(Autumn 1995) The latest lie of the Saddam Hussein regime about its weapons of mass destruction has been unmasked in the same way all the others have been: by confronting it with irrefutable evidence of its duplicity. The effect has been to bolster the international community's determination to maintain United Nations-imposed sanctions on Iraq.
At issue is Baghdad's insistence that it never manufactured any biological weapons. Iraq has admitted to producing chemical weapons, developing a nuclear warhead and developing ballistic missiles. But the regime continued to claim that it had done nothing with biological weapons beyond research related to defenses against them.
The truth came out in a meeting in Baghdad between a senior Iraqi scientist and Rolf Ekeus, chairman of the United Nations inspection commission charged with finding and destroying Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Dr. Taha Rihab, director of Iraq's biological program, acknowledged that a secret factory at Al Hakam, some 100 kilometers southwest of Baghdad, had produced "large quantities" of two biological agents -- a toxin that causes botulism and a bacterium that causes the disease anthrax. One commission expert observed that the immense quantity of the botulism toxin alone could theoretically kill three times the world's entire population. Iraq had previously insisted that the factory made animal feed.
Ekeus said Iraqi officials promised to supply a "full, final and complete disclosure of all aspects of the past biological weapons program" to supplement Dr. Rihab's admission. When that report is received, a process of verification will begin. U.N. officials declined to guess how long that process will take -- one step in the move toward lifting the cease-fire sanctions imposed on Iraqi trade.
But the commission's uncertainty about the extent of Iraq's biological weapons program is not the only factor holding up its certification of the destruction of Baghdad's covert weapons. In addition, Ekeus told the Security Council, the Iraqi government has refused to obey a U.N. demand for the destruction of machinery that could be used to make ballistic missiles. "Thus the commission has not yet completed one of its important tasks in the missile area as defined by the relevant Security Council resolutions," he said.
That shortcoming was confirmed in a letter the Council subsequently received from Iraq's representative at the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoon, seeking to delay the demand to destroy that machinery "until the biological file is disposed of positively."
But Iraq's belated confessions about its missile machinery and biological weapons are only the latest in a long series of evasions and outright lies by Iraq about its covert weapons programs. Confessions about its nuclear, missile and chemical warfare programs were all delayed until Iraq's regime was confronted with evidence of their existence, even before the biological issue surfaced.
Iraqi promises to provide data when required by U.N. inspectors or commission officials, moreover, have often proved to be empty. Last October, an Iraqi report on the suppliers and ingredients of its chemical weapons proved worthless, according to a U.N. official. It lacked documentation and provided "close to zero" information, according to inspection team leader Horst Reeps. "I demanded a new declaration which then should be complete, consistent and verifiable," he said.
And even when valid evidence is produced, Baghdad has attempted to negotiate the outcome by exchanging more complete information in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. The Security Council reacted angrily in late May when Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz proposed such an exchange on biological data. "We're not buying carpets, we're talking about compliance with Security Council resolutions," declared British U.N. representative Sir David Hannay.
The delays in fulfilling the prerequisites for ending the sanctions have resulted in massive suffering among the Iraqi people and severe damage to the Iraqi economy. But that damage, often assiduously publicized, has hardly inhibited President Saddam Hussein and his close associates and supporters from continuing to enjoy luxuries. The Security Council was given details last November of a number of new palaces built by Saddam despite the population's hardships. One such palace was said to be three times the size of the U.S. White House. Saddam "has spent a half billion dollars on building literally dozens of opulent new palaces for the exclusive use of his family," United States Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright told the Security Council. In addition to repairing wartime damage to government palaces, he expanded those and added new ones, tripling the number of residences for Iraq's elite.