Oil-for-WMD?

According to news reports, the testimony of Charles Duelfer and the thousand-page Iraq Survey Group report released yesterday suggest that Saddam Hussein had no WMD stockpiles and had not built any since 1992, but that he intended to restart the weapons program following the elimination of UN sanctions. (Click here for access to the report.)
In order to eliminate sanctions and obstruct military action against him, Saddam Hussein engaged in strategic bribery funded by the UN’s oil-for-food program. The Scotsman reports:

Saddam was convinced that the UN sanctions – which stopped him acquiring weapons – were on the brink of collapse and he bankrolled several foreign activists who were campaigning for their abolition. He personally approved every one.
To keep America at bay, he focus[ed] on Russia, France and China – three of the five UN Security Council members with the power to veto war. Politicians, journalists and diplomats were all given lavish gifts and oil-for-food vouchers.
Tariq Aziz, the former Iraqi deputy prime minister, told the ISG that the “primary motive for French co-operation” was to secure lucrative oil deals when UN sanctions were lifted. Total, the French oil giant, had been promised exploration rights.
Iraqi intelligence officials then “targeted a number of French individuals that Iraq thought had a close relationship to French President Chirac,” it said, including two of his “counsellors” and spokesman for his re-election campaign.
They even assessed the chances for “supporting one of the candidates in an upcoming French presidential election.” Chirac is not mentioned by name.
A memo sent to Saddam dated in May last year from his intelligence corps said they met with a “French parliamentarian” who “assured Iraq that France would use its veto in the UN Security Council against any American decision to attack Iraq.”

The Washington Post reports:

Hussein’s multi-pronged strategy also included secret deals with neighboring countries to circumvent U.N. sanctions by smuggling oil, which reaped profits for both sides, and illicit government-to-government trade agreements. The subsequent success in turn “emboldened” Hussein to pursue programs related to weapons of mass destruction as well as conventional arms, the Duelfer report says.
“Despite U.N. sanctions, many countries and companies engaged in prohibited procurement with the Iraqi regime throughout the 1990s, largely because of the profitability of such trade,” Duelfer reported. In turn, Hussein sought to make the embargo a “paper tiger,” the report says.
Companies in countries closely allied with the United States, including France, Italy, India, Turkey, Jordan and Romania, may have sold Hussein dual-purpose equipment that could be converted for production of unconventional weapons.

The Washington Times summarizes the pertinent report sections as follows:

With Iraq’s economy badly damaged and U.N. sanctions, Mr. Duelfer’s report says, Saddam’s plans for a skeletal weapons program that could be mobilized quickly led him to pursue the needed materials through illegal and indirect channels.
Starting in 1997 and peaking in 2001, he developed a giant smuggling operation that hinged on the establishment of “a network of Iraqi front companies, some with close relationships to high-ranking foreign-government officials,” the report says.
Those officials, it says, “worked through their respective ministries, state-run companies and ministry-sponsored front companies to procure illicit goods, services and technologies for Iraq’s WMD-related, conventional arms, and/or dual-use goods programs.”
Syria was Iraq’s “primary conduit for illicit imports” from late 2000 until the start of the U.S. invasion last year, according to the report, which also maintains that the Iraqi Intelligence Service set up front companies to buy prohibited arms from a Syrian totaling $1.2 billion.
“The central bank of Syria was the repository of funds used by Iraq to purchase goods and materials both prohibited and allowed under U.N. sanctions,” the report says.

In trumpeting the report findings regarding the absence of WMD, the New York Times buries these suggestive paragraphs:

The report notes that its conclusions were drawn in part from interrogation of Mr. Hussein in his prison cell outside Baghdad. Mr. Duelfer, a special adviser to the director of central intelligence, said he had concluded that Mr. Hussein had deliberately sought to maintain ambiguity about whether Iraq possessed illicit weapons, primarily as a deterrent to Iran, Iraq’s adversary in an eight-year war in the 1980’s.
It was not until a series of meetings in late 2002, just months before the American invasion, that Mr. Hussein finally acknowledged to senior officers and officials of his government that Iraq did not possess illicit weapons, Mr. Duelfer said.
The report said American investigators had found clandestine laboratories in the Baghdad area used by the Iraqi Intelligence Service between 1991 and 2003 to conduct research and to test various chemicals and poisons, including ricin. As previously reported, it said those efforts appeared to be intended primarily for use in assassinations, not to inflict mass casualties.
Mr. Duelfer said in his report that Mr. Hussein never acknowledged in the course of the interrogations what had become of Iraq’s illicit weapons. He said that American investigators had appealed to the former Iraqi leader to be candid in order to shape his legacy, but that Mr. Hussein had not been forthcoming.
The report said interviews with other former top Iraqi leaders had made clear that Mr. Hussein had left many of his top deputies uncertain until the eve of war about whether Iraq possessed illicit weapons. It said he seemed to be most concerned about a possible new attack by Iran, whose incursions into Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88 were fended off by Baghdad partly with the use of chemical munitions.
Mr. Duelfer said Iraq had tried to maintain the knowledge base necessary to restart an illicit weapons program. He said Iraq had essentially put its biological program “on the shelf,” after its last production facility, Al Hakam, was destroyed by United Nations inspectors in 1996, and could have begun to produce biological questions in as little as a month if it had restarted its weapons program in 2003.

The Times adds that “there were ‘no indications’ that Iraq was pursuing such a course, and it reported ‘a complete absence of discussion or even interest in biological weapons’ at the level of Mr. Hussein and his aides after the mid-1990’s.”
As for the trailers previously thought to be mobile weapons labs, “Mr. Duelfer said that the trailers could not have been used for that purpose, and that their manufacturers ‘almost certainly designed and built the equipment exclusively for the generation of hydrogen,’ upholding claims by Iraqi officials that linked the trailers to weather balloons used for artillery practice.”
DEACON adds: So it turns out to be Senator Kerry who wants to form a “coalition of the bribed” to administer his “global test.”

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