By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
Does Iraq have a credible delivery system for nukes?
Delivery is one of their shortcomings, and the Iraqis are less well off than they were before the Gulf War, by a considerable amount. We say they probably have the components to build up to 12 Al Husseintype missiles. These are not missiles standing there, ready to light, and there you go. They're not ready to use now, but they could be put together. With a 600-kilometer range, that would get to Tel Aviv, to Riyadh. There are also other ways they can deliver a nuclear device. It could be by aircraft. Or by some unusual means -- a truck turns up â in a city somewhere, a ship -- and the phone rings, saying, "Please do what we want because sitting in New York Harbor is one of these things." What do you do then? They can't do that right now, I believe, but we don't wait for that to happen.
What do you believe are the facts on the chemical and biological weapons Iraq has at its disposal?
We don't know the precise quantity, of course. On chemical weapons, our net assessment is that Iraq has probably retained a few hundred tons of mustard gas and precursors, and also a few hundred for precursors of sarin and cyclosarin (nerve agents), and perhaps similar amounts of VX from pre-1991 stocks. Now, a few hundred tons is quite a lot. Iraq is capable of resuming chemical-weapons production at short notice, in a matter of months, using existing civilian facilities. It could have produced hundreds of tons of agents, mustard and nerve agents, since 1998, and we don't know.
As for biological weapons, Iraq has probably retained substantial growth media -- that's the stuff for growing the bugs -- and perhaps thousands of liters of anthrax from pre-1991 stocks. We do not know what their production runs were, but this is stuff you can keep. You don't have to pull anthrax off the shelf, as in spoiled supermarket goods with pull dates. That's why it's popular -- meaning it's featured in every biological-weapons program I've known because it's stable and lasts a long time.
And, again, the regime is capable of resuming biological-weapons production at short notice, within weeks. It could have produced thousands of liters of anthrax, for all we know, botulinum toxins and other agents since 1998.
Smallpox, I'm not convinced that they have that. They probably did some work on it. It's very difficult to work with, difficult to weaponize. I think that there is evidence that they did look at various kinds of poxes, including camel pox; these are of the same genetic heritage, and so they were obviously looking at these kinds of viral agents, but I think it was more of a research program, and hardly got to development, in my view. At least I've seen no evidence of it.
The most worrying thing is the biological-weapons program, about which we know the least. These are easier to deliver than the large quantities of chemical weapons. Biological agents could be delivered by short-range munitions, including artillery shells and rockets. They already have the warheads to hurl the anthrax and botulinum toxin. As for the chemical weapons, unless Iraq has advanced beyond the impact fusing and warhead design of its 1990-era warheads, its ability to effectively disseminate these agents on ballistic missiles is questionable, since so much agent would be destroyed on impact.
Scott Ritter also says any talk of Iraq having these capabilities is "absurd" and "all rhetoric," because the nerve gases and toxins your report refers to are old and useless for making weapons.
Come on, he's not an expert in chemical and biological weapons. I don't know how he says these things. That is absolute rubbish. Mustard agents are very stable, keep for a long time, decades and decades. Anthrax keeps for hundreds of years if you store it right. Certain agents, maybe the VX, they've had problems with stability, but the answer to that is, particularly on biological-weapons facilities, you do your production run nearer the time you think you might want to use it, or you have the weapons ready. So, you have it all worked out where you're going to do it, how to do it, you get all the technological details, you do test runs, and then when you think you might need it, you do the production run and you do the filling. So you don't need to keep a lot of stuff stored. It would be useful; they're not going to throw away the mustard agent they have, clearly.
Your report concludes with this comment: "This Strategic Dossier does not attempt to make a case, either way, as to whether Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction arsenal is a casus belli per se. Wait and the threat will grow; strike and the threat may be used." This would seem to say, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."
That's what Hussein would love us to think. And try to put us off, which means we should act sooner, rather than later. The obvious military conclusion is, you don't wait until they advance their programs further and make them more dangerous. You get on with it, and do it quicker -- that's my conclusion from that -- if you think military action is the way to go.