The Alternative Dossier 5: Chemical Reaction

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'A report came out of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] that they [the Iraqis] were six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know what more evidence we need. It threatens the US. It threatens Britain. The battlefield has changed. We are in a new kind of war.' Tony Blair on his way to meet George Bush, 7 September 2002

As Blair flew to the US to deepen his 'special relationship' with his dear friend George Bush, the 'proof' that Iraq was only a few months away from having nuclear weapons was building up. Or so Blair would have us believe. The IAEA was set up by the United Nations, and is responsible for overseeing the implementation of nuclear weapons treaties. It is also responsible for nuclear safety, energy and the like. To have proof from the IAEA about Iraq's nuclear capability would be conclusive.

Blair's statement was also supported by a report by Julia Preston in the 'New York Times' the previous day which argued that Iraq was building nuclear weapons facilities. Under the headline 'Traces Of Terror: Atomic Anxiety', Preston stated: 'United Nations officials report that a team of weapons inspectors studying satellite photographs have identified several nuclear related sites in Iraq where new construction or other unexplained changes have occurred since the last international inspections nearly four years ago.'

The IAEA issued a press release the same day. It said, 'With reference to an article published today in the New York Times, the International Atomic Energy Agency would like to state that it has no new information on Iraq's nuclear programme since December 1998 when its inspectors left Iraq.' This was one day before Blair made his statement on his way to meet Bush.

The director general of the IAEA also made a statement to the agency's board of governors on 9 September 2002 in which he again stated the IAEA's position: 'Since December 1998 when our inspectors left Iraq, we have no additional information that can be directly linked to Iraq's nuclear activities.'

It is true that the IAEA have not been able to conduct unhindered inspection of Iraqi nuclear facilities in line with UN resolution 687, but it has been sending inspectors into Iraq right up to the present. Between 26 and 30 January this year a team of seven IAEA experts completed inspections of safeguarded nuclear material at the Tuwaitha facility in Iraq under a safeguard agreement which was concluded pursuant to the Treaty of Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). The IAEA also conducted similar safeguard inspections in Iraq in January 2000 and January 2001. These are not facts Tony Blair is rushing to tell us in his dossier.

The US withdrew Unscom inspectors on 16 December 1998, hours before Operation Desert Fox was launched. It was around this time that Iraqi authorities also began to restrict IAEA inspections. This is why the IAEA have not been in a position to implement UN resolution 687 (which set up the inspectorate bodies). As the IAEA director general Dr Mohamed El Baradie said to the UN general assembly on 22 October 2001, 'For nearly three years, the agency has not been in a position to implement its mandate in Iraq under the United Nations Security Council resolution 687 and related resolutions. As a consequence, we cannot at present provide any assurance that Iraq is in compliance with its obligations under these resolutions. The agency remains prepared to resume its verification activities in Iraq under the relevant Security Council resolutions at short notice.'

Iraq's nuclear capability

What we do have, however, is the final report conducted by the IAEA and their assessment of Iraq's nuclear capability. This was released in October 1998 and it states:

'[Section] 3. In the period under review (1 April to 1 October 1998), the IAEA Nuclear Monitoring Group carried out 243 monitoring inspections at some 137 locations, 37 of which were carried out at locations not previously inspected. The number of inspections carried out under the Agency's ongoing monitoring and verification (OMV) plan since the Nuclear Monitoring Group was established in August 1994 now totals almost 1,540. The majority of those inspections were carried out with no prior announcement; a number of them were conducted in cooperation with the monitoring groups of the United Nations Special Commission (Unscom). No indication of prohibited materials, equipment or activities was detected during the inspections. [my emphasis]

'[Section] 4. Until 5 August 1998, IAEA and Unscom continued their implementation of a joint programme of inspection of Iraqi sites that are deemed to have capabilities suitable for conducting work on some aspect of weapons of mass destruction, notwithstanding the lack of evidence or indication of such work. The carrying out of inspections at "capable sites" on a regular basis contributes to the effectiveness of the OMV plan in its ability to detect any attempt to conduct activities prohibited by Security Council resolutions. The current number of inspections at "capable sites" totals some 85. No indication of prohibited equipment, materials or activities has been detected in the course of those inspections. [my emphasis]

'[Section] 17. As reported in detail in the progress report dated 8 October 1997 (document S/1997/779), and based on all credible information available to date, the Agency's verification activities in Iraq have resulted in the evolution of a technically coherent picture of Iraq's clandestine nuclear programme. The verification activities have revealed no indications that Iraq had achieved its programme objective of producing nuclear weapons or that Iraq had produced more than a few grams of weapon-usable nuclear material or had clandestinely acquired such material. Furthermore, there are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance. In February 1994, IAEA completed the removal from Iraq of all weapon-usable nuclear material--essentially research reactor fuel--under IAEA safeguards.' [my emphasis]

Iraq has suffered years of sanctions and restrictions on its movement of people and airspace. There has been constant surveillance by the US and Britain. It is difficult to see how Saddam could develop nuclear weapons given the accounting of Iraq's past attempts to produce fissile material and the ongoing IAEA monitoring. As Scott Ritter explains: 'For Iraq to reacquire nuclear weapons capability, they'd have to basically build, from the ground up, enrichment and weaponisation capabilities that would cost tens of billions of dollars. Nuclear weapons cannot be created in a basement or cave. They require modern industrial infrastructures that in turn require massive amounts of electricity and highly controlled technology not readily available on the open market.'

It is true Saddam may have made attempts to develop nuclear capability that we are not aware of given the lack of unhindered inspections. But this is not the view of the CIA. In a report released on 10 August 2000 the CIA gave an assessment to the US Congress on Iraq's acquisition of technology related to the development of weapons of mass destruction. It said, 'We do not have any evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD [weapons of mass destruction] programme.'

This was also supported by testimony given to the Senate Armed Services Committee by Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in February of this year. He stated, 'No one outside the intelligence community, and possibly within it, can predict the point at which Iraq will get deliverable nuclear weapons or predict their yield and lethality... Without an actual test or series of tests, neither we nor the Iraqi leadership can predict the lethality of a nuclear weapon or biological weapon, or the reliability, accuracy, and the efficacy of any given means of delivery. (The technical and historical data the US has on weapons effects and lethality are not reliable enough to do more than speculate in these areas and errors of more than an order of magnitude are possible.)' Cordesman has also stated in another representation to the US Congress that because Iraq has had negligible export earnings since 1990 it faces extreme limits on its ability to produce nuclear weapons.

The one thing we can say for certain it that there is no proof that Iraq has nuclear weapons. All we have from Bush, Blair and their friends in the media is speculation, rumour, distortions and lies. Even the government's dossier is forced to admit that Iraq does not yet have nuclear weapons.

Compare Iraq's nuclear capability to the US, which, according to the Centre for Defence Information in Washington, has 7,300 strategic nuclear weapons, or Russia, which has approximately 6,000. It is estimated that the US spends $27 billion annually to prepare to fight a nuclear war. On top of this both the US and Russia have a stockpile of nuclear material (called a 'hedge') which allows both countries to quickly rebuild nuclear weapons in the event of conflict. My advice to the IAEA and the UN is to send a number of teams of weapons inspectors to both of these countries as a matter of urgency, so that the risk from nuclear weapons can be assessed and these weapons of mass destruction can be destroyed.

Source: information from the IAEA can be viewed at

'For Iraq to have biological weapons today they'd have to reconstitute a biological manufacturing base... we never found any evidence of ongoing research and development or retention'

Scott Ritter

The above statement is completely at odds with what George Bush said to the UN on 12 September 2002:

'UN inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it has declared, and has failed to account for more than three metric tonnes of material that could be used to produce biological weapons.' Similar information was in Blair's dossier.

So who is telling the truth? Bush is being very selective in his use of information and about what the inspectors reported. The evidence against Iraq is a lot less conclusive than he suggests.

Biological Weapons (BWs)

Al-hakam, Iraq's main biological facility, was destroyed in 1996, as recorded by Unscom. (see picture p. 17) The security panel recorded in March 1999 that 'the declared facilities of Iraq's BW have been destroyed and rendered harmless'. The weapons inspectors were unable to find any evidence that Iraq had revived a programme to produce biological weapons.

Scott Ritter writes in 'War on Iraq': 'If you listen to Richard Butler, biological weapons are a "black hole" about which we know nothing. But a review of the record reveals we actually know quite a bit. We monitored more biological facilities than any other category, inspecting over a thousand sites and repeatedly monitoring several hundred... For Iraq to have biological weapons today they'd have to reconstitute a biological manufacturing base... [the inspectors] blanketed Iraq--every research and development facility, every university, every school, every beer factory: anything that was a potential fermentation capability was inspected--and we never found any evidence of ongoing research and development or retention.'

Chemical Weapons (CWs)

Unscom had supervised the destruction of much of Iraq's chemical weapons stocks by June 1992. Rolf Ekeus, executive chairman of Unscom from 1991 to 1997, reported to the Security Council that substantial progress had been made in dismantling Iraq's chemical programmes. Ritter had reported that both he and Ekeus were convinced that the disarmament of Iraq's chemical weapons was almost complete by early 1995.

For Iraq to use chemical weapons it is necessary to have the missile capacity to deliver them. All medium and long range missiles and missile production facilities were destroyed by Unscom between September 1991 and June 1992. Inspectors certified in October 1997 that they had proof that 817 out of 819 Iraqi missiles of a range longer than 150km were destroyed. Unscom noted that Iraq had no missile launchers either imported or indigenously produced. The panel on disarmament reported in March 1999 that 'Unscom has concluded that Iraq does not possess a capacity to indigenously produce' either long range missiles or the so called super-gun.

The final substantive report delivered by Unscom on 15 January 1999 says that Iraq's claims to no longer possess quantities of CWs and to a lesser extent BWs 'cannot be verified'. To back up their claims that Iraq retains chemical weapons British government officials often use this. It is true that Iraq refused to release all the details of their chemical weapons to Unscom inspectors. However, as Ritter explains, even if Iraq had retained chemical weapons they could no longer be used as the chemical agents would have long deteriorated.

What the world spends on arms in US dollars (2001)

Iraq $1.5bn

China $42bn

Russia $60bn

Allies* $198bn

United States $396bn

Source: International Institute for Strategic Studies, US Department of Defence

*Allies refers to the NATO countries plus Australia, Japan and South Korea

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This article is part of the alternative dossier:

Intro - War, weapons and Iraq

1 - Arms and the Man

2 - Countdown to War

3 - An Inspector Calls

4 - Interview with Rolf Ekeus

5 - Chemical Reaction

6 - Sanctioning Murder

7 - With Friends Like These

A number of people helped in compiling this dossier. Thanks to Andrew Stone, David Shonfield, Lindsey German, Glen Rangwala and the Labour Against the War briefing paper, Sandy Nicoll, Colin Wilson and Martin Empson.