Saddam’s Archives: We’re Getting Warmer

As regular readers know, we’ve been cautious about drawing conclusions from the tiny number of Iraqi documents that have so far been made public under Project Harmony. But today, jveritas at Free Republic, whose translation efforts we linked to here, has come up with what appears to be a highly significant memorandum. This is how he introduces the translation:

Document ISGP-2003-0001498 contains a 9 page TOP SECRET memo (pages 87-96 in the pdf document) dated March 16 2003 that talks about transferring “SPECIAL AMMUNITION” from one ammunition depot in Najaf to other ammunition depots near Baghdad. As we know by now the term SPECIAL AMMUNITION was used by Saddam Regime to designate CHEMICAL WEAPONS as another translated document has already shown. For example in document CMPC 2004-002219 where Saddam regime decided to use “CHEMICAL WEAPONS against the Kurds” they used the term “SPECIAL AMMUNITION” for chemical weapon What is also interesting is that these “SPECIAL AMMUNITION” were listed as 122 mm, 130 mm, and 155 mm caliber shells which are not by itself SPECIAL unless it contain CHEMICAL WEAPONS. In fact the Iraqi have always used 122 mm, 130 mm, and 155 mm caliber shell as a main delivery tool for Chemical Weapons Agents by filling these type of shells with Nerve Gas, Sarin, Racin, Mustard gas and other Chemical Agents.

The translation follows:

In the Name of God the Merciful The Compassionate
Top Secret
Ministry Of Defense
Chairmanship of the Army Staff
Al Mira Department
No. 4/17/ammunition/249

Date 16 March 2003

To: The Command of the Western Region

Subject: Transfer of Ammunitions

The secret and immediate letter of the Chairmanship of the Army Staff 4/17/308 on 10 March 2003

1. The approval of the Army Chief of Staff was obtained to transfer THE SPECIAL AMMUNITIONS in the ammunition depots group of Najaf and according to the following priorities:

A. The first priority

First. Ammunition (122 mm)
Second. Ammunition (130 mm)
Third. Ammunition (155 mm)

To the depots and storage of the Second Corps and the two ammunition depot groups Dijla/2/3

B. Second priority.

First. Ammunition (23 mm)
Second. Ammunition (14.5 mm)

To the ammunition depots of the air defense and distributed to the ammunition depot groups in (Al Mussayeb- Al Sobra- Saad).

2. To execute the order of the Chief Army Staff indicated in section (1) above, we relate the following:

A. Duty

Transfer of the ammunitions shown in sections (A) and (B) from the ammunitions depots of Najaf to the ammunition depots in (Dijla 2/3, and Al Mansor, and Saad, and Al Mussayeb, and Sobra and Blad Roz and Amar Weys from March 16 till April 14 2003.


General Rasheed Abdallah Sultan
Assistant to the Army Chief of Staff- Al Mira
March 2003

jveritas concludes:

The remaining pages of this 9 pages top secret memo talk about getting the special vehicles to transfer the SPECIAL AMMUNITION and the people assigned to supervise and execute the transfer and they were top Iraqi Army and Military Intelligence officers.

The apparent significance of this document requires no elaboration. Transferring a load of ordinary munitions from Najaf to Baghdad would presumably not require the approval of the Army’s Chief of Staff; nor would it be the subject of a top secret memo; nor would arrangements for “special vehicles” be necessary. Hugh Hewitt writes:

Now comes another document with more potentially significant language, and so the question grows: What do these documents mean?

The suspicion is growing that the American intelligence community never systematically checked these docs. If they did, they should produce the record of that evaluation and the conclusions reached on documents which, on their face, seem to be proof of Saddam’s pre-war WMD stockpiles.

The White House as well must recognize that these documents are not yesterday’s news and must not be afraid to reopen the debate about the WMDs.

As always, we want to proceed with caution. This document is dated just a few days before the war began, and, based on the prefix assigned to it, I think it came from the Iraq Survey Group. It seems almost inconceivable that the ISG could have overlooked a document with such apparent relevance to its mission.

The document can be accessed here. We’d like to get confirmation of jveritas’s translation, as well as any comments on the significance of other portions of the document. We’d also be interested to get the perspective of anyone who served with the ISG. If this document is old news, and there is some innocent explanation, we’re curious to know what it is.

UPDATE: Reader Bill Wiese is skeptical:

14.5mm is for machine guns (mainly) and 23mm is for anti-aircraft guns (mainly). What’s special about them? Nothing. And yet, they get the “special” tag as well in the memo.

Good question, but hardly dispositive. Clearly there was something “special” about this ammunition; if it wasn’t WMD, what was it? It wouldn’t take an order from the Army Chief of Staff or “special” vehicles to move ordinary machine gun ammunition, nor would such a routine supply issue be the subject of a top secret memo.

I don’t know whether shells as small as 14.5 mm or 23 mm can be used for delivery of WMD; do any of our readers? And, if that seems unlikely, can anyone suggest an alternative reason why these shells were “special”?

FURTHER UPDATE: We’ve gotten lots of reader responses. The consensus is that small caliber shells couldn’t be used for WMD delivery per se for what, I guess, are obvious reasons. Some readers, though, think it’s plausible that the Iraqis might have added a dash of poison to make such ammunition more deadly. (One reader reminds us that the Symbionese Liberation Army used bullets poisoned with cyanide when it assassinated the Oakland School Superintendent.) Or, as to the smaller caliber ammunition, “special” may have referred to some other quality, such as armor-piercing.

On the broader question of the memo’s significance, Steve Hayes, who knows as much about this subject as anyone, writes:

Interesting. I hadn’t seen it. I find generally persuasive the narrative laid out by LTC Kevin Woods, et. al. in the Iraqi Perspectives Project. Their thesis is, basically, that Saddam Hussein didn’t have what we thought he had because he didn’t have what HE thought he had. In mid-December 2002, according to their narrative, SH tells top regime officials that he doesn’t have large quantities of WMD.

I don’t know whether the Army Chief of Staff was among the senior regime officials who were told that the WMD was gone. If he wasn’t, it could be that these are genuine orders, contained in an authentic
document, for materials that simply weren’t available to them. The document certainly seems to suggest that the author believed that they had them on March 16, 2003.

That said, it’s certainly possible that he (or his subordinates) retained some small capability in the chemical area. I think that’s the reason that the ISG quite deliberately left open the possibility that some materials could have been transferred to Syria or elsewhere.

I’m not sure where the recent revelations about Naji Sabri fit into this picture. Sabri, the former Iraqi foreign minister, apparently told the CIA (through the French) in January 2003 that Iraq had retained some chemical capability but that the weapons were no longer under military control.

As we’ve said before, it will take more than a few pieces of paper to resolve the questions surrounding Iraq’s WMDs. Let’s hope that the Project Harmony documents, taken in their entirety, provide definitive answers.


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