latest weapons declaration left materials and munitions unaccounted for; the Iraqis claimed that all such material had been destroyed, something which had been stated years earlier by Iraq’s highest-ranking defector, Hussein Kamel al-Majid. According to reports from the previous UN inspection agency, UNSCOM, Iraq produced 600 metric tons of chemical agents, including mustard gasVX and sarin; nearly 25,000 rockets and 15,000 artillery shells, with chemical agents, are still unaccounted for.

In January 2003, United Nations weapons inspectors reported that they had found no indication that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or an active program. 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 is no reason for us to assume we would find out if they had.” Similarly, former inspector Jonathan Tucker said, “Nobody really knows what Iraq has. You really can not tell from a satellite image what is going on inside a factory.” However, Hans Blix said in late January 2003 that Iraq had “not genuinely accepted UN resolutions demanding that it disarm.” He claimed there were some materials which had not been accounted for. Since sites had been found which evidenced the destruction of chemical weaponry, UNSCOM was actively working with Iraq on methods to ascertain for certain whether the amounts destroyed matched up with the amounts that Iraq had produced. In the next quarterly report, after the war, the total amount of proscribed items destroyed by UNMOVIC in Iraq can be gathered. Those include:

  • 50 deployed Al-Samoud 2 missiles
  • Various equipment, including vehicles, engines and warheads, related to the AS2 missiles
  • 2 large propellant casting chambers
  • 14 155 mm shells filled with mustard gas, the mustard gas totaling approximately 49 litres and still at high purity
  • Approximately 500 ml of thiodiglycol
  • Some 122 mm chemical warheads
  • Some chemical equipment
  • 224.6 kg of expired growth media

Iraq’s history with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons is a long and winding path that eventually ended in an American invasion of the country.

Related Iraq Timelines

Timeline: The CIA Leak Case July 2, 2007Timeline: Saddam’s Violent Road to Trial Dec. 29, 2006

In between Saddam Hussein’s rise and fall from power, Iraq developed and used so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD). It also reluctantly submitted to international inspections and destroyed its stockpiles and means of WMD production.

In the end, though, the government’s opaque and obstinate nature made it difficult for outsiders to tell exactly what Iraq was doing, if anything, in the realm of WMD.

Saddam Becomes President ::: July 16, 1979
Saddam Hussein becomes president of Iraq after pushing his cousin Ahmad Hasan al-Bakr to resign.

Iran-Iraq War Begins ::: Sept. 22, 1980
Iraq invades Iran, beginning a war that ends in stalemate eight years later.

Israel Attacks ::: June 7, 1981
Israeli warplanes make a surprise attack on the French-built Osirak nuclear reactor near Baghdad. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin says that his country had to act before Iraq could successfully build a nuclear weapon to use against the Jewish state. Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government says the reactor was not part of a plan to build nuclear weapons.

Chemical Attacks on Iran ::: 1983
Media reports describe Iraqi use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces. Mustard gas is the first weapon used. In 1984 reports say Iraq uses the nerve agent Tabun.

Gassing the Kurds ::: March 1988
Iraq uses chemical weapons against its own population during an attack on the rebellious Kurdish city of Halabja.

Invading Kuwait ::: Aug. 2, 1990
Iraq invades Kuwait, easily overwhelming its tiny neighbor.

Resolution 687 Bans Iraq WMD ::: April 3, 1991
Shortly after Iraq is ejected from Kuwait by an international military coalition, the United Nations Security Council passes its first resolution addressing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Resolution 687 states that Iraq must destroy its presumed stockpile of WMD, and the means to produce them. It also limits the country’s ballistic missile capability. The U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) is established to oversee the inspection, destruction and monitoring of chemical and biological weapons. The International Atomic Energy Agency is asked to document and destroy Iraqi efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Iraq accepts the resolution three days later, agreeing to disclose the extent of its WMD program to inspectors.

Unilateral Destruction ::: Summer 1991
Iraq unilaterally destroys WMD equipment and documentation in an effort at concealment of pre-war work.

Resolution 715 Demands Compliance ::: Oct. 11, 1991
Responding to Iraq’s consistent efforts to interrupt or block inspection teams, the U.N. Security Council passes Resolution 715. The resolution says Iraq must “accept unconditionally the inspectors and all other personnel designated by the Special Commission”.

‘Defensive’ Biological Weapons ::: May 1992
Iraq officially admits to having had a “defensive” biological weapons program. Weeks later, UNSCOM begins the destruction of Iraq’s chemical weapons program. Progress is halted in July when Iraq refuses an inspection team access to the Ministry of Agriculture.

Denial and Acceptance ::: 1993
Inspections are again held up when Iraq attempts to deny UNSCOM and the IAEA the use of their own aircraft in Iraq. In late 1993 Iraq accepts resolution 715.

Nuclear, Chemical Weapons Programs Destroyed ::: 1994
UNSCOM completes the destruction of Iraq’s known chemical weapons and production equipment. IAEA teams largely complete their mandate to neutralize Iraq’s nuclear program, including the destruction of facilities Iraq had not even declared to inspectors.

Defection and Revelation ::: Aug. 8, 1995
Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Corporation, responsible for all WMD programs, defects to Jordan. As a result, Iraq admits to a far more developed biological weapons programs than it had previously disclosed. Saddam Hussein’s government also hands over documents related to its nuclear weapons program and admits to the attempted recovery of highly-enriched uranium.

Al-Hakam Destroyed ::: May 1996
Iraq’s main facility for the production of biological weapons, Al-Hakam, is destroyed through explosive demolition supervised by UNSCOM inspectors.

The Fight Against Proliferation ::: 1997
The Additional Protocol is added to the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), giving IAEA inspectors more authority to investigate programs in member states. The protocol is in response to the realization that Iraq — a NPT signatory — had been able to move swiftly and covertly toward the construction of a nuclear weapon in the late 1980s under the treaty’s previous safeguards. Inspections in the 1990s revealed that Iraq was much closer to building a nuclear weapon in the 1980s than had been suspected by IAEA officials.

Resolution 1115 ::: June 1997
In another effort to end Iraq’s interference with inspection teams, the U.N. Security Council passes Resolution 1115. The resolution again calls for Iraq to comply with all previous resolutions regarding WMD. By the end of 1997, a diplomatic stalemate forces UNSCOM to withdraw most of its staff from Iraq.

Memorandum of Understanding ::: Feb. 20-23, 1998
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits Iraq in an effort secure inspections of what Iraq terms “presidential sites.” The U.N. and Iraq agree to support the terms of the newly drafted “Memorandum of Understanding.” The Memorandum secures UNSCOM access to eight previously off-limits presidential sites.

Operation Desert Fox ::: 1998
Cooperation ends between Iraq and inspectors when the country demands the lifting of the U.N. oil embargo. UNSCOM and the IAEA pull their staffs out of Iraq in anticipation of a US-led air raid on Iraqi military targets. The four-day military offensive known as Operation Desert Fox begins on December 16, 1998. According to a U.S. military Web site, the mission of Desert Fox was “to strike military and security targets in Iraq that contribute to Iraq’s ability to produce, store, maintain and deliver weapons of mass destruction.” The operation is considered a success, largely finishing off what was left of Iraq’ s WMD infrastructure.

From UNSCOM to UNMOVIC ::: Dec. 17, 1999
The U.N. Security Council passes Resolution 1284, replacing UNSCOM with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Hans Blix of Sweden is named to head the organization. UNMOVIC’s staff are employees of the United Nations. UNSCOM’s staff had been experts on loan from U.N.-member countries, calling into question the motives of individual team members.

World Trade Center Attacks ::: Sept. 11, 2001
Terrorists attack New York City and Washington, D.C., with passenger jets, radically altering America’s view of national security issues.

‘Axis of Evil’ ::: Jan. 29, 2002
President Bush accuses Iraq of being part of an international “axis if evil” during his State of the Union address. Bush tells Congress:
“Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror. The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade … This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilized world.”

‘A Grave and Gathering Danger’ ::: Sept. 12, 2002
President Bush accuses Iraq of failing to live up to its obligations to the U.N. during an address to the General Assembly. Bush tells the U.N.:
“We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein’s regime is a grave and gathering danger.”

‘Material Breach’ ::: Nov. 8, 2002
U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 says Iraq “remains in material breach of its obligations” under various U.N. resolutions and gives the country “a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament” commitments.

The U.N. Moves Back In ::: Nov. 27, 2002
UNMOVIC and IAEA inspections begin again in Iraq, almost four years after the departure of inspectors prior to Operation Desert Fox.

Recycled Material ::: Dec. 7, 2002
Iraq delivers a 12,000-page WMD report to the U.N. in response to Resolution 1441. U.N. chief inspector Hans Blix says the information provided by Iraq is largely recycled material.

No ‘Smoking Guns’ ::: Jan. 9, 2003
UNMOVIC’s Hans Blix and the IAEA’s Director General Mohamed ElBaradei report their findings to the U.N. Security Council. Blix says inspectors have not found any “smoking guns” in Iraq. ElBaradei reports that aluminum tubes suspected by the U.S. to be components for uranium enrichment are more likely to be parts for rockets, as the Iraqis claim. John Negroponte, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., says:
“There is still no evidence that Iraq has fundamentally changed its approach from one of deceit to a genuine attempt to be forthcoming in meeting the council’s demand that it disarm.”

Sixteen Words ::: Jan. 28, 2003
In his State of the Union address, President Bush continues to view Iraq is a WMD threat. He makes a statement that implies Iraq is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Bush says:
“The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.”
It comes to light later that the president based his statement on discredited intelligence.

Powell’s U.N. Appearance ::: Feb. 5, 2003
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell goes in person to the U.N. to make the case against Iraq. Citing evidence obtained by American intelligence, he tells the U.N. that Iraq has failed “to come clean and disarm.” Powell adds:
“My colleagues, every statement I make today is backed up by sources, solid sources. These are not assertions. What we’re giving you are facts and conclusions based on solid intelligence.”

The Burden is on Iraq ::: Feb. 14, 2003
The IAEA’s ElBaradei and chief weapons inspector Blix report to the U.N. Security Council on Iraqi cooperation in the search for WMD. They say they have not discovered any biological, chemical or nuclear weapons activities. Proscribed missile programs are discovered and disabled. Blix does express frustration with Iraq’s failure to account for its vast stores of chemical and biological agents it was known to have at one point. Blix says:
“This is perhaps the most important problem we are facing. Although I can understand that it may not be easy for Iraq in all cases to provide the evidence needed, it is not the task of the inspectors to find it.”

U.S. vs. U.N. ::: March 6-7, 2003
The night before Blix and ElBaradei are to report on inspection efforts in Iraq, President Bush gives a news conference in which he again says Iraq is hiding something. Bush says:
“These are not the actions of a regime that is disarming. These are the actions of a regime engaged in a willful charade. These are the actions of a regime that systematically and deliberately is defying the world.”

Blix tells the U.N. the next day:
“Intelligence authorities have claimed that weapons of mass destruction are moved around Iraq by trucks, in particular that there are mobile production units for biological weapons … [But] no evidence of proscribed activities have so far been found.”

Appearing with Blix, ElBaradei tells the U.N. that the IAEA has concluded that documents appearing to show Iraq shopping for uranium in Niger are, in fact, forgeries.

Invading Iraq ::: March 20, 2003
The U.S. military and other members of an American-led coalition invade Iraq. Baghdad falls on April 9. President Bush declares an end to major combat operations on May 1. Shortly afterward, the Pentagon announces formation of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) to search for WMD.

A Different Niger Story ::: July 6, 2003
Former diplomat Joseph C. Wilson questions the Bush Administration’s use of intelligence about Iraqi WMD programs with an opinion piece in the New York Times titled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson says he was sent to Africa by the CIA to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium ore in Niger. He reports that he didn’t find any evidence of Iraq attempting to procure uranium in Niger, contradicting regular statements from the White House that Saddam Hussein was after the radioactive material there.

Tenet Takes the Blame ::: July 11, 2003
Director George Tenet says that the CIA should not have allowed the president to say in his State of the Union address that Iraq was trying to procure uranium in Africa. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley also accepts responsibility for failing to stop the president from using the information. Tenet says:
“These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the President.”

Novak Unmasks a CIA Agent ::: July 14, 2003
Robert Novak, in his syndicated commentary, reveals that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA operative. Novak attributes the information to “two senior administration officials.”

No Weapons Found ::: Oct. 2, 2003
After three months of looking, Iraq Survey Group (ISG) inspector David Kay tells Congress in an interim report that his American team of weapons inspectors has yet to find any evidence of WMD. Kay says:
“We have not yet found stocks of weapons, but we are not yet at the point where we can say definitively either that such weapon stocks do not exist, or that they existed before the war.”

Kay Resigns ::: Jan. 23, 2004
David Kay resigns as head of the ISG. CIA Director George Tenet names Charles Duelfer to replace Kay, whose team failed to find evidence of active WMD production or stockpiles. Kay tells NPR:
“My summary view, based on what I’ve seen, is that we are very unlikely to find large stockpiles of weapons. I don’t think they exist.”

Bush Responds to Kay ::: Feb. 3, 2004
With David Kay saying that he didn’t believe WMD existed in Iraq, President Bush reiterates his belief that Saddam Hussein was dangerous. Bush says:
“We know from years of intelligence, not only our own intelligence services, but other intelligence-gathering organizations, that he had weapons. After all, he used them.”

Hutton Inquiry ::: Feb. 4, 2004
The Hutton Inquiry into allegations from the BBC that the British government had hyped WMD intelligence reports before the war with Iraq finds no basis for the allegations. Tony Blair says:
“The allegation that I or anyone else lied to this House or deliberately misled the country by falsifying intelligence on weapons of mass destruction is itself the real lie.”

Senate Intelligence Report ::: July 9, 2004
The Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq is released. It faults America’s ability to gauge Iraq’s capabilities before the war. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) says:
“Before the war, the U.S. intelligence community told the president, as well as the Congress, that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong. They were also unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.”

Britain’s Butler Report ::: July 14, 2004
Britain releases the Butler Report, which concludes that Iraq did not have significant, if any, stocks of chemical or biological weapons ready for deployment. Blair responds to the report:
“On any basis, he [Saddam Hussein] retained complete strategic intent on weapons of mass destruction, and significant capability. The only reason he ever let the inspectors back into Iraq was that he had 180,000 U.S. and British troops on his doorstep. He had no intention of ever cooperating fully with the inspectors.”

No Weapons Found ::: Sept. 30 – Oct. 6, 2004
The ISG releases its final report and chief inspector Charles Duelfer testifies before congress about his team’s findings. After 16 months of investigation, Duelfer concludes that Saddam Hussein had no chemical weapons, no biological weapons and no capacity to make nuclear weapons. This effectively ends the hunt for WMD. Bush responds to the report:
“The Duelfer report showed that Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the UN oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions. He was doing so with the intent of restarting his weapons program once the world looked away.”

The Hunt is Over ::: Jan. 12, 2005
White House spokesman Scott McClellan tells reporters that the “physical search” for WMD, having found no weapons, is over.

Robb-Silberman Report ::: March 31, 2005
The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction delivers its report to the president. Commonly known as the Robb-Silberman report — in reference to the commission’s co-chairmen — the document describes the failure to find WMD in Iraq as one of the “most public — and most damaging — intelligence failures in recent American history.” The report, which was commissioned by President Bush, asks what went wrong and concludes that wide-ranging reform of the intelligence bureaucracy is needed to guard against global WMD threats.

In an attempt to counter the allegations that some WMD arsenals (or capability) were indeed hidden from inspectors, Scott Ritter would argue later;

There’s no doubt Iraq hasn’t fully complied with its disarmament obligations as set forth by the Security Council in its resolution. But on the other hand, since 1998 Iraq has been fundamentally disarmed: 90–95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capacity has been verifiably eliminated … We have to remember that this missing 5–10% doesn’t necessarily constitute a threat … It constitutes bits and pieces of a weapons program which in its totality doesn’t amount to much, but which is still prohibited … We can’t give Iraq a clean bill of health, therefore we can’t close the book on their weapons of mass destruction. But simultaneously, we can’t reasonably talk about Iraqi non-compliance as representing a de-facto retention of a prohibited capacity worthy of war.

Ritter also argued that the WMDs Saddam had in his possession all those years ago, if retained, would have long since turned to harmless substances. He stated that Iraqi Sarin and tabun have a shelf life of approximately five years, VX lasts a bit longer (but not much longer), and finally he said botulinum toxin and liquid anthrax last about three years.

Iraq Survey Group

On May 30, 2003, The U.S. Department of Defense briefed the media that it was ready to formally begin the work of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), a fact-finding mission from the coalition of the Iraq occupation into the WMD programs developed by Iraq, taking over from the British-American 75th Exploitation Task Force.

Various nuclear facilities, including the Baghdad Nuclear Research Facility and Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, were found looted in the month following the invasion. (Gellman, May 3, 2003) On June 20, 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency reported that tons of uranium, as well as other radioactive materials such as thorium, had been recovered and that the vast majority had remained on site. There were several reports of radiation sickness in the area. It has been suggested that the documents and suspected weapons sites were looted and burned in Iraq by looters in the final days of the war.

On September 30, 2004, the U.S. Iraq Survey Group issued its Final Report. Among its key findings were

  1. “Saddam Husayn so dominated the Iraqi Regime that its strategic intent was his alone. He wanted to end sanctions while preserving the capability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when sanctions were lifted.”
  2. “Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities;”
  3. “Iran was the pre-eminent motivator of [Iraq’s WMD] policy. All senior level Iraqi officials considered Iran to be Iraq’s principal enemy in the region. The wish to balance Israel and acquire status and influence in the Arab world were also considerations, but secondary.”
  4. “The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead, his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.”
  5. “Saddam did not consider the United States a natural adversary, as he did Iran and Israel, and he hoped that Iraq might again enjoy improved relations with the United States, according to Tariq ‘Aziz and the presidential secretary.”
  6. Evidence of the maturity and significance of the pre-1991 Iraqi Nuclear Program but found that Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after that date;
  7. Concealment of the nuclear program in its entirety, as with Iraq’s BW program. Aggressive UN inspections after Desert Storm forced Saddam to admit the existence of the program and destroy or surrender components of the program;
  8. After Desert Storm, Iraq concealed key elements of its program and preserved what it could of the professional capabilities of its nuclear scientific community;
  9. “Saddam’s primary goal from 1991 to 2003 was to have UN sanctions lifted, while maintaining the security of the Regime. He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections—to gain support for lifting sanctions—with his intention to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face. Indeed, this remained the goal to the end of the Regime, as the starting of any WMD program, conspicuous or otherwise, risked undoing the progress achieved in eroding sanctions and jeopardizing a political end to the embargo and international monitoring;”
  10. A limited number of post-1995 activities would have aided the reconstitution of the nuclear weapons program once sanctions were lifted.

The report found that “The ISG has not found evidence that Saddam possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but [there is] the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq, although not of a militarily significant capability.” It also concluded that there was a possible intent to restart all banned weapons programs as soon as multilateral sanctions against it had been dropped, with Hussein pursuing WMD proliferation in the future: “There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted…”No senior Iraqi official interviewed by the ISG believed that Saddam had forsaken WMD forever.

On October 6, 2004, the head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), Charles Duelfer, announced to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that the group found no evidence that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had produced and stockpiled any weapons of mass destruction since 1991, when UN sanctions were imposed.

After he began cooperating with U.S. forces in Baghdad in 2003, Dr. Mahdi Obeidi, who ran Saddam’s nuclear centrifuge program until 1997, handed over blueprints for a nuclear centrifuge along with some actual centrifuge components, stored at his home – buried in the front yard – awaiting orders from Baghdad to proceed. He said, “I had to maintain the program to the bitter end.” In his book The Bomb in My Garden: The Secrets of Saddam’s Nuclear Mastermind, the Iraqi nuclear engineer explains that his nuclear stash was the key that could have unlocked and restarted Saddam’s bombmaking program. However, it would require a massive investment and a re-creation of thousands of centrifuges in order to reconstitute a full centrifugal enrichment program.

Post-war discoveries and incidents

Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, several reported finds of chemical weapons were announced, including half a dozen incidents during the invasion itself.

In April 2003, US Marines stumbled across a number of buildings which emitted unusual levels of radiation. Upon close inspection the troops uncovered “many, many drums” containing low-grade uranium, also known as yellowcake. According to an expert familiar with UN nuclear inspections, US troops had arrived at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center and the material under investigation had been documented, stored in sealed containers and subject to supervision by the International Atomic Energy Agency since 1991. The material was transported out of Iraq in July 2008 and sold to Canadian uranium producer Cameco Corp., in a transaction described as worth “tens of millions of dollars.”

A post-war case occurred on January 9, 2004, when Icelandic munitions experts and Danish military engineers discovered 36 120-mm mortar rounds containing liquid buried in Southern Iraq. While initial tests suggested that the rounds contained a blister agent, subsequent analysis by American and Danish experts showed that no chemical agent was present.

On May 2, 2004, a shell containing mustard gas was found in the middle of a street west of Baghdad. The Iraq Survey Group investigation reported that it had been previously “stored improperly”, and thus the gas was “ineffective” as a useful chemical agent. Officials from the Defense Department commented that they were not certain if use was to be made of the device as a bomb.

On May 16, 2004, a 152 mm artillery shell was used as an improvised bomb. The shell exploded and two U.S. soldiers were treated for minor exposure to a nerve agent (nausea and dilated pupils). On May 18 it was reported by U.S. Department of Defense intelligence officials that tests showed the two-chambered shell contained the chemical agent sarin, the shell being “likely” to have contained three to four liters of the substance (in the form of its two unmixed precursor chemicals prior to the aforementioned explosion that had not effectively mixed them). Former U.S. weapons inspector David Kay told the Associated Press that “he doubted the shell or the nerve agent came from a hidden stockpile, although he didn’t rule out that possibility.” Kay also considered it possible that the shell was “an old relic overlooked when Saddam said he had destroyed such weapons in the mid-1990s.” It is likely that the insurgents who planted the bomb did not know it contained sarin, according to Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, and another U.S. official confirmed that the shell did not have the markings of a chemical agent. The Iraq Survey Group later concluded that the shell “probably originated with a batch that was stored in a Al Muthanna CW complex basement during the late 1980s for the purpose of leakage testing.”

In a July 2, 2004, article published by The Associated Press and Fox News, it was reported that sarin gas warheads dating back to the last Iran–Iraq War were found in South Central Iraq by Polish Allies. The Polish troops secured munitions on June 23, 2004, but it turned out that the warheads did not in fact contain sarin gas but “were all empty and tested negative for any type of chemicals”—and it transpired that the Poles had bought the shells for $5,000 each.

In 2004, hundreds of chemical warheads were recovered from the desert close to the Iran–Iraq border. According to the Washington Post, the munitions “had been buried near the Iranian border, and then long forgotten, by Iraqi troops during their eight-year war with Iran”. Officials did not consider the discovery as evidence of an ongoing weapons program that was believed to be in existence before the invasion began.

The Iraqi government informed the United Nations in 2014 that insurgents affiliated with the Islamic State terror group had seized control of the Muthana State Establishment, including a chemical weapons depot northwest of Baghdad. The facility was partially destroyed and placed under the supervision of UNSCOM following the 1991 Gulf War. It housed some 2,500 sarin-filled rockets at the time of their departure in 1999. The U.N. said that the munitions were of “poor quality” and “would largely be degraded after years of storage under the conditions existing there.”

2005: Operation Avarice

In 2005, the CIA collaborated with the Army Intelligence Corps in contacting an unnamed Iraqi individual who had knowledge and possession of remnant chemical weapon stockpiles and munitions in Iraq dating to its abandoned weapons program. Foreign materials exploitation specialists from the 203rd Military Intelligence Battalion as well as chemical specialists and ordnance disposal units were assigned the task of aiding the destruction of recovered weapons; ultimately, at least 400 Borak rockets were acquired and destroyed.

It is unknown how the individual acquired their stockpile. Many of the weapons were badly degraded and were empty or held nonlethal liquid, but some of the weapons analyzed indicated a concentration of nerve agents far higher than military intelligence had initially expected given their age, with the highest “agent purity of up to 25 percent for recovered unitary sarin weapons”. At least once the undisclosed seller attempted to sell weapons with fake chemical components. In addition, he once “called the intel guys to tell them he was going to turn them over to the insurgents unless they picked them up.”

2006: House Armed Services Committee Hearing

On June 21, 2006, the United States House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence released key points from a classified report provided to them by the National Ground Intelligence Center on the recovery of chemical weapons in Iraq. The declassified summary stated that “Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent”, that chemical munitions “are assessed to still exist” and that they “could be sold on the black market”. All weapons were thought to be manufactured in the 1980s and date to Iraq’s war with Iran. The report prompted US Senator Rick Santorum to hold a press conference in which he declared “We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.”

During a House Armed Services Committee meeting convened to discuss the topic, the center’s commander, Army Colonel John Chiu, elaborated that the munitions are “badly corroded in most cases [and] some were deliberately dismantled, if you will, to prevent them from being used.” Nonetheless, in response to a question from committee member Curt Weldon, Col. Chui agreed that the munitions met the technical definition of weapons of mass destruction. “These are chemical weapons as defined under the Chemical Weapons Convention and yes, sir, they do constitute weapons of mass destruction.” Weapons expert David Kay, who also appeared before the committee, disagreed with the assessment, contending that any chemical weapon produced by Iraq in the 1980s would not remain a viable weapon of mass destruction today. Kay said the chemical agent, though hazardous, is “less toxic than most things Americans have under their kitchen sink at this point”. Speaking on National Public Radio‘s Talk of the Nation, weapons expert Charles Duelfer agreed: “We said in the [ISG] report that such chemical munitions would probably still be found. But the ones which have been found are left over from the Iran-Iraq war. They are almost 20 years old, and they are in a decayed fashion. It is very interesting that there are so many that were unaccounted for, but they do not constitute a weapon of mass destruction, although they could be a local hazard. In September of the same year, the report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on Postwar Findings stated that such discoveries were consistent with the ISG assessment that “Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. The ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along the frequently and rapidly shifting battle front.”

New York Times investigative report

In October 2014, the New York Times reported that the total number of munitions discovered since 2003 had climbed to 4,990, and that U.S. servicemen had been exposed and injured during the disposal and destruction process. US soldiers reporting exposure to mustard gas and sarin allege they were required to keep their exposure secret, sometimes declined admission to hospital and evacuation home despite the request of their commanders. “We were absolutely told not to talk about it” by a colonel, a former sergeant said. “All [munitions] had been manufactured before 1991, participants said. Filthy, rusty or corroded, a large fraction of them could not be readily identified as chemical weapons at all. Some were empty, though many of them still contained potent mustard agent or residual sarin. Most could not have been used as designed, and when they ruptured dispersed the chemical agents over a limited area.”

According to the investigative report, “many chemical weapons incidents clustered around the ruins of the Muthanna State Establishment, the center of Iraqi chemical agent production in the 1980s.” The facility had fallen under the supervision of United Nations weapons inspectors after the first Gulf War and was known to house approximately 2,500 corroded chemical munitions, but the vast building complex was left unmanned once hostilities commenced in 2003 and was subject to looting. Participants in the discoveries postulated another reason to conceal their exposure, as some of the chemical shells “appeared to have been designed in the United States, manufactured in Europe and filled in chemical agent production lines built in Iraq by Western companies.”

2009 Declaration

Iraq became a member state of the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2009, declaring “two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities” according to OPCW Director General Rogelio Pfirter. No plans were announced at that time for the destruction of the material, although it was noted that the bunkers were damaged in the 2003 war and even inspection of the site must be carefully planned.

The declaration contained no surprises, OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan indicated. The production facilities were “put out of commission” by airstrikes during the 1991 conflict, while United Nations personnel afterward secured the chemical munitions in the bunkers. Luhan stated at the time: “These are legacy weapons, remnants.” He declined to discuss how many weapons were stored in the bunkers or what materials they contained. The weapons were not believed to be in a usable state.

The destruction of these remnants was completed in 2018.

At the end of the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein and his elite military units were still in power and in possession of huge stockpiles of deadly weapons. In April 1991, the U.N. Security Council created UNSCOM, a special commission to find and dismantle this arsenal. The U.N. imposed economic sanctions on Iraq that would be enforced until the country eliminated all nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons capability.

Two agencies were charged with the task. UNSCOM would uncover and destroy Iraq’s biological- and chemical-weapons and ballistic-missile programs; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was charged with uncovering and dismantling Iraq’s clandestine nuclear program.

From 1991 to 1998 UNSCOM and IAEA carried out numerous inspections in Iraq, but with varying degrees of success.

For the first few years, Iraqi officials failed to disclose much of their special weapons programs to the inspectors. In 1995, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law Kamel Hussein defected. He had been in charge of the bioweapons program and revealed to UNSCOM that there was a vast arsenal of weapons they had failed to uncover, including biological weapons, and described how the Iraqis were hiding them. This was a breakthrough for the inspection teams, and they continued their work until 1998, when Iraq blocked further access and expelled UNSCOM.

What follows is a summary of what IAEA and UNSCOM had found in Iraq, up until 1998.


Between 1991 and 1998 the IAEA conducted more than 1500 inspections. IAEA released a report in 1997, with updates in 1998 and 1999, which it believes offers a technically coherent picture of Iraq’s nuclear program.

In summary, the IAEA report says that following the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq launched a “crash program” to develop a nuclear weapon quickly by extracting weapons grade material from safe-guarded research reactor fuel. This project, if it had continued uninterrupted by the war, might have succeeded in producing a deliverable weapon by the end of 1992.

The IAEA inspections revealed seven nuclear-related sites in Iraq.  The IAEA reports that all sensitive nuclear materials were removed, and that facilities and equipment were dismantled or destroyed. Activities uncovered and destroyed included:

  • an industrial scale complex for Electromagnetic Isotope Separation (EMIS), a process for producing enriched uranium. The complex was designed for the installation of 90 separators; before the Gulf War, eight were functional. If all separators had been installed, the plant could have produced 15 kg of highly enriched uranium per year, possibly enough for one nuclear weapon.
  • a large scale manufacturing and testing facility–the Al Furat Project–designed for the production of centrifuges, used in another method of uranium enrichment.
  • facilities and equipment for the production of weapons components.
  • computer simulations of nuclear weapons detonations
  • storage of large quantities of HMX high explosive used in nuclear weapons.

According to former U.N. inspector David Kay, Iraq spent over $10 billion during the 1980s in an attempt to enrich uranium and build a nuclear weapon. However, the Agency concludes that as of December, 1998, “There were no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons,” or “that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” However, the IAEA did find that “Iraq was at, or close to, the threshold of success in such areas as the production of [highly enriched uranium] … and the fabrication of the explosive package for a nuclear weapon.” Despite the fact that the facilities and nuclear material had been destroyed or removed, as early as 1996 the IAEA concluded that “the know-how and expertise acquired by Iraqi scientists and engineers could provide an adequate base for reconstituting a nuclear-weapons-oriented program.”

Nuclear physicist and Iraqi defector Khidhir Hamza agrees. He told FRONTLINE that Iraq did not relinquish certain critical components of the nuclear program to the inspectors, and that it retains the expertise necessary to build a nuclear weapon. He believes that Iraq may have one completed within the next couple of years.

Note: IAEA was allowed back into Iraq in January 2000 and again in January 2001. But its inspectors were blocked from full access inspections.


Between 1991 and 1998, UN inspectors conducted more than 70 inspections into Iraq’s biological warfare activities. In its 1999 final report to the U.N. Security Council, UNSCOM noted that Iraq’s biological warfare program was “among the most secretive of its programs of weapons of mass destruction.” It said that Iraq “took active steps” to conceal the program, including “inadequate disclosures, unilateral destruction, and concealment activities.” Therefore, the Commission concluded, “it has not been possible to verify” Iraq’s statements about the extent and nature of its biological weapons program.

58 page annex to the final report describes what the Commission was able to learn about the BW program, despite Iraq’s concealment activities, and documents discrepancies between what Iraq claimed to have developed, or destroyed, and the physical evidence. Some of the findings include:

  • Extensive BW program: Iraq had an extensive BW program from 1973 until at least 1991. In mid-1995, Iraq admitted that it had weaponized BW agents, but claimed that the entire BW program had been in “obliterated” in 1991 and that all BW weapons had been destroyed and all bulk BW agents had been deactivated. The Commission found, however, that the evidence produced in support of this claim was not credible, and that Iraq “retained suitable growth media, BW facilities, production equipment, teams of expert personnel, and the essential technical knowledge” after 1991.
  • Bulk production: In July, 1995, Iraq acknowledged that between 1988 and 1991, it had produced two BW agents in bulk: botulinum toxin and Bacillus anthracis spores (anthrax). Iraq reported 19,180 liters of botulinum toxin (10-20 fold concentrated) and 8445 liters of Bacillus anthracis spores (10 fold concentrated).UNSCOM found, however, that “bulk warfare agent production appears to be considerably understated,” given the resources available to Iraq’s BW program, including growth media and fermenter capacity. The Commission said that the production rate of Botulinum toxin could be as much as double the stated amount, and 3 times greater than that stated for Bacillus anthracis spores.Iraq claimed that it unilaterally destroyed more than 7500 liters of the Botulinum toxin and 3412 liters of Bacillus anthracis spores in 1991; UNSCOM noted that there was not evidence to support quantities claimed to be destroyed. The report concludes “the Commission has no confidence that all bulk agents have been destroyed… and that a BW capability does not exist in Iraq.”Iraq also claims to have produced lesser quantities of clostridium perfringens spores, ricin, and wheat cover smut.
  • BW Warheads: Iraq claimed to have produced 25 Al-Hussein missile warheads and filled them with BW agents. The Commission found that there was no credible evidence to show that only 25 missiles were produced and filled. Iraq declared that the 25 missiles were unilaterally destroyed; the Commission found enough physical evidence to account for the declared quantities of BW warheads, but the location of the remnants were inconsistent with Iraq’s story.
  • BW bombs: Iraq declared that 200 R-400 aerial bombs were manufactured for BW purposes, but acknowledged that the numbers of bombs filled with particular agents (100 with botulinum toxin, 50 with bacillus anthracis spores, and 7 with aflatoxin) were “guesses.” UNSCOM did find evidence of the destruction of some BW bombs at the site declared by Iraq, but found that the remnants account for less than one third of the bombs Iraq claims to have destroyed. In addition, UNSCOM found evidence of R-400A bombs carrying BW at an airfield where no BW weapons were declared.
  • Aircraft drop tanks: Iraq claimed that it produced 4 aircraft drop tanks to disseminate BW agents, and was developing a pilotless aircraft that could carry the tanks, holding either BW or chemical weapons, and release the toxins at a preset time. UNSCOM found that there was no evidence corroborate that only 4 were produced, and noted that interviews indicated that 12 were planned. Remnants of only three destroyed tanks were recovered. UNSCOM also rejected the evidence offered by Iraq–a letter thanking the project workers–that the pilotless aircraft project was shut down.
  • Aerosol Generators: Iraq developed aerosol generators for the dispersal of BW agents by modifying helicopter-borne commercial chemical insecticide disseminators. Although Iraq claimed the devices were ineffective, UNSCOM received documentation that they were successfully field tested. Interview evidence suggests that there were 12 devices produced; none were destroyed by UNSCOM.
  • Remaining Bacterial Growth Media: UNSCOM determined that there remained substantial bacterial growth media imported into Iraq which remains unaccounted for: 460 kg. of casien; 80 kg. of thioglocollate broth; 520 kg. of yeast extract; and 1100 kg of peptone. The report says that “the amounts that are ‘missing’ are significant, and would be sufficient to produce quantities of agent comparable to that already declared by Iraq.”


UNSCOM was more successful in its pursuit of Iraq’s CW program largely because Iraq was more cooperative with its disclosures. The final report notes that a “significant number” of chemical weapons, their components, and related equipment were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision between 1991 and 1997. In addition, the report found:

  • Extensive CW program: Iraq acknowledged that it carried out a large scale CW program between 1982 and 1990. It claims that more than 50% of its chemical weapons stocks were consumed during the 1980s, and that the majority of its production facilities were destroyed by aerial bombing during the Gulf War.
  • Bulk CW agents: Iraq said that it produced 3,859 tons of CW agents during the entire implementation of its CW program, and that 3,315 tons of these agents were weaponized. Agents produced in large quantities included mustard, tabun, and sarin. According to Iraq, 80% of the weaponized CW agents were consumed between 1982 and 1988. In addition, they claim to have unilaterally discarded 130 tons of non-weaponized CW agents during the 1980s. UNSCOM found that these numbers could not be verified. After the Gulf War, Iraq claimed that it had 412.5 tons of CW agents remaining. Four hundred eleven tons were destroyed under UNSCOM supervision; 1.5 tons of the CW agent VX remain unaccounted for.
  • Special Munitions: Iraq claimed that between 1982 and 1988, 100,000 munitions filled with CW agents were consumed or disposed of. UNSCOM found that this number could not be verified.After the Gulf war, Iraq declared that there remained over 56,000 special munitions which could carry either CW or BW agents (22,000 filled, 34,000 unfilled). These munitions are all accounted for. They were either destroyed or converted for conventional weapons purposes. Iraq claimed that there were 42,000 special munitions destroyed in the Gulf War. UNSCOM was unable to verify that number, and found that the destruction of 2,000 unfilled munitions remains uncertain, and 550 filled munitions remain unaccounted for.Iraq claimed that it unilaterally destroyed 29,000 special munitions; UNSCOM found that of these, 100 filled munitions remain unaccounted for.

Why are we even bothering to keep looking for those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? At this point, what difference does it make whether we find them or not? Trying to find them serves two ostensible purposes: One is to prevent them from being used, and the other is to settle the argument about whether they exist. But neither purpose really applies any longer.

As we are belatedly noticing, other nations are closer to having a usable nuclear weapon than Iraq. The claim was that nuclear and other weapons were especially dangerous in the hands of a malevolent madman like Saddam Hussein. Now Saddam is gone. Iraq is not quite yet the gentle, loving democracy promised by Bush administration propaganda. But its government, or lack of one, is hardly the rogue nuclear power we must fear the most.

As for settling the argument about WMD as a justification for the war, that argument is already settled. It’s obvious that the Bush administration had no good evidence to back up its dire warnings. And even if months of desperate searching ultimately turn up a thing or two, this will hardly vindicate the administration’s claim to have known it all along. The administration itself in effect now agrees that actually finding the weapons doesn’t matter. It asserts that the war can be justified on humanitarian grounds alone, and that Saddam may have destroyed those weapons on his way out the door. (Exactly what we wanted him to do, by the way, now repositioned as a dirty trick.) These are not the sorts of things you say if you know those weapons exist. And if it doesn’t matter that they don’t seem to exist, it cannot logically matter if they do.

The general citizenry doesn’t seem to care whether those weapons are discovered or not. Americans tell pollsters they do not mind that WMD haven’t materialized and are not even withholding judgment while the search goes on. Some now believe the war was justified on other grounds. Some believe the weapons exist despite the lack of evidence. Some actually believe that WMD have been discovered. And some even believe that the Bush administration outright lied about WMD, but they don’t care.

According to a Harris poll out Wednesday, a majority of Americans still think the Bush administration was telling the truth before the war when it said it had hard evidence of WMD. A Knight Ridder poll released last weekend reports that a third of the populace believes that the weapons have been discovered. A Fox News poll last week found that almost half of Americans feel that the administration was “intentionally misleading” about Iraq’s weapons, but more than two-thirds think the war was justified anyway. A Gallup Poll released Wednesday concludes that almost 9 out of 10 Americans still think Saddam had or was close to having WMD.

By now, WMD have taken on a mythic role in which fact doesn’t play much of a part. The phrase itself—”weapons of mass destruction”—is more like an incantation than a description of anything in particular. The term is a new one to almost everybody, and the concern it officially embodies was on almost no one’s radar screen until recently. Unofficially, “weapons of mass destruction” are to George W. Bush what fairies were to Peter Pan. He wants us to say, “We DO believe in weapons of mass destruction. We DO believe. We DO.” If we all believe hard enough, they will be there. And it’s working.

The most striking thing about polls like these isn’t how many people believe or disbelieve some unproven factual assertion or prediction, but how few give the only correct answer, which is “don’t know.” In the Fox News poll, vast majorities expressed certitude one way or the other about the existence of WMD in Iraq, the likelihood of peace in the Middle East, and so on. Those who voted “not sure” (an even more tempting cop-out than the pollsters’ usual “don’t know”) rarely broke 20 percent and usually hovered around 10. Four-fifths or more were sure about everything.

As someone who manufactures opinions for a living, it is my job to be sure. And my standards for the ingredients of an opinion are necessarily low. There may be a few ancient pundits such as George Will who still follow the traditional guild practices: days in the library making notes on 3-by-5 cards, half a dozen lunches at the club with key sources, an hour spent alone in silence with a martini and one’s thoughts—and only then does a perfectly modulated opinion take its lovely shape. Most of us have no time for that anymore. It’s a quick surf around the Net, a flip of the coin, and out pops an opinion, ready-to-go except perhaps for a bit of extra last-minute coarsening.

Still, even the most modern major generalist among the professional commentariat likes to have a little something in the way of knowledge as he or she scatters opinions like bird seed. The general public, or at least the part of it that deals with pollsters, is not so cowardly. Most people, it seems, will happily state a belief on a question of fact that nobody knows the answer to, and then just as happily do a double back flip from that shaky platform into a pool of opinions about which they are “sure.”

Pollsters themselves, and the media who report their findings deadpan, are partly responsible for this. Every news report about a poll result reinforces the impression that opinion untethered to reality is valid or even patriotic (and to be “not sure” is shameful). The modern pundit culture is also partly to blame, I suppose, with its emphasis on televised argumentation. Viewers do not always grasp the difference between low standards and no standards at all.

Are there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Sure there are—in every sense that matters, reality not being one of them.

Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq

WASHINGTON – The United States has found 500 chemical weapons in Iraq since 2003, and more weapons of mass destruction are likely to be uncovered, two Republican lawmakers said Wednesday.

“We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons,” Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: “Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq’s pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist.”

He added that the report warns about the hazards that the chemical weapons could still pose to coalition troops in Iraq.

“The purity of the agents inside the munitions depends on many factors, including the manufacturing process, potential additives and environmental storage conditions. While agents degrade over time, chemical warfare agents remain hazardous and potentially lethal,” Santorum read from the document.

“This says weapons have been discovered, more weapons exist and they state that Iraq was not a WMD-free zone, that there are continuing threats from the materials that are or may still be in Iraq,” said Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

The weapons are thought to be manufactured before 1991 so they would not be proof of an ongoing WMD program in the 1990s. But they do show that Saddam Hussein was lying when he said all weapons had been destroyed, and it shows that years of on-again, off-again weapons inspections did not uncover these munitions.

Hoekstra said the report, completed in April but only declassified now, shows that “there is still a lot about Iraq that we don’t fully understand.”

Asked why the Bush administration, if it had known about the information since April or earlier, didn’t advertise it, Hoekstra conjectured that the president has been forward-looking and concentrating on the development of a secure government in Iraq.

Offering the official administration response to FOX News, a senior Defense Department official pointed out that the chemical weapons were not in useable conditions.

“This does not reflect a capacity that was built up after 1991,” the official said, adding the munitions “are not the WMDs this country and the rest of the world believed Iraq had, and not the WMDs for which this country went to war.”

The official said the findings did raise questions about the years of weapons inspections that had not resulted in locating the fairly sizeable stash of chemical weapons. And he noted that it may say something about Hussein’s intent and desire. The report does suggest that some of the weapons were likely put on the black market and may have been used outside Iraq.

He also said that the Defense Department statement shortly after the March 2003 invasion saying that “we had all known weapons facilities secured,” has proven itself to be untrue.

“It turned out the whole country was an ammo dump,” he said, adding that on more than one occasion, a conventional weapons site has been uncovered and chemical weapons have been discovered mixed within them.

Hoekstra and Santorum lamented that Americans were given the impression after a 16-month search conducted by the Iraq Survey Group that the evidence of continuing research and development of weapons of mass destruction was insignificant. But the National Ground Intelligence Center took up where the ISG left off when it completed its report in November 2004, and in the process of collecting intelligence for the purpose of force protection for soldiers and sailors still on the ground in Iraq, has shown that the weapons inspections were incomplete, they and others have said.

“We know it was there, in place, it just wasn’t operative when inspectors got there after the war, but we know what the inspectors found from talking with the scientists in Iraq that it could have been cranked up immediately, and that’s what Saddam had planned to do if the sanctions against Iraq had halted and they were certainly headed in that direction,” said Fred Barnes, editor of The Weekly Standard and a FOX News contributor.

“It is significant. Perhaps, the administration just, they think they weathered the debate over WMD being found there immediately and don’t want to return to it again because things are otherwise going better for them, and then, I think, there’s mindless resistance to releasing any classified documents from Iraq,” Barnes said.

The release of the declassified materials comes as the Senate debates Democratic proposals to create a timetable for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraq. The debate has had the effect of creating disunity among Democrats, a majority of whom shrunk Wednesday from an amendment proposed by Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts to have troops to be completely withdrawn from Iraq by the middle of next year.

At the same time, congressional Republicans have stayed highly united, rallying around a White House that has seen successes in the last couple weeks, first with the death of terror leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then the completion of the formation of Iraq’s Cabinet and then the announcement Tuesday that another key Al Qaeda in Iraq leader, “religious emir” Mansour Suleiman Mansour Khalifi al-Mashhadani, or Sheik Mansour, was also killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Santorum pointed out that during Wednesday’s debate, several Senate Democrats said that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq, a claim, he said, that the declassified document proves is untrue.

“This is an incredibly — in my mind — significant finding. The idea that, as my colleagues have repeatedly said in this debate on the other side of the aisle, that there are no weapons of mass destruction, is in fact false,” he said.

As a result of this new information, under the aegis of his chairmanship, Hoekstra said he is going to ask for more reporting by the various intelligence agencies about weapons of mass destruction.

“We are working on the declassification of the report. We are going to do a thorough search of what additional reports exist in the intelligence community. And we are going to put additional pressure on the Department of Defense and the folks in Iraq to more fully pursue a complete investigation of what existed in Iraq before the war,” Hoekstra said.

How Did Iraq Get Its WMD? – We Sold Them To Saddam

The US and Britain sold Saddam Hussein the technology and materials Iraq needed to develop nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Reports by the US Senate’s committee on banking, housing and urban affairs — which oversees American exports policy — reveal that the US, under the successive administrations of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Snr, sold materials including anthrax, VX nerve gas, West Nile fever germs and botulism to Iraq right up until March 1992, as well as germs similar to tuberculosis and pneumonia. Other bacteria sold included brucella melitensis, which damages major organs, and clostridium perfringens, which causes gas gangrene. 

Classified US Defence Department documents also seen by the Sunday Herald show that Britain sold Iraq the drug pralidoxine, an antidote to nerve gas, in March 1992, after the end of the Gulf war. Pralidoxine can be reverse engineered to create nerve gas. 

The Senate committee’s rep orts on ‘US Chemical and Biological Warfare-Related Dual-Use Exports to Iraq’, undertaken in 1992 in the wake of the Gulf war, give the date and destination of all US exports. The reports show, for example, that on May 2, 1986, two batches of bacillus anthracis — the micro-organism that causes anthrax — were shipped to the Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education, along with two batches of the bacterium clostridium botulinum, the agent that causes deadly botulism poisoning. 

One batch each of salmonella and E coli were shipped to the Iraqi State Company for Drug Industries on August 31, 1987. Other shipments went from the US to the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission on July 11, 1988; the Department of Biology at the University of Basrah in November 1989; the Department of Microbiology at Baghdad University in June 1985; the Ministry of Health in April 1985 and Officers’ City, a military complex in Baghdad, in March and April 1986. 

The shipments to Iraq went on even after Saddam Hussein ordered the gassing of the Kurdish town of Halabja, in which at least 5000 men, women and children died. The atrocity, which shocked the world, took place in March 1988, but a month later the components and materials of weapons of mass destruction were continuing to arrive in Baghdad from the US. 

The Senate report also makes clear that: ‘The United States provided the government of Iraq with ‘dual use’ licensed materials which assisted in the development of Iraqi chemical, biological and missile-system programmes.’ 

This assistance, according to the report, included ‘chemical warfare-agent precursors, chemical warfare-agent production facility plans and technical drawings, chemical warfare filling equipment, biological warfare-related materials, missile fabrication equipment and missile system guidance equipment’. 

Donald Riegle, then chairman of the committee, said: ‘UN inspectors had identified many United States manufactured items that had been exported from the United States to Iraq under licences issued by the Department of Commerce, and [established] that these items were used to further Iraq’s chemical and nuclear weapons development and its missile delivery system development programmes.’ 

Riegle added that, between January 1985 and August 1990, the ‘executive branch of our government approved 771 different export licences for sale of dual-use technology to Iraq. I think that is a devastating record’. 

It is thought the information contained in the Senate committee reports is likely to make up much of the ‘evidence of proof’ that Bush and Blair will reveal in the coming days to justify the US and Britain going to war with Iraq. It is unlikely, however, that the two leaders will admit it was the Western powers that armed Saddam with these weapons of mass destruction. 

However, Bush and Blair will also have to prove that Saddam still has chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities. This looks like a difficult case to clinch in view of the fact that Scott Ritter, the UN’s former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, says the United Nations destroyed most of Iraq’s wea pons of mass destruction and doubts that Saddam could have rebuilt his stocks by now. 

According to Ritter, between 90% and 95% of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were des troyed by the UN. He believes the remainder were probably used or destroyed during ‘the ravages of the Gulf War’. 

Ritter has described himself as a ‘card-carrying Republican’ who voted for George W Bush. Nevertheless, he has called the president a ‘liar’ over his claims that Saddam Hussein is a threat to America. 

Ritter has also alleged that the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons emits certain gases, which would have been detected by satellite. ‘We have seen none of this,’ he insists. ‘If Iraq was producing weapons today, we would have definitive proof.’ 

He also dismisses claims that Iraq may have a nuclear weapons capacity or be on the verge of attaining one, saying that gamma-particle atomic radiation from the radioactive materials in the warheads would also have been detected by western surveillance. 

The UN’s former co-ordinator in Iraq and former UN under-secretary general, Count Hans von Sponeck, has also told the Sunday Herald that he believes the West is lying about Iraq’s weapons programme. 

Von Sponeck visited the Al-Dora and Faluja factories near Baghdad in 1999 after they were ‘comprehensively trashed’ on the orders of UN inspectors, on the grounds that they were suspected of being chemical weapons plants. He returned to the site late in July this year, with a German TV crew, and said both plants were still wrecked. 

‘We filmed the evidence of the dishonesty of the claims that they were producing chemical and biological weapons,’ von Sponeck has told the Sunday Herald. ‘They are indeed in the same destroyed state which we witnessed in 1999. There was no trace of any resumed activity at all.’

Official Secrets (2019 Film)

(Update 10/22/2021)

Official Secrets is a 2019 British drama film based on the case of whistleblower Katharine Gun, who leaked a memo exposing an illegal spying operation by American and British intelligence services to gauge sentiment of and potentially blackmail United Nations diplomats tasked to vote on a resolution regarding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The film is directed by Gavin Hood, and Gun is portrayed by Keira Knightley. The film also stars Matt SmithMatthew GoodeAdam BakriIndira Varma, and Ralph Fiennes.

The film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on 28 January 2019 and was released in the United States on 30 August 2019, by IFC Films, and in the United Kingdom on 18 October 2019, by Entertainment One.


In early 2003, GCHQ analyst Katharine Gun obtains a memo detailing a joint United States and British operation to spy on diplomats from several non–permanent United Nations Security Council member states CameroonChileBulgaria and Guinea in order to “dig dirt” on them and influence the Security Council into passing a resolution supporting an invasion of Iraq. Angered that the United Kingdom is being led into a war on false pretences, Katharine leaks the memo to a friend involved in the anti-war movement, who passes it to anti-war activist Yvonne Ridley, who in turn passes it to The Observer journalist Martin Bright.

The Observer foreign editor Peter Beaumont allows Martin to investigate the story in the interest of journalism. To verify the authenticity of the leaked memo, Martin enlists the help of the Observer’s Washington, DC correspondent Ed Vulliamy in contacting the memo’s author Frank Koza, the Chief of Staff at the “regional targets” section of the National Security Agency. Despite the Observer‘s pro-war stance, Peter convinces the newspaper’s editor Roger Alton that the leaked memo is worth publishing.

The publication of the leaked memo in March 2003 generates considerable public and media interest. The Drudge Report attempts to discredit the document as a fake after a young staffer named Nicole Mowbray accidentally changed the text from American to British English. However, Martin is able to produce the original memo, confirming its authenticity. Katharine’s actions prompt GCHQ to launch an internal investigation. Seeking to prevent the US and UK invasion of Iraq, and to protect her fellow GCHQ colleagues from prolonged suspicion, Katharine confesses to leaking the memo. She is arrested and detained for a night before being released on remand.

Following the outbreak of the Iraq War, Katharine seeks the services of the Liberty lawyers Ben Emmerson and Shami Chakrabarti. The British Government decides to charge her with violating the Official Secrets Act, tasking Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald with leading the prosecution. To exert pressure on her, the British authorities attempt to deport her husband Yasar Gun, a Turkish Kurd. However, Katharine is able to halt the deportation by presenting a marriage certificate proving the authenticity of her relationship.

Ben comes up with the defence strategy that Katharine was acting out of loyalty to her country by seeking to prevent the UK from being led into an unlawful war in Iraq. With the help of Martin, Ed, and former Foreign Office deputy legal adviser Elizabeth Wilmshurst, Ben discovers that the Attorney General Peter Goldsmith changed his position on the legality of the Iraq War after meeting with several lawyers from the Bush Administration. Despite the odds stacked against them, Katharine refuses to plead guilty in exchange for a reduced charge.

On the day of the trial, the Crown prosecutor drops all charges against Katharine on the grounds that prosecuting her would have shown that the Blair government led the UK into war on false pretenses. The film then mentions the human toll of the Iraq War and that Lord Goldsmith’s advice on the illegality of the Iraq War was made public in 2010. The film then ends with footage of Katharine addressing the media following the dismissal of her case and Ben shunning Ken for putting Katharine through her legal ordeal.

 ‘Official Secrets’ is based on a true story. The film is based on the 2008 book ‘The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion’ by Marcia and Thomas Mitchell.

Official Description of movie:

She risked everything to stop an unjust war. Her government called her a traitor. Based on world-shaking true events, Official Secrets tells the gripping story of Katharine Gun (Keira Knightley), a British intelligence specialist whose job involves routine handling of classified information. One day in 2003, in the lead up to the Iraq War, Gun receives a memo from the NSA with a shocking directive: the United States is enlisting Britain’s help in collecting compromising information on United Nations Security Council members in order to blackmail them into voting in favor of an invasion of Iraq. Unable to stand by and watch the world be rushed into an illegal war, Gun makes the gut-wrenching decision to defy her government and leak the memo to the press. So begins an explosive chain of events that will ignite an international firestorm, expose a vast political conspiracy, and put Gun and her family directly in harm’s way.

Information at the end of the movie:

In 2010 Lord Goldsmith’s advice to Tony Blair at the time Katherine leaked the memo was made public.

Goldsmith had clearly advised war would be illegal without a new UN Security Council resolution.

Estimates of Iraquis killed during the first four years of the Iraq War range from 151,000 to over 1 million.

Countless more were wounded.

Over 4,600 US and British soldiers died.

More than 37,700 were wounded.


I have wrapped up this posting with a description of the movie Official Secrets, which is based on a true story of whistle blower Katharine Gun. My question is if the US really believed that there were WMD why would they have had to blackmail or twist the arms of several third world countries to vote for invading Iraq? The answer is they wouldn’t. Which is further proof that the war was totally unnecessary.

So now that the subject is clear as mud, which is exactly how our government wants it to be. Our leaders just seem to love conspiracy theories, because they usually mean that those investigating the subject immediately get discredited. I think I have found that there was evidence for the US selling Hossein biological WMDs prior the first Gulf War. I think we realized our mistake and were happy when we had the invasion of Kuwait as a reason to clean up our mess. However when Bush part deux came into power Hossein no longer had the access to them, because he was a persona no gratis. That did not matter we just fabricated evidence and invaded Iraq again. After all he was a bad guy and he deserved to have his ass kicked.

As an FYI this posting was originally part of my third Rand’s Musings posting series. It however became too large and has now graduated to being an article of its own.


Journalgazette.net, “Fact check: The Iraq war and weapons of mass destruction,” By GLENN KESSLER; en.wikipedia.org, “Iraq and weapons of mass destruction,” By Wikipedia Editors; pbs.org, “Saddam Hussein’s Weapons of Mass Destruction;” npr.org, “Iraq WMD Timeline: How the Mystery Unraveled;” state.com, “Did Iraq have weapons of mass destruction? It doesn’t matter,” BY MICHAEL KINSLEY; foxnews.com, “Report: Hundreds of WMDs Found in Iraq;” rense.com, “How Did Iraq Get Its WMD? – We Sold Them To Saddam,” By Neil Mackay and Felicity Arbuthnot; en.wikipedia.org, “Official Secrets,” By Wikipedia Editors;

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