What Happened to Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction?

Article excerpt

"It's sort of puzzling that you can have 100 percent confidence about WMD existence, but zero certainty about where they are."-Hans Blix to the Council on Foragn Relations June 23, 2003

With a new and perhaps final phase of the U.S. and British search throughout Iraq for Saddam Hussein's delinquent nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons now well underway, it might be too early to reach a final verdict on the existence of such weapons. But as each day passes with no evidence of a "smoking gun," the carefully worded series of analytical assessments by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) increase dramatically in credibility. Despite pressure from the Bush administration to declare that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD), UNMOVIC concluded that, after only a few months of investigations and little practical help from either Iraq or U.S. intelligence officials, they had insufficient evidence to prove the case either way. At the time, those conclusions rankled some in Washington certain that Saddam Hussein possessed a WMD arsenal, that continued UNMOVIC inspections would be unable either to locate them or prove they were destroyed, and that possession of those weapons by Saddam posed an unacceptable and immediate threat to U.S. national security interests.

After all, top Pentagon officials were sure that Baghdad held tons of weaponized chemical and biological weapons and had not only proscribed SCUD missiles but also a clandestine, active program to obtain a nuclear weapons capability. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld summed up this attitude in a March 30 interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC television, stating bluntly that, when it came to weapons of mass destruction, "We know where they are." With senior administration officials making such definitive statements at such a sensitive time, operational commanders, poised to invade Iraq on the command of President George W. Bush, were right to expect that these chemical weapons would be used on the battlefield by Iraq's elite units, and if not, then certainly such massive WMD holdings would be quickly overrun. In June, the Los Angeles Times quoted the head of the U.S. Army's initial search program as saying, "Frankly, we expected to find large warehouses full of chemical or biological weapons, or delivery systems."1 Throughout the hostilities, however, the Iraqis never used such weapons on the battlefield, and U.S. and British forces did not come across any as they advanced. Months after the termination of hostilities, they have yet to be uncovered.

The U.S.-led coalition's inability to discover the alleged hidden caches of unconventional weapons cannot be ascribed to any lack of trying on the part of the U.S. Army itself. Indeed, search mechanisms put in place prior to the war were innovative and extensive. Three different approaches were devised. The first step was the designation and deployment of Task Force 20, which has been described as a covert Special Forces unit. Comprised of specialists drawn from the U.S. Army's Delta Force, elements of Task Force 20 were inserted into Iraq prior to the main invasion. With a broad and flexible mandate, its top priority was the uncovering of WMD caches on a "target of opportunity basis," using the twin elements of mobility and surprise. Next came Site Survey Teams, drawn from specially trained regular army personnel. They were created and attached to military mainline units earmarked for the initial invasion. Finally, the Pentagon unveiled the 75th Exploration Task Force, a "rear echelon" operation. Formerly an artillery brigade based at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Task Force 75 was reconstituted by the Army's Central Command prior to the invasion as a follow-up element behind the main invasion force. Its specific focus was also on the search for proscribed weapons caches.

During the period of active hostilities, these various specialist elements collectively searched more than 230 suspect sites. …