Disability payments are going to 161,000 U.S. veterans for what appears to have been low-level exposure to Iraqi chemical weapons during the Persian Gulf War a dozen years ago. Documents dated 1997-98 and obtained for the first time by INSIGHT from Gary Pitts, a Houston lawyer representing the vets in a $1 billion class-action lawsuit against the companies that supplied Iraq with precursors and production equipment in the 1980s, show that Saddam Hussein has retained much of his chemical- and biological-weapons capabilities and continues to do business with many of the same European suppliers.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix came to similar conclusions on Jan. 27, when he delivered an "update" to the U.N. Security Council based on his inspection efforts in Iraq. Berating Baghdad for failing to disclose and dismantle its forbidden weapons, Blix insisted that cooperation had to be "active" to meet U.N requirements. "It is not enough to open doors" he told the Security Council. "Inspection is not a game of `catch-as-catch-can.'"
The facts presented by Blix--who has been called "spineless" by former colleague Per Ahlmark in Sweden--belie his conclusion that the Security Council should give the inspectors more time. Security Council Resolution 1441, which was passed 15-0 in November 2002 and brought the inspectors back to Baghdad for one last try, summons Iraq to cooperate fully with U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) inspectors and voluntarily to surrender and dismantle all remaining unconventional weapons and production gear. But as Blix and Mohammad El Baradei, his replacement at the International Atomic Energy Agency, detailed to the Security Council, the Iraqi government continues to play a game of "hide-and-seek."
"We're not talking about aspirin," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the day before Blix made his presentation. "We're talking about the most deadly things one can imagine."
Among the capabilities identified by Blix that Saddam retained are huge quantities of sarin nerve gas. The Iraqis used sarin against Iranian troops during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War with deadly effect--a single drop on the skin will kill a man. Persian Gulf War veterans believe that Saddam purposefully stockpiled munitions packed with sarin and other chemical weapons in conventional ammunition dumps in southern Iraq as he withdrew his forces from Kuwait, knowing that the United States would order the ammo dumps destroyed. "So you can say that Saddam Hussein indirectly attacked U.S. troops with chemical weapons during the 1991 war," Pitts tells INSIGHT. An increasing number of U.S. government scientists are coming to share that view.
But Saddam's 1997-98 "Full, Final and Complete Disclosure" shows that he also retains VX, a chemical-warfare agent said to be even more deadly than satin. The Iraqis acknowledge having imported or produced, up to that date, 750 tons of chemicals needed for making VX. Except for the U.N.-controlled disposal of 170 tons at that time, the rest of these deadly chemicals are missing. Blix said his inspectors had found "indications that the [VX] agent was weaponized."
Already in 1997, then-U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson concluded, "Iraq has perfected the technique for the large-scale production of a VX precursor that is well-suited to long-term storage."
Blix's recent report to the United Nations documented many other instances in which Iraq has failed to disclose prohibited weapons (see "The Blix Scorecard," p. 30). The Iraqi documents, revealed here for the first time, portray a worldwide procurement network that relied on top-drawer assistance from governments and major banks in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Iraq's suppliers range from huge multinational corporations, such as Hoechst AG of Germany, to little-known entities, such as an outfit identified by the Iraqis as "Kim Al-Khalleej" of Singapore, which they claimed supplied more than 4,500 tons of VX-, sarin- and mustard-gas precursors and production equipment. …