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Monday, June 12, 2006

Iraq WMD to Syria?

Both Atrios and Josh Marshall have linked to this June 8 news story about Rep. Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania:
Weldon said he knows of four sites in Basra and Nasiriyah that have yet to be searched for biological or chemical weapons.

"I think the jury is still out on WMD," said Weldon, who also believes Saddam Hussein may have smuggled the weapons to Syria with Russian assistance prior to the March 2003 invasion.
So far as I know, no one has pointed out that if Weldon is correct, then the Iraq "preemptive" war was an even bigger foreign policy disaster than anyone currently contends. It means that the chief reason for the attack -- disarmament -- was foiled by a covert weapons transfer that the US did not stop.

Here's how President Bush handled a question about Syrian WMD on April 13, 2003, less than a month after launching the war:
Q Do you think there are weapons of mass destruction in Syria?

THE PRESIDENT: I think that we believe there are chemical weapons in Syria, for example. And we will -- each situation will require a different response and, of course, we're -- first things first. We're here in Iraq now; and the second thing about Syria is that we expect cooperation. And I'm hopeful we'll receive cooperation.
That's it. When then-White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was pushed on this issue the very next day, he basically refused to answer any questions about whether this meant "on to Syria."

Obviously, it didn't.

In any event, my critique seems moot, since nobody believes Weldon, right? Atrios calls him "Crazy Curt" and Marshall headlines his item, "True Whackjob."

You know why.

How can anyone, let alone a member of Congress, cite the "WMD to Syria" rumor long after the October 2004 final report of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) , which concluded that Iraq ended its various WMD programs in 1991 (nuclear and chemical) -- or perhaps as late as 1996 in the case of biological weapons?

How can anyone make this claim long after even the Bush administration gave up on the idea that Iraq had WMD -- or that they might have transferred them to Syria?

However, Weldon and other hardened "dead-enders" loyal to the regime were offered hope by the March 2005 Addenda filed by Charles Duelfer, the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence on Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction. This is from the Note for the Comprehensive Report With Addendums:
Some uncertainties remain and some information will continue to emerge about the WMD programs or the former Regime. Reports cited in the Comprehensive Report concerning the possible movement of WMD or WMD materials from Iraq prior to the war remain unresolved. With the recent increase in security, planned efforts to investigate this issue were suspended. ISG developed an investigation plan that may be pursued when the security situation improves.
In other words, Duelfer concludes that he cannot rule out with absolute certainty that WMD may have been moved to someplace like Syria before the March 2003 war began.

But the "threat" seems mighty low:
it is not likely that significant surprises remain with respect to the Regime's WMD efforts...

There continue to be reports of WMD in Iraq. ISG has found that such reports are usually scams or misidentification of materials or activities. A very limited number of cases involved the discovery of old chemical munitions produced before 1990. These types of reports (particularly scams) will likely continue for some time and local authorities will have to judge which merit further investigation.

Overall, I have confidence in the picture of events and programs covered by this report.
In the longer report, Duelfer concludes that he was "unable to rule out" the possibility that WMD were sent unofficially to Syria before the war. But he wasn't finding ANY evidence to support the claim:
It should be noted that no information from debriefing of Iraqis in custody supports this possibility. ISG found no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD. Indeed, they uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria....

Based on the evidence available at present, ISG judged that it was unlikely that an official transfer of WMD material from Iraq to Syria took place.
There's only one page devoted to this "threat" in the Addendum from March 2005.

Weldon might also have in mind Iraqi General Georges Sada, a former military official in Iraq with a book for sale in the west who is making the rounds claiming -- even on "The Daily Show" -- that Iraq shipped WMD to Syria. Fox News is trying to make a mountain out of this molehill.

Phillip Holmes debunks Sada here: Sada originally left the Iraqi military in 1986 (at age 47), though he was recalled briefly for the first Persian Gulf War. He is a Christian and later became a spokesman for the post-war Allawi government in Iraq, so he clearly wasn't a trusted Saddam advisor. The Wikipedia article about him says that he had not served in any capacity in Hussein's government since 1991.

Does that sound like an insider's account of missing WMD?

I suspect Sada is one of the scam artists Duelfer has in mind -- even if all his book proceeds go to charity.

Note: Minor edits on 6/13/06.

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