The U.N. first started weapons inspections of Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War with Resolutions 687 and 715. Saddam had developed WMD and started a nuclear program because he thought it was a sign of a modern and strong nation. His main targets were Iran and internal threats such as the Kurds and Shiites. He never planned on using them against the West, and refrained from deploying them during the Gulf War. Saddam found himself caught in a Catch-22 because he wanted to comply with the U.N. so that sanctions were lifted that were crippling his country, while at the same time he felt it necessary to play the defiant Arab leader standing up to the West to maintain his public image and deter his enemies. He was caught in this paradox all the way up until the 2003 U.S. invasion.
1991 - 1st Round of U.N. Inspections
Iraq’s policy towards the U.N. and the effectiveness of the inspectors went through several stages. When they first started in 1991, Saddam tried to hide his programs and keep as many of his weapons as possible. U.N. inspectors proved to be more effective than planned however, and tracked down and destroyed much of Iraq’s stockpiles. It turned out that much of Iraq’s WMD were made in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War and had passed their expiration date and had become useless.
Just as the U.N. thought its job was over, they found evidence of Iraq’s nuclear program, which had largely been kept secret. Before the Gulf War the U.S. believed that Iraq was 5-10 years away from a bomb. Now there was evidence that it could’ve had a crude device in only 6 months to a year. Saddam was forced to admit to his secret plans, which created more suspicion and mistrust.
After this first round of inspections Saddam changed his stance. Now he ordered the head of his weapons program Gen. Hussein Kamal to destroy most of Iraq’s WMD stockpile, while maintaining the know how in the hopes of restarting them after U.N. sanctions were over. Only one WMD factory at Al-Hakam was maintained while most everything else was destroyed. The problem was that all of this was kept secret to keep the U.N. in the dark about the extent of Iraq’s programs so that it couldn’t stop them in the future. This proved to be a nagging problem for Iraq as it could never fully prove that it had gotten rid of its weapons.
1994 and the End of Iraq’s Programs
By 1992 the U.N. felt like much of their work had been done, but then in 1994 the head of Iraq’s weapons programs Gen. Hussein Kamal defected to the West and provided a whole new range of information. Hussein said that U.N. inspectors had destroyed much of Iraq’s weapons and that Saddam had ordered him to destroy the rest. Based upon Kamal’s information the U.N. went back to work in Iraq and destroyed almost everything that was left. That marked the end of Iraq’s unconventional threat. The fact that Iraq had never come clean willingly however and not cooperated made inspectors and the U.S. believe that Iraq must still have something to hide. All Iraq had left was the know how and the hope that it could re-start its programs in the future.
The End of Inspections
By 1998 Iraq’s nuclear, WMD and missile programs had been destroyed. Inspectors were largely looking for documentation of Gen. Kamal’s secret destruction of Iraq’s stockpiles. Saddam on the other hand, believed that since he had disarmed, inspections and sanctions should end, but they didn’t. He came to believe that the West knew he didn’t have any weapons, but were just using the inspectors to overthrow his government. That was partially true because the U.S. had used the U.N. to collect intelligence that went into at least one unsuccessful coup attempt. Iraq began harassing inspectors, then stopped cooperation, and made them leave in December 1998.
When the U.N. left Iraq, the U.S. faced its own quandary. The inspectors were the only real source of intelligence the U.S. had on Iraq. Afterwards they were blind about what was actually happening within the country. That forced the U.S. to rely more and more on Iraqi exiles provided by groups such as the Iraqi National Congress that were full of false stories meant to push the country towards war. The lack of inspectors also made U.S. intelligence believe that Iraq had restarted its weapons programs. This grew to be the basis for the Bush administration’s claims against Iraq in the lead up to the 2003 invasion.
The Bush Administration: Inspections As Pretext To War
By 2002 the new Bush administration decided on war with Iraq. One of the problems they were faced with was how to justify it. In March 2002 British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s office suggested to the White House that a new round of U.N. inspectors could be the way to provoke a war. England believed that Iraq would refuse inspections and that could not only provide the legal justification for war, but also help build public support. Vice President Cheney and the neoconservatives in the administration such as Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were deeply skeptical of the U.N. and didn’t believe the U.S. needed any legal justification, while Secretary of State Colin Powell was supportive. The administration remained divided until Powell was able to convince Bush of the U.N. route in September, and Bush gave a speech to the Security Council asking for new inspectors.
In early 2002 it was Prime Minister Tony Blair that put forth the idea to President Bush of using United Nations inspectors as a way to justify a war with Iraq
American Claims and U.N. Findings
In the beginning of October 2002 U.S. intelligence laid out its claims against Iraq in a secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and a public White Paper. They claimed that Iraq had restarted its WMD production, that it was larger than before the Gulf War, had research and development, dual use equipment, mobile labs, several tons of WMD, and an unaccounted for stock of weapons left over from the Iran-Iraq War. They claimed Saddam had also renewed his nuclear program, tried to buy uranium from Niger, and aluminum tubes for centrifuges. The two reports were quickly put together and reflected all of the fears and problems U.S. intelligence had with Iraq, namely suspicions of Iraq’s activities based upon no hard evidence.
In November 2002, U.N. inspections began anew under Resolution 1441. Initially the inspections followed the same script as the past, with Iraq trying to limit access to sites, arguing over interviews with scientists and whether to allow intelligence flights. By February 2003 all of those issued had been resolved. More importantly, Saddam agreed to cooperate in the hopes of avoiding war.
The inspectors had a list of 550 sites. At the top were the main WMD, nuclear and missiles sites listed by the U.S. in the NIE and White Paper. After repeated visits, installation of surveillance cameras, and aerial intelligence flights, nothing was found at any of them. The Al Dawrah WMD site was abandoned and in ruins. The Al Furat nuclear site turned out to have commercial chemicals, while Al Taramiyah was destroyed in a U.S. attack in the 1990s and never rebuilt. The aluminum tubes that were suppose to be for centrifuges to enrich uranium proved to be for conventional rockets. There was no evidence of mobile labs, and the story about buying uranium from Niger proved to be based upon forged documents. As early as December, the inspectors said they found no active WMD or nuclear programs. The only WMD found were 32 old artillery shells, and papers about enriching uranium that proved to be old and irrelevant. The one actual violation of U.N. resolutions that was discovered were long range missiles that the U.N. destroyed. The only real question was accounting for Gen. Kamal’s unilateral destruction of Iraq’s stockpile in the 1990s, and even then Iraq was trying to provide documentation on the matter.
At the same time, the U.S. was trying to undermine the inspections. In December 2002 Pres. Bush said he doubted that Iraq was cooperating with the U.N. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that the U.S. knew Iraq had WMD regardless of what the U.N. found, and that Iraq was in a no-win situation. If the U.N. found WMD, Saddam was guilty, and if they didn’t find anything that proved Iraq was guilty as well because it was hiding its weapons. The U.S. also didn’t share all of its intelligence with the U.N. as it promised.
Powell making America’s case against Iraq in his February 2003 speech to the United Nations. After the war almost everything he said was proven to be false
By January 2003 time was up on Iraq and the inspectors, but the public didn’t know. President Bush was frustrated with the lack of evidence the inspectors were turning up and told Condoleeza Rice and Karl Rove separately that the U.S. was going to go to war no matter what the U.N. found. On January 31, 2003, Bush met with Tony Blair and they agreed upon invading Iraq. Secretary Powell made the public case in his speech to the United Nations on February 5, 2003. He claimed that Iraq was not cooperating with inspectors and had not disarmed. He played tapes of Iraqi soldiers talking, which after the war turned out to be orders to cooperate with U.N. inspectors, not hide WMD. He showed satellite pictures of a truck that was suppose to be used as part of a WMD team, but turned out to be a conventional fire truck when investigated by the U.N. Powell claimed that the U.S. had sources within Iraq telling them that papers were being hidden and material was being moved around, even though the U.S. had no such sources. He said that Iraq was not allowing U2 spy plane flights, but those were agreed upon two weeks later. He showed diagrams of mobile WMD labs even though inspectors had found no evidence of them, and the CIA itself was divided over whether the stories were legitimate or not. Powell said that Iraq had bought aluminum tubes for centrifuges, although he added the caveat that not all U.S. experts agreed upon that, while the U.N. had already largely disproved the story. After the war was over the Senate Intelligence Committee investigated U.S. claims about Iraq’s weapons and found that, “Much of the information provided or cleared by the Central Intelligence Agency for inclusion in Secretary Powell’s speech was overstated, misleading or incorrect.”
By March 2003, all of Iraq’s major WMD, nuclear and missile sites listed by the U.S. had been checked several times over. Iraqi scientists were conducting interviews, surveillance flights were being made, and Iraq was providing evidence to back up General Kamal’s story that he had destroyed Iraq’s stockpile. All of America’s major claims had been investigated and found to be wanting. The U.S. acted like none of this mattered and launched the invasion of Iraq in the middle of March. After all, as the U.S. and England had discussed a year earlier, the U.N. inspections were never meant to stave off a war, but to provoke one.
Isikoff, Michael and Corn, David, Hubris, Crown, 2006
Prados, John, Hoodwinked: The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War, New Press, 2004
Ricks, Thomas, Fiasco, The American Military Adventure In Iraq, Penguin Press, 2006
Woodward, Bob, Bush At War, Simon & Schuster, 2002
Government and U.N. Reports
British Government, Confidential And Personal, 6/16/05
British Government, Confidential And Personal, PR. 121, 6/16/05
British Government, PM/02/019, 6/16/05
British Government, Secret – Strictly Personal, 6/16/05
British Government, Text of Downing Street Memo, PBS’ Newshour, 6/16/05
Director General International Atomic Energy Agency, S/1997/779, International Atomic Energy Agency, 10/8/97
El Baradei, Dr. Mohamed, The Status of Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: 14 February 2003 Update, International Atomic Energy Agency, 2/14/03
Executive Chairman of the Special Commission, UNSCOM/IAEA SECRET, UNSCOME/IAEA, 8/22/95
IAEA Media Advisory, News Update on Iraq Inspections, International Atomic Energy Agency, 12/19/02
Iraq Nuclear Verification Office, Fact Sheet: Iraq’s Nuclear Weapon Programme, International Atomic Energy Agency, 4/25/02
Robb, Senator Charles and Silberman, Judge Laurence, Robb-Silberman Report, 3/31/05
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs And Links To Terrorism And How They Compare To Prewar Assessments, U.S. Senate, 9/8/06
- Report On The U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq, United States Senate, 7/7/04
Think Tank Reports
Cirincione, Joseph, Mathews, Jessica, Perkovich, George, and Orton, Alexis, WMD in Iraq evidence and implications, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 2004
Cordesman, Anthony, Intelligence, Iraq, and Weapons of Mass Destruction, Center for International and Security Studies, 1/26/04
Cortright, David, Millar, Alistair, Gerber, Linda, Unproven: The Controversy over Justifying War in Iraq, Fourth Freedom Forum, June 2003
Ritter, Scott, The Case of Iraq’s Qualitative Disarmament, Arms Control Association, June 2000
BBC News, Iraqi documents: Saddam's delusions, 3/25/06
Burrough, Bryan, Peretz, Evgenia, Rose, David, and Wise, David, Path To War, Vanity Fair, May 2004
Cockburn, Andrew, The Truth About Ahmad Chalabi, CounterPunch.org, 5/20/04
Collier, Robert, Repeated inspections but no hard evidence, San Francisco Chronicle, 12/30/02
Danner, Mark, Secret Way to War, New York Review Of Books, 6/9/05
De Young, Karen and Pincus, Walter, U.S. Discounts Iraq Move to Destroy Missiles, Washington Post, 3/1/03
Drogin, Bob, The Vanishing, New Republic, 7/14/03
Drogin, Bob and Goetz, John, How U.S. Fell Under the Spell of ‘Curveball’, Los Angeles Times, 11/20/05
Frontline, Chronology: The Evolution of the Bush Doctrine, The War Behind Closed Doors, PBS.org, 2/20/03
Gellman, Barton and Pincus, Walter, Depiction of Threat Outgrew Supporting Evidence, Washington Post, 8/10/03
Gordon, Michael, Agency Challenges Evidence Against Iraq Cited by Bush, New York Times, 1/10/03
Gordon, Michael and Risen, James, Report's Findings Undercut U.S. Argument, New York Times, 1/28/03
Hamilton, William, Bush began to plan war three months after 9/11, Washington Post, 4/16/04
Hanley, Charles, Inspectors Have Covered CIA’s Sites of ‘concern’ and Reported No Iraqi Violations, Associated Press, 1/18/03
- Powell’s ‘think file’ looking thing, Associated Press, 8/9/03
Hersh, Seymour, Who Lied To Whom? New Yorker, 3/26/03
Jansen, Michael, Inspector states no banned weapons found in Iraq so far, Irish Times, 1/2/03
Kaufmann, Chaim, Threat Inflation and the Failure of the Marketplace of Ideas, International Security, Summer 2004
Kemper, Bob, Experts review, poke holes in case for war, Chicago Tribune, 8/10/03
Lemann, Nicholas, The Next World Order, New Yorker, 4/1/02
Linzer, Dafna, No unconventional arms, Iraqi scientists still insist, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/4/03
Lopez, George and Cortright, David, Containing Iraq: Sanctions Worked, Foreign Affairs, July/August 2004
Lynch, Colum, Blix Downgrades Prewar Assessment of Iraq Weapons, Washington Post, 6/22/03
Mazzetti, Mark, Senate committee disputes claims of Iraq-al Qaeda link, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/8/06
McGeary, Johanna, The Trouble With Inspections, Time, 12/8/02
- What Does Saddam Have? Time, 9/16/02
- What Saddam Was Really Thinking, Time, 10/18/04
Meacher, Michael, The very secret service, Guardian, 11/21/03
Michaels, Marge, Q&A with the Top Sleuth, Time, 1/12/03
Milbank, Dana, U.S. Voices Doubts on Iraq Search, Washington Post, 12/3/02
Miller, Judith, Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say, New York Times, 1/24/03
Moyers', Bill Journal, Buying The War Timeline, Buying The War, PBS.org, 4/25/07
Norton-Taylor, Richard, Blair-Bush deal before Iraq war revealed in secret memo, Guardian, 2/3/06
Pincus, Walter and Lynch, Colum, Wolfowitz Had CIA Probe UN Diplomat in Charge, Washington Post, 4/15/02
Pollack, Kenneth, Spies, Lies, and Weapons, Atlantic Monthly, January/February, 2004
Rangwala, Glen, Claims and evaluations of Iraq’s proscribed weapons, University of Cambridge, 3/18/03
Rangwala, Glen, Hurd, Nathaniel and Millar, Alistair, A Case For Concern, Not A Case For War, Middle East Report Online, 1/28/03
Shelburne, Elizabeth, Weapons of Misperception, Atlantic Monthly, 1/13/04
Simpson, Alan and Rangwala, Dr Glen, The Dishonest Case For War On Iraq, Labour Against The War, 9/16/02
Smith, Michael, ‘Failure is not an option, but it doesn’t mean they will avoid it,’ Telegraph, 9/18/04
Strobel, Warren, Data didn’t back Bush claims on Iraqi weapons, officials say, Knight Ridder, 6/6/03
Strobel, Warren and Landay, Jonathan, White House Maintains Its Case Against Iraq, Knight Ridder, 12/6/02
Strobel, Warren and Walcott, John, Bush has decided to overthrow Hussein, Knight Ridder, 2/13/02
Woods, Kevin, Lacey, James, and Murray, Williamson, Saddam’s Delusions: The View From The Inside, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2006