Skip to comments.As Troops Advance, Truth About Iraq's Arsenal Looms
Posted on 04/03/2003 5:26:32 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
WASHINGTON -- U.S. forces are advancing on more areas where Iraq is suspected of holding weapons of mass destruction, bringing nearer a potential moment of truth when such stockpiles would either be discovered -- or used.
The Baghdad suburbs where the battle is unfolding are dotted with factories, laboratories and test sites that gave birth to Sadddam Hussein's missile, chemical and biological-weapons programs. Many of the scientists who manned these facilities live nearby.
U.S. Special Forces troops already have taken soil samples and other materials from a site in northeastern Iraq and sent them to the U.S. for testing. That site wasn't controlled by Iraq's government; it allegedly was used to develop chemical or biological weapons by a fundamentalist Islamic group that the U.S. has tried to link to al Qaeda. U.S. forces so far have described several captured sites as possible chemical-weapons facilities, but conclusive evidence hasn't emerge.
U.S. officials and outside experts see this as a high-risk moment for both sides. "If he [Mr. Hussein] resorts to using them, the whole political world changes," says Terrence Taylor, an expert on weapons of mass destruction for the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. "People will then believe that the U.S., Great Britain, Spain and the other coalition forces were right," he says, noting that the premise of the war was to disarm Iraq of such weapons.
U.S. commanders ordered helicopter pilots and infantry nearing the city to don more gear, including carbon-impregnated suits and rubber boots, meant to protect them if chemical or biological weapons are launched, most likely in the form of an artillery or rocket attack.
Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, vice director for operations for the U.S. military Joint Staff, pointedly warned Iraqi commanders during a Pentagon briefing about attempting such a launch. "It's a war crime and it'll be a grave mistake for either who orders it or the people who execute it," he said.
Mr. Taylor, a former United Nations weapons inspector, says that even if the Iraqi government decides not to order their use, some commanders might exercise their authority to do it. U.N. inspectors discovered after the 1991 Gulf War that Mr. Hussein had delegated authority to at least four military units to use weapons of mass destruction if there was a serious attack on Baghdad.
William Nelson, another former U.N. weapons inspector, said U.S. forces would likely encounter stocks of chemical or biological warheads before coalition experts uncover anything new at weapons-production sites. Those sites, he says, appear to have been scrupulously cleared of evidence prior to recent visits by U.N. inspectors.
A chemical or biological attack near Baghdad, he added, risks harming more Iraqi civilians than U.S. soldiers, who have been trained and equipped to survive such attacks. U.S. M-1A1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles have filtered ventilation systems that protect the crews against contaminated air. "If they release it and the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, it's going to get their own people."
Mr. Nelson, a doctor who owns a Gaithersburg, Md., company that makes devices to detect biological weapons, worries most about an attack using VX, a long-lasting nerve agent that could require whole units to leave the battlefield and be decontaminated. Anthrax, which Iraq has admitted to producing in large quantities, is also worrisome, he says. "We could lose some people, but there are enough antibiotics on the battlefield that we'll save most of the casualties."
If chemical or biological munitions aren't recovered, the next move would be to find Iraqi scientists who know where they might be hidden. Mr. Taylor says two prime sources of this information will be Rehab Taha, a British-trained biologist believed to be a leading official in Iraq's biological-weapons program, and Maj. Gen. Hossam Amin, who was in charge of the directorate that escorted teams of visiting U.N. inspectors. Gen Amin "has to know where things are," Mr. Taylor says.
A U.S. search that turns up only small quantities of forbidden weapons, Mr. Taylor notes, might provoke charges that U.S. forces planted them. "That's an argument for making an international inspection team responsible for finding and destroying any such weapons after the war."
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, which tracks the sources of Iraq's weapons programs, says the search may be helped by an Iraqi "obsession" with record-keeping. "The U.N. inspectors discovered that the Iraqis documented everything, keeping multiple copies, mostly to prove to their dictator that they hadn't done anything wrong."
Abu Iman al-Maliki was convicted of spying on the Kurds as an Iraqi intelligence officer. He says he worked as such for 20 years. Al-Maliki chain-smoked Marlboros as we talked, sitting on a metal chair in a T-shirt advertising a martial arts school that strained against his bulk. He is, simply put, a huge man. Abu Iman al-Maliki was an Iraqi intelligence officer for 20 years.
"The U.S. believes Iraq has had contact with al Qaeda," I said, "Do you know that to be a fact?"
"Yes. In '92, elements of al Qaeda came to Baghdad and met with Saddam Hussein and among them was Dr. Al-Zawahiri."
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, you may recall, has been identified as a top lieutenant of bin Laden's, and is widely thought to be a mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"There is a relationship between the governments of al Qaeda and the Iraqi government," he continued. "It began after the events of Kuwait approximately. That is when the relationship developed and many delegations came to Baghdad. There are elements of al Qaeda training on suicide operations, assassinations, explosions, and the making of chemical substances, and they are supervised by a number of officers, experts from the Iraqi intelligence, the Explosives Division, the Assassinations Division, different specialties."
Though they may get scant attention, some of the facts of Saddam's involvement with Islamic terrorism are not disputed. Hamas, the fundamentalist Palestinian group, whose gift to the world is the suicide bomb, has maintained a Baghdad office - funded by Saddam - for many years. His intelligence service, the Mukhabarat, has a special department whose sole function is liaison with Hamas...a very senior CIA man told me that, contrary to the line his own colleagues were assiduously disseminating, there was evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda link. He confirmed a story I had been told by members of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress - that two of the hijackers, Marwan Al-Shehhi and Ziad Jarrah, had met Mukhabarat officers in the months before 9/11 in the United Arab Emirates.
An alleged terrorist accused of helping the 11 September conspirators was invited to a party by the Iraqi ambassador to Spain under his al-Qaeda nom de guerre, according to documents seized by Spanish investigators.
Yusuf Galan, who was photographed being trained at a camp run by Osama bin Laden, is now in jail, awaiting trial in Madrid. The indictment against him, drawn up by investigating judge Baltasar Garzon, claims he was 'directly involved with the preparation and carrying out of the attacks ... by the suicide pilots on 11 September'.
Evidence of Galan's links with Iraqi government officials came to light only recently, as investigators pored through more than 40,000 pages of documents seized in raids at the homes of Galan and seven alleged co-conspirators.
It also includes a new affirmation by the Czech government that Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 plotters, met an Iraqi intelligence officer, Ibrahim al-Ani, in Prague in April 2001. Some US officials have suggested this meeting did not happen. But in a signed statement dated 24 February, 2003, Hynek Kmonicek, the Czech ambassador to the UN, says his government 'can confirm that during the stay of Mohamed Atta ... there was contact with Mr al-Ani, who was on 22 April, 2001 expelled from the Czech Republic on the basis of activities not compatible with his diplomatic status [the usual euphemism for spying]'.
Other articles can be found:
Freeper Republican Strategist's Iraq-Bin Laden Research
Freeper Piasa's Post of Iraq/Al Qaeda Connections
Doesn't matter if it's al qaeda or not. It's a war on terrorism, not just al qaeda.
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