Friday, October 03, 2003

So - no weapons and it's official.

The much trailed ISG report is out and it says, as expected and widely pre-announced, that they have found no weapons of mass destruction. All the government excuses predicted in the Ranter of 25/09/03 have so far appeared. Sure, the ISG apparently believe that Saddam Hussein had an "intent at some point in the future" to possess them. Well, given that Iraq actually did have them until the UN inspectors destroyed them, between 1991 and 1998 - this is, as Jack Straw might have put it, an unremarkable claim. And one laden down with a vast freight of if - if sanctions had been lifted, if they could have obtained the kit and supplies, if the UNMOVIC inspectors had not discovered them first - then they might have "an intent". To borrow a quote from Mark Twain, "they found a "clew", but you cain't hang a clew fer murder!" Further, the report - or rather, the statement on the report, as we are not trusted to see the document itself - goes on to talk a great deal about very little. Having been constrained to admit the nonexistence of any real, existing nuclear projects, they also have to accept that the hated, despised UN had succeeded in at least "reducing" Iraq's capacity to produce chemical arms. Given the non-discovery of any chemical arms, we may assume that this reduction is a reduction to zero - but the White House could never admit that.

Further along, we hear much about supposed secret laboratories operated by the Iraqi intelligence service and not declared to the UN. But, as the report gives no detail at all, it is impossible for anyone without the precincts of Langley to judge whether or not these labs were genuinely used for nefarious purposes, or whether they might indeed have been discovered by Unmovic - unless Mr. Kay or his masters are willing to give the locations, we cannot be sure that this is not double counting of facilities already discovered by Unmovic as there is no way of crosschecking with the UN documents. Surely, had there been any sign that these places, given always that they exist, were used to prepare biological arms, the Americans would have given chapter and verse on them? It is common knowledge that the preparation of biological cultures is technologically undemanding - I recall at the time of the famous dossiers that we were frequently told that a brewery or dairy could be used without great difficulty to mass produce biological agents. Almost any scientific laboratory, in fact, could be described as suitable for this work. Again, Mr. Kay does not deign to publish the evidence that they were indeed run by the intelligence service.

The nearest approach to a headline-grabbing claim in the document is the declaration that a vial of C. botulinum was found in the home of a scientist. The report does not say whether it was the organism, and if so whether it was live, or whether it was the toxin, a dead chemical incapable of reproduction and famous for being injected into the sagging faces of foolish but wealthy women. C. botulinum is the least dangerous strain of botulism and one frequently used to prepare cattle vaccines. The Foot and Mouth Vaccine Institute at Daura was one of the institutions involved in pre-91 weapons work - a possible explanation of this vial and the other (but, curiously, unspecified) reference strains found at the scientist's house might be that they came from the vaccine lab and were dispersed for safe keeping before the war. Again, the statement does not reveal what various other agents mentioned were - surely, had they been lethal, this would have been a very pleasing revelation from an American viewpoint? As with much of this document, I have the strong impression that its authors have chosen to project a menacing vagueness where they have found nothing, rather than disclosing their results fully. I suspect I might take the claimed discoveries more seriously, were the discoveries the ISG does not find so exciting fully described.

The only substance in the statement appears to be in the section relating to long-range missiles, which is (perhaps significantly) the least objectionable. Again, though, the searchers appear to have discovered a considerable quantity of papers (as predicted by Hans Blix, who said they "might find some interesting documents") but little or no hardware. There is apparently evidence that the leadership had ordered work on long-range development "up to 1000kms range" (Mr. Kay's words), but the statement declines to be any more categorical, except to state that although some components had reached a prototype stage, the Iraqi government had decided that the project would take too long to complete sometime in 2002. This is not very frightening. Not only that, but the original project was intended for a range of 600kms - or in other words no more than Iraq had already achieved with modified Scuds (the al-Hussein and al-Abbas) in 1991. Further, the report goes into considerable detail on Iraq's apparently continued ability to make the fuel for Scud-type missiles. It says nothing, however, about finding any Scuds or anything similar - although before the war the US and UK governments (and I) believed a few al-Husseins might still exist.

Moving from ballistic to cruise missiles, Mr.Kay can at last and with relief rest on a solid discovery. Iraq possessed until the war various anti-ship missiles, including the HY-2 cruise type with a range of 100kms, within the UN limit. Apparently they had extended the range of some 10 rounds to between 150-180kms. And at least this is fairly reliable, as they even managed to fire two of them at Kuwait of which one was shot down. This is hardly earth-shattering performance or earth-shattering news. The other piece of cruise news that has been heavily pumped is that Iraq also worked on a much more ambitious land-attack cruise missile, the Jenin, which consisted of an HY2 driven for part of its flight by a converted turboshaft engine from a Russian helicopter. This was meant to achieve the hyped 1000kms, but -

"To prevent discovery by the UN, Iraq halted engine development and testing and disassembled the test stand in late 2002 before the design criteria had been met."

Or in other words, there was no missile. Still, we can tell this was a serious claim - Mr. Kay feels able to give some detail including the type of engine, and the level of detail appears to be the best guide to the worth of statements in the report. There were also, apparently, efforts to build unmanned aerial vehicles - one of them flew some 500kms - but the report has to own up to finding no support for the dossier claims that they were being prepared to drop germs or gas, although "this remains an open question". Don't hold your breath. And what's this? UNMOVIC statement on outstanding disarmament issues, 06/03/03 "In fact, one report describes a UAV with a range of 500kms". Rehashing old UN material? Never...

One of the few programs that are described in detail, the idea of converting SA2 surface to air missiles into short range ballistic missiles comes in for some coverage. Apparently, significant engineering work went on and actual missiles were "transferred to a facility north of Baghdad" - but again, Mr. Kay fails to deliver. No such weapons were found. But interestingly enough, in the light of Kay's statement that they were never declared to the UN, gives three missile types as being "SA-2 derivatives" on its table of Iraqi missiles. These are as follows:

The al-Samoud - range 150kms, and hence technically legal.
The al-Fahd/300 - range 300kms.
The al-Fahd/500 - range 500kms.

Now, the al-Samoud 2 was the rocket found by UNMOVIC to have a range of 193kms - a violation of the 150kms limit - that they crushed under a bulldozer on worldwide television. The al-Fahd 300 was, according to GlobalSecurity, abandoned in the R&D stage in 1993 after some six flight tests had been conducted. The details of the rocket were released to UNSCOM in 1995 by Iraq after Gen. Hussein Kamil's defection. And the al-Fahd 500?

"The Al Fahd 500 was depicted as having an intended range of 500 kilometers. It was displayed at the 1989 Baghdad Arms Exposition. The display was actually a mock-up used for a disinformation campaign that never reached the design phase."

So - either it's all crap, or it's another version of the al-Samoud. (al-Samoud 3?) Just as a "And finally..", Mr. Kay suggests that he possesses documents suggesting that in 1999 Iraq discussed acquiring the North Korean Nodong SRBM, with a range of 1300kms. But - of course - none were ever transferred. To finish off with, there is a blatant falsehood when the statement declares that "In the delivery systems area there were already well advanced, but undeclared, on-going activities that, if OIF had not intervened, would have resulted in the production of missiles with ranges at least up to 1000 km, well in excess of the UN permitted range of 150 km".

Really? Well, the Jenin cruise missile scheme was abandoned (according to Mr. Kay) to avoid detection by the UN. None of the other ghosts in the archive seem to have come to anything - and surely they would have been detected by the UN too? If the author of this document had cared whether it was true or not, he would have said "if UNMOVIC had not intervened".

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