Iraq,  Your View

Clinging to myths on Iraq and WMDs

Guest post by Andrew Murphy

Joe Wilson is back. In Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, former Ambassador Wilson weighs in on Dick Cheney’s call for selective release of torture memos from the government. While most sensible people agree with Wilson that torture is wrong and Cheney is certainly no public service role model, Wilson simply can’t allow old myths to pass away. Wilson writes:

When I, and a number of others, including a four-star Marine Corps general, Carleton Fulford, and the then-U.S. Ambassador to the West African nation of Niger, reported to the CIA that there was no evidence to support the assertion that Iraq had entered into a contract to purchase 500 tons of uranium yellowcake, our conclusions were ignored by the Bush administration.

Let’s recall the events leading to Ambassador Wilson’s “findings.” At the time Wilson was investigating the uranium yellowcake controversy in the African nation of Niger; it came at the heels of a visit to the country by one Wissam al-Zahawie. Zahawie was a diplomatic “heavy” for the Saddam regime, serving as an Ambassador to Vatican and as the Iraqi representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Thus it was no surprise that both French and Italian intelligence found it odd that someone of Zahawie’s stature was making a lengthy trip to the small nation of Niger, a country known for very little other then having some of the richest deposits of uranium ore in the world. That should have been enough for Wilson and the CIA to realize there was something fishy in the state of Niger.

Zahawie maintains his visit to Niger was innocent enough, simply Iraq trying to strengthen diplomatic ties in Africa. Why Iraq’s top diplomat was chosen for the job still remains a mystery and a question Ambassador Wilson doesn’t want to address. Zahawie has claimed that he didn’t even know that Niger had uranium. Do we really believe that a former member of the IAEA doesn’t know about uranium in Niger?

Wilson should reread the 2003 Duelfer Report, which lists several contacts between Iraq and Niger. In 2001, for example, a Niger minister visited Iraq to obtain oil for his country. Why would a country like Niger, surrounded by oil-rich nations (i.e. Libya), be coming to call on Iraq for oil?

Unfortunately most of this gets dismissed by the likes of Wilson and others because of the infamous forgeries which tried to connect Niger to Iraq with the selling of yellowcake uranium. However, one doesn’t need forgeries to connect the sort of dots in this story.

Wilson goes on to write that Cheney was lying when he suggested that Iraq was reconstituting its WMD program. Again the ambassador should dust off that copy of the Duelfer Report because he will find that the report is rather telling. The evidence is clear that Saddam was reviving his chemical and biological weapons program once the U.N. sanctions were ended. All the technology and personnel were in place to pick up where the left off. While no stockpiles of WMD were found, the report clearly shows that personnel, materiel, facilities, and intentions were there. David Kay, the head author of the Duelfer Report, told the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Based on the intelligence that existed, I think it was reasonable to reach the conclusion that Iraq posed an imminent threat. Now that you know reality on the ground as opposed to what you estimated before, you may reach a different conclusion-—although I must say I actually think what we learned during the inspection made Iraq a more dangerous place, potentially, than, in fact, we thought it was even before the war.

Ambassador Wilson has an understandable grudge against Dick Cheney because of the outing of his wife as a CIA agent by someone in the Bush Administration. However peddling the same old story that the Niger-Iraq connection was just harmless diplomatic overtures, and that Iraq was never planning to rearm itself with WMDs, is unworthy of an intelligent man like Ambassador Wilson.