Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction,
said Hussein Kamel in 1995


Brent Sadler (CNN):  “Can you state here and now - does Iraq still to this day hold weapons of mass destruction?”


Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law: “No.  Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction.  I am being completely honest about this.”



This is a snippet from a TV interview on 21 September 1995, a transcript of which can be read on CNN’s website [1] today, and probably could have been read there in March 2003, when the US/UK invaded Iraq, ostensibly because it possessed “weapons of mass destruction”.


Hussein Kamel was in a position to know what he was talking about since for almost a decade he had been in administrative control of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes, as the director of Iraq’s Military Industrialisation Corporation.


Six weeks earlier, on 7 August 1995, Kamel had left Iraq for Jordan, where he was interviewed by UN inspectors (and by MI6 and the CIA).  He later – February 1996 – returned to Iraq and was assassinated.


UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file”

A UN inspection team, led by the first head of UNSCOM, Rolf Ekeus, interviewed Hussein Kamel on 22 August 1995.  A 15-page “note for the file” on the interview (headed UNSCOM/IAEA SENSITIVE) came into the public domain a few weeks before the US/UK invasion of Iraq in March 2003 [2].  UNSCOM was the UN inspection body responsible for chemical and biological weapons and missiles, the IAEA for nuclear issues.


In the “note for the file”, Hussein Kamel is quoted as saying:


“All weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed.” (p13).


On chemical weapons, he said:


“All chemical weapons were destroyed.  I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons.” (p13)


Earlier (p7), he described anthrax as the “main focus” of Iraq’s biological programme and when asked “were weapons and agents destroyed?”, he replied: “nothing remained”.


Asked about the 819 Soviet-made missiles Iraq was known to have purchased in the 1980s, he replied:


“Not a single missile left, but they had blueprints and molds for production. All missiles were destroyed.” (p8)


At the time of the interview in August, UN inspectors had been in Iraq for over 4 years.  In that time, they had destroyed lots of proscribed material – missiles, chemical agents, weapons and production facilities, etc – that had been declared to them by Iraq.  What Kamel was telling them was that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed the material that Iraq hadn’t declared, in particular, biological weapons and related material that the inspectors had only recently learned about.


The CIA and MI6 also interviewed Kamel in August 1995, and he told them the same story.


Valuable informant?

In the months before the US/UK invasion of Iraq, the US and UK Governments continually cited Hussein Kamel as a valuable informant about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” and as proof that interrogation of Iraqis who participated in these programmes, rather than detective work by UN inspectors, was the way to locate and destroy them.  This was part of making the case for taking military action against Iraqwe were meant to infer that, if other defectors like him did not emerge, then invasion and occupation would be necessary in order to disarm Iraq.


Needless to say, in the months before the invasion, US/UK spokesmen consistently omitted to mention that Hussein Kamel had told UN inspectors that “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”.  


In a speech on 7 October 2002, President Bush declared [3]:


“In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq’s military industries [Hussein Kamel] defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions.”


The President did not tell his audience that as of August 1995, according to Kamel, “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”.


Likewise, in his presentation to the Security Council on 5 February 2003, Secretary of State, Colin Powell, claimed [4]:


“It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s late son-in-law. UNSCOM also gained forensic evidence that Iraq had produced VX and put it into weapons for delivery.”


Colin Powell made it clear that his Security Council presentation was the product of his personal appraisal of the available intelligence.  But he apparently failed to notice that Kamel had told UN inspectors that “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”, which rendered his presentation somewhat less than complete.


Likewise, on 18 March 2003, Prime Minister Blair told the House of Commons [5]:


“In August [1995], it [Iraq] provided yet another full and final declaration. Then, a week later,

Saddam’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, defected to Jordan. He disclosed a far more extensive biological weapons programme and, for the first time, said that Iraq had weaponised the programme – something that Saddam had always strenuously denied. All this had been happening while the inspectors were in Iraq.


“Kamal also revealed Iraq’s crash programme to produce a nuclear weapon in the 1990s. Iraq was

then forced to release documents that showed just how extensive those programmes were.”


Plainly, in Prime Minister Blair’s opinion, Kamel had provided reliable evidence about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”.  But the Prime Minister chose not to divulge to the House of Commons that Kamel also told UN inspectors that “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”.


Had he done so, the House of Commons would not have voted for military action against Iraq a few hours later.


(Shortly afterwards, Labour MP, Llew Smith, asked the Prime Minister “pursuant to his statement of 18 March 2003 ... on the information provided by Hussein Kamal on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, if he will place in the [House of Commons] Library the text of the interview”.  Blair’s disingenuous reply on 26 March 2003 was [6]:


“Following his defection, Hussein Kamal was interviewed by UNSCOM and by a number of other agencies. Details concerning the interviews were made available to us on a confidential basis. The UK was not provided with transcripts of the interviews.”


By then, the UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file” was in the public domain.)


Importance to UNSCOM

Hussein Kamel’s defection was a very important event in the history of the UN inspection of Iraq in the 1990s.  After the inspectors were forced out of Iraq in December 1998, because Clinton and Blair were going to bomb Iraq, UNSCOM wrote in its final report [7]:


“... the overall period of the Commission’s disarmament work must be divided into two parts, separated by the events following the departure from Iraq, in August 1995, of Lt. General Hussein Kamal.” (Paragraph 12)


UN inspectors learned a great deal as a result of Hussein Kamel’s defection (a) because of what he told them directly, and (b) because his defection forced Iraq to reveal other aspects of its proscribed weapons programmes.  In particular, inspectors learned the full extent of Iraq’s biological weapons programme and, that back in 1990/91, Iraq had engaged in an (unsuccessful) crash programme to develop a nuclear weapon.  Kamel also revealed that Rolf Ekeus’ own Arabic translator, a Syrian, was an Iraqi agent who had been reporting to Kamel himself.


UNMOVIC – UNSCOM’s successor – published a comprehensive survey of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes (apart from its nuclear programme) on 6 March 2003, entitled Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes [8].  This says of Kamel’s defection:


“In early August 1995, Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamal defected to Jordan. Following the defection, Iraq stated that Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamal had been responsible for the decision to hide aspects of its WMD programmes, including the decision to cover up the BW programme. Shortly after the defection, Iraq handed over to UNSCOM boxes of documents that had been stored at Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamal’s chicken farm, known as Haidar Farm. The documents were records relating to Iraq’s WMD programmes and comprised research papers, plans, photographs, videotapes and other material. Although not a complete record, they provide a considerable insight into the programmes and their achievements.


“Lieutenant-General Hussein Kamal’s defection also precipitated new disclosures by Iraq concerning its WMD programmes, particularly in the biological field.”


Hussein Kamel’s defection was very important for the inspection process.  His name comes up constantly in UN inspection reports.  Judging by what he told UN inspectors (and CNN), he had turned against Saddam Hussein’s regime and it was difficult to believe that he giving false information on its behalf.  Certainly, there is no suggestion in UN reports that the information he supplied was anything other than accurate.  But, to the best of my knowledge, nowhere in these reports is there a mention of his extraordinary assertion that Iraq no longer possessed any “weapons of mass destruction”.  And, nor is there any sign that UNSCOM as a body began to believe that Iraq was in reality disarmed.


Why so little impact?

Why did Hussein Kamel’s revelations that Iraq no longer possessed any “weapons of mass destruction” have so little impact on UNSCOM?  Let’s go back to the beginning.


Disarmament obligations were imposed upon Iraq by the Security Council after the Gulf War, in a series of resolutions beginning with Resolution 687 [9] passed in 3 April 1991.  This demanded that Iraq give up chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, and missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres, and “undertake not to use, develop, construct or acquire” these weapons in future.  Resolution 687 also established a Special Commission of inspectors (aka UNSCOM), which, together with nuclear inspectors from the IAEA, was to effect disarmament and set up a permanent system of monitoring to ensure that Iraq didn’t develop any of these proscribed weapons in future.


In addition, Resolution 687 laid down that the economic sanctions imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in August 1990 would be lifted when Iraq met these disarmament obligations.


From the outset, the US made it clear that, as long as Saddam Hussein remained in power, it would not honour the obligation in Resolution 687 to lift economic sanctions, even if Iraq fulfilled the disarmament obligations laid down the Security Council.  Throughout the 90s, both the Bush administration and the Clinton administration made this abundantly clear.


For example, on 20 May 1991, President George Bush said:


“At this juncture, my view is we don’t want to lift these sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein is in power”.


On 14 January 1993, just before assuming office, President Clinton quashed suggestions that his administration would adopt a different stance towards Iraq, by saying:


“There is no difference between my policy and the policy of the present Administration.... I have no intention of normalizing relations with him [Saddam Hussein].” (New York Times, 15 January 1993)


On 26 March 1997, just after her appointment as Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright said [10]:


“We do not agree with the nations who argue that if Iraq complies with its obligations concerning weapons of mass destruction, sanctions should be lifted. Our view, which is unshakable, is that Iraq must prove its peaceful intentions. It can only do that by complying with all of the Security Council resolutions to which it is subjected.


“Is it possible to conceive of such a government under Saddam Hussein? When I was a professor, I taught that you have to consider all possibilities. As Secretary of State, I have to deal in the realm of reality and probability. And the evidence is overwhelming that Saddam Hussein’s intentions will never be peaceful.”


Regime change in Iraq was US policy long before George Bush came to power in January 2001 – and long before it became official US policy when Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act on 31 October 1998 after it was passed overwhelmingly by the US Congress.  Section 3 of it states (see, for example, [11]):


“It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”


The Clinton policy was “regime change” by economic sanctions, with devastating effect on the Iraqi people.  In 2002, the Bush policy became “regime change” by military action.  Essential to both was the maintenance of the fiction that Iraq retained effective “weapons of mass destruction”.


(There is little doubt that the UK concurred with the US on this matter, though it was more reticent in stating it bluntly in public.  At the Security Council meeting at which resolution 687 was passed, the British Ambassador to the UN, David Hannay said [12]:


“My Government believes that it will in fact prove impossible for Iraq to rejoin the community of civilized nations while Saddam Hussein remains in power.”)


UNSCOM accounting

That was the political background.  Happily for the US (and the UK), the mode of operation of UNSCOM (and its successor organisation UNMOVIC) meant that the disarmament process could be spun out indefinitely – and economic sanctions maintained indefinitely. 


UNSCOM inspectors set out to account for what happened to all proscribed weapons and related material imported into Iraq or manufactured by Iraq before the Gulf War.  A vast amount of these had been used up in the Iran-Iraq war (and a small number of missiles and warheads in the Gulf War).  Some were destroyed by US/UK bombing in the Gulf War.  Iraq destroyed a lot in the summer of 1991, without declaring their existence to UNSCOM.  UNSCOM itself destroyed all that had been declared to it by Iraq.


For each proscribed item – a particular warhead, for example – the question for UNSCOM was: has the total quantity imported/manufactured been used up in war or destroyed by US/UK bombing or by Iraq – or destroyed by UNSCOM itself?  Unless Iraq supplied documentary or other evidence of the quantity used or destroyed, then the total quantity imported/manufactured (apart from any destroyed by UNSCOM itself) was deemed “unaccounted for”.  Of course, this didn’t mean that this quantity existed – merely that Iraq had been unable to convince UNSCOM that it had been used or destroyed. 


UNSCOM’s objective was to get Iraq to produce documentary or other evidence of use/destruction to convince it to reduce the “unaccounted for” quantity to zero for each item.  With the best will in the world, this was next to impossible, given the destruction that Iraq had undergone in the Iran-Iraq and Gulf Wars.   The potential for spinning out the disarmament process indefinitely is obvious.


The fact that a member of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, who was in a position to know, had stated bluntly that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction” was irrelevant to this accounting process – since he didn’t supply evidence of their use/destruction.


Qualitatively disarmed?

The final UNSCOM report of January 1999 [7] specifies many items with “unaccounted for” quantities.  But, in reality, by this time UNSCOM was confident that the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons and related material, and the means of producing more, had been eliminated.  No doubt Hussein Kamel’s assertion that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction” played a part in establishing this confidence.


But, what evidence is there that UNSCOM was confident that Iraq’s proscribed weapons had been more or less eliminated?


First, the Amorim report.  After the UN inspectors were forced out of Iraq by Clinton and Blair in December 1998, as a preliminary step towards re-establishing an inspection regime in Iraq, the Security Council established a panel, chaired by Ambassador Amorim of Brazil, to assess the degree to which Iraq had been disarmed and to propose a way forward.  In March 1999, the panel concluded [13]:


Nuclear weapons

“On the basis of its findings, the [International Atomic Energy] Agency is able to state that there is no indication that Iraq possesses nuclear weapons or any meaningful amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material or that Iraq has retained any practical capability (facilities or hardware) for the production of such material.” (paragraph 14)


Proscribed Missiles

“With regard to items selected as key for the purpose of the verification of the material balance of proscribed missiles and related operational assets, UNSCOM was able to destroy or otherwise account for: (a) 817 out of 819 imported operational missiles of proscribed range; (b) all declared mobile launchers for proscribed Al Hussein class missiles, including 14 operational launchers; the disposition of 9 of the 10 imported trailers used for the indigenous production of mobile launchers; and the destruction of 56 fixed missile launch sites; (c) 73 to 75 chemical and biological warheads of the declared 75 operational special warheads for Al Hussein class missiles; 83 of the 107 imported and some 80 of the 103 indigenously produced conventional warheads declared by Iraq to be in its possession at the time of the adoption of resolution 687.” (paragraph 16)


Chemical weapons

“UNSCOM has supervised or been able to certify the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of large quantities of chemical weapons (CW), their components and major chemical weapons production equipment as follows: (a) over 88,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions; (b) over 600 tonnes of weaponized and bulk CW agents; (c) some 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals; (d) some 980 pieces of key production equipment; (e) some 300 pieces of analytical instruments. The prime CW development and production complex in Iraq was dismantled and closed under UNSCOM supervision and other identified facilities have been put under monitoring. It was pointed out that UNSCOM has been able to establish material balances of major weapon-related elements of Iraq’s CW programme only on the basis of parameters as declared by Iraq but not fully verified by UNSCOM.” (paragraph 19)


Biological weapons

“UNSCOM ordered and supervised the destruction of Iraq’s main declared BW production and development facility, Al Hakam. Some 60 pieces of equipment from three other facilities involved in proscribed BW activities as well as some 22 tonnes of growth media for BW production collected from four other facilities were also destroyed. As a result, the declared facilities of Iraq’s BW programme have been destroyed and rendered harmless.” (paragraph 23)


Overall conclusion

“The elements presented above indicate that, in spite of well-known difficult circumstances, UNSCOM and IAEA have been effective in uncovering and destroying many elements of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes in accordance with the mandate provided by the Security Council. It is the panel’s understanding that IAEA has been able to devise a technically coherent picture of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme. UNSCOM has achieved considerable progress in establishing material balances of Iraq’s proscribed weapons. Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated.” (paragraph 25)


(A year earlier, on 4 February 1998, the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee had made a similar assessment:


“UNSCOM and the IAEA have succeeded in destroying or controlling the vast majority of Saddam’s 1991 weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capability”.


See Paragraph 181 of the Butler report [14].)


Second, the evidence of Rolf Ekeus, the first head of UNSCOM, who left in 1997 to become Swedish Ambassador to Washington.  On 23 May 2000, Ekeus addressed a seminar, entitled Sanction in Iraq: Is the policy defensible?, at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.  A portion of the question and answer session from the seminar is reproduced on the Campaign Against Sanctions in Iraq (CASI) website [15].  Asked if he thought that Iraq had been “qualitatively disarmed”, he replied:


“I would say that we felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq’s capabilities fundamentally.  There are some question marks left.”


This wasn’t an isolated remark by Ekeus.  It was made at the end of a dialogue in which Ekeus agreed that emphasis on the “quantitative disarmament” of Iraq, that is, the attempt to account for every last nut and bolt of Iraq’s proscribed weapons and related material, should be replaced by an emphasis on monitoring Iraqi facilities to attempt to ensure that Iraq’s proscribed weapons programmes were not revived.


An Associated Press report by George Gedda on 16 August 2000 (see [16]) confirms that this was Ekeus’ position:

“More optimistic is Swede Rolf Ekeus ... ‘I would say that we felt that in all areas we have eliminated Iraq's capabilities fundamentally’, Ekeus said in a speech at Harvard in May.
“But rather than have UN inspectors try to track down whatever weapons remain, Ekeus believes the focus should be on preventing Iraq from engaging in a new weapons buildup.” 


Establishing a permanent monitoring system was part of the original UNSCOM/IAEA mandate laid down by the Security Council in Resolution 687, and an elaborate monitoring system had been established with Iraq’s consent.  When the UN inspectors were withdrawn on US orders in December 1998, in addition to monitoring by no-notice onsite inspection, some 300 sites were being continuously monitored remotely by electronic means without Iraqi obstruction, the data gathered being transmitted back to UNSCOM/IAEA headquarters in Baghdad. 


Operation Desert Fox

During 1998, France, Russia and China, and the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, sought to bring the disarmament process to an end along these lines and to have economic sanctions lifted.  But the US, and the UK, wouldn’t countenance the lifting of sanctions with Saddam Hussein still in power.


Ostensibly, the purpose of Operation Desert Fox, the US/UK bombing of Iraq in December 1998, was to punish it for obstructing UN inspectors.  In reality, it was to bring the inspection process to an end, in order to eliminate the growing risk that the Security Council would declare that Iraq had fulfilled its disarmament obligations and lift economic sanctions.


Clinton and Blair knew that by bombing Iraq they were terminating the inspection process, that Iraq would not let the inspectors back in again after the bombing.  We have that on the authority of Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary at the time, who told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on 17 June 2003 [17]:


“It [the bombing campaign] was quite deliberately undertaken by us in the knowledge this would mean that the inspections regime would come to an end and would have to be replaced by a policy of containment.” 


Without inspectors in Iraq, the states that wanted to lift economic sanctions were no longer in a position to press their case.


Butler report

Hussein Kamel’s assertion in August 1995 that all Iraq’s proscribed weapons had been destroyed did alter the assessment of British intelligence about these weapons.  This can be deduced from the report of the Butler inquiry [14], which the British Government established in February 2004 to investigate, inter alia, “the accuracy of intelligence on Iraqi WMD up to March 2003”.  It reported in July 2004, by which time it was certain that significant quantities of proscribed material were not going to be found in Iraq.


The Butler report mentions Kamel several times, but without specifically referring to his most striking piece of information – that all proscribed weapons had been destroyed.  The report summarises the available sources of intelligence as follows:


Iraq was a very difficult intelligence target. Between 1991 and 1998, the bulk of information used in assessing the status of Iraq’s biological, chemical and ballistic missile programmes was derived from UNSCOM reports. In 1995, knowledge was significantly boosted by the defection of Hussein Kamil. But, after the departure of United Nations inspectors in December 1998, information sources were sparse, particularly on Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons programmes.” (Paragraph 433)


Section 5.2 of the report (Paragraphs 155-209) deals with the intelligence from 1992 to 1998.  Kamel’s contribution to the Joint Intelligence Committee [JIC]’s increased knowledge of Iraq’s nuclear programmes is recorded in Paragraph 169, of chemical weapons in Paragraph 177, of biological weapons in Paragraph 185 and of missiles in Paragraphs 199-200.


On chemical agents and weapons, Paragraph 177 says:


“In the same vein, in August 1995, drawing on evidence provided by Hussein Kamil after his defection, the JIC concluded that: ‘We assess [Iraq] may also have hidden some specialised equipment and stocks of precursor chemicals but it is unlikely they have a covert stockpile of weapons or agent in any significant quantity; Hussein Kamil claims there are no remaining stockpiles of agent.’ [JIC assessment, 24 August 1995]”


From that, it is fairly clear that the JIC believed Kamel when he said that chemical agents and weapons manufactured before the Gulf War had been destroyed.  And there is no indication later in the report that the JIC’s original confidence in Kamel’s claim was overridden by later information.


But this material was still on UNSCOM’s “unaccounted for” list when its inspectors were withdrawn in December 1998, and was still on UNMOVIC’s “unaccounted for” list in March 2003.  As we will see, on 18 March 2003, the Prime Minister reeled off a list of chemical agents and weapons from this “unaccounted for” list, and gave the impression that we had on UN authority that they definitely existed – even though it appears that in August 1995 the JIC believed Kamel when he said they had been destroyed.


From Paragraphs 199 and 200 of the report, it is clear that in August 1995 the JIC also believed what Kamel said about missiles and missile components having been destroyed:


“... the JIC assessment of August 1995 included an analysis of Iraq’s residual ballistic missile capabilities, taking into account information provided by Hussein Kamil after his defection. We noted in particular that the JIC recorded that: ‘UNSCOM has verified destruction of the declared Scuds (and the Iraqi derivatives) and their launchers and believes it has a satisfactory account of what happened to the rest. UNSCOM has also supervised destruction of components and much of the missile-related infrastructure . . .’ [JIC assessment, 24 August 1995]


 “In the same reassuring vein, the JIC said that: ‘We would expect Kamil to know a lot about the missile programme . . . He has also said that all the Scuds and their components have been destroyed . . .’ [ibid]”


Nevertheless, the Prime Minister felt able to tell the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 that “an entire Scud missile programme” (whatever he meant by that) had been “left unaccounted for” by UNSCOM in 1998 and it was “palpably absurd” that Saddam had destroyed it.


However, it seems that the JIC did not believe Kamel about the destruction of biological agents and weapons.  Paragraph 185 of the report says:


“... following the defection of Hussein Kamil and the Iraqi admission of an extensive biological weapons programme, the JIC had growing concerns that Iraq was concealing biological agent stocks.”


Newsweek report

One might have thought that the public assertion by Hussein Kamel on CNN in September 1995 that “Iraq does not possess any weapons of mass destruction” would have been cited in public controversy about the existence or otherwise of these weapons in the lead up to the US/UK invasion of Iraq.  But it wasn’t.


A few weeks before the invasion, the UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file” on their interview with Kamel was leaked to Newsweek journalist John Barry.  He wrote an article based on its contents, which was posted on the Newsweek website on 24 February 2003 and published in the 3 March 2003 issue (see, for example, [18]).  The article began:


“Hussein Kamel, the highest-ranking Iraqi official ever to defect from Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, told CIA and British intelligence officers and UN inspectors in the summer of 1995 that after the Gulf War, Iraq destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks and the missiles to deliver them.”


Barry was an experienced journalist – he headed The Sunday Times Insight team in the early 70s – who had acquired an extraordinary scoop.  It merited a Newsweek cover story, but his editors placed it in the miscellaneous Periscope section of the magazine with the uninformative headline, The Defector’s Secrets.  Furthermore, Newsweek’s online version had a sub-heading Before his death, a high-ranking defector said Iraq had not abandoned its WMD ambitions, which went against the main thrust of the story.


Barry’s article ended:


“The notes of the U.N. interrogation – a three-hour stretch one August evening in 1995 – show that Kamel was a gold mine of information. He had a good memory and, piece by piece, he laid out the main personnel, sites and progress of each WMD program. Kamel was a manager – not a scientist or engineer – and, sources say, some of his technical assertions were later found to be faulty. (A military aide who defected with Kamel was apparently a more reliable source of technical data. This aide backed Kamel’s assertions about the destruction of WMD stocks.) But, overall, Kamel’s information was ‘almost embarrassing, it was so extensive’, Ekeus recalled – including the fact that Ekeus’s own Arabic translator, a Syrian, was, according to Kamel, an Iraqi agent who had been reporting to Kamel himself all along.”


Clearly, Barry had contacted Rolf Ekeus (who interviewed Kamel in August 1995) in writing his story.  Note that, as reported by Barry, Ekeus gave the impression that Kamel had been an informative and reliable witness.


One might have thought that this revelation would have provoked a major public controversy at a time when Bush and Blair were pushing hard to persuade the Security Council to endorse military action against Iraq, ostensibly because of its possession of “weapons of mass destruction”.  But it didn’t.  The Governments in Washington and London succeeded in quashing the story (with a little help from Rolf Ekeus) by telling a barefaced lie – both Governments denied that Kamel had said in 1995 that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction”. 


The publication of Barry’s story online on 24 February 2003 stimulated Reuters to write a report the same day, headed US, Britain Deny Newsweek Defector Report [19], which began:


“The CIA on Monday denied a Newsweek magazine report that Saddam Hussein's son-in-law told the U.S. intelligence agency in 1995 that Iraq after the Gulf War destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons and missiles to deliver them.”


In it, a CIA spokesman, Bill Harlow, is quoted as saying:


“It is incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue.”


and a “British government source” is quoted as saying:


“We’ve checked back and he didn’t say this.  ... He said just the opposite, that the WMD program was alive and kicking.”


Other stories

A week later, on 1 March 2003, a small number of media stories appeared on both sides of the Atlantic (prompted, presumably, by the print edition of Newsweek reaching the news stands) – for example, in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Guardian and The Scotsman (see the website of the Traprock Peace Center [20] for the text of these).  In several of them, Rolf Ekeus is quoted.  Unlike the two Governments, he didn’t deny that Kamel had said that all proscribed material had been destroyed, but dismissed him as “a consummate liar”, without giving any examples of his lying – which seems to be at variance with what he had said to John Barry of Newsweek a week earlier.  I remember Ekeus dismissing Kamel in a similar manner on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, in response to a story by Andrew Gilligan.


Happily for the US/UK, Ekeus’s dismissal of Kamel as “a consummate liar” was sufficient to kill the story – and a few weeks later the US/UK invaded Iraq.


Around the beginning of March 2003, the complete UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file” came into the public domain, thanks to Glen Rangwala.  It was his comment on it in February 2003 [21] that first brought it to my attention.


Scott Ritter

An article by Scott Ritter called The Case for Iraq's Qualitative Disarmament was published in the June 2000 issue of Arms Control Today [22].  Ritter resigned as an UNSCOM inspector in August 1998.  In this article, he quoted from the UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file” on the Kamel interview (about Iraq’s crash nuclear weapons programme in 1990/91), so he must have been in possession of a copy at that time.


The thesis of his article was


“... because of the work carried out by UNSCOM, it can be fairly stated that Iraq was qualitatively disarmed at the time inspectors were withdrawn.”


(It should be noted that, in December 1998, he had advanced the very different thesis that “even today, Iraq is not nearly disarmed” in an article in the New Republic – see, for example, [23]).


This view that Iraq was qualitatively disarmed underpinned his subsequent, vigorous opposition to the US/UK invasion of Iraq.  But, he didn’t mention in this article Kamel’s statement to UNSCOM that Iraq no longer possessed “weapons of mass destruction”, which you might have thought was relevant to his thesis.


Nor did he mention it later, when he could have caused the US/UK warmongers considerable difficulty by releasing it, given that they were forever mentioning Kamel in support of their case.  Imagine the confusion that would have ensued had he released the UNSCOM/IAEA “note for the file” on 24 September 2002, the day the British Government published its dossier on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”.


Weapons being produced

Hussein Kamel got a mention in the British Government’s dossier [24]:


“Following the defection in August 1995 of Hussein Kamil, Saddam’s son-in-law and former Director of the Military Industrialisation Commission, Iraq released over 2 million documents relating to its mass destruction weaponry programmes and acknowledged that it had pursued a biological programme that led to the deployment of actual weapons.” (p37)


However, his revelation that “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed” was missing from the dossier.


Of course, Kamel was referring to weapons produced prior to the Gulf War in 1991 and destroyed afterwards.  The dossier asserted that Iraq had retained some of these but also that Iraq was continuing to produce chemical and biological weapons in September 2002.  Thus Prime Minister Blair said in his foreword to the dossier:


“What I believe the assessed intelligence has established beyond doubt is that Saddam has continued to produce chemical and biological weapons ...”


In presenting the dossier to the House of Commons on 24 September 2002, he asserted unequivocally [25]:


“... [Saddam Hussein’s] chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programme is not an historic left-over from 1998. The inspectors are not needed to clean up the old remains. His weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing. The policy of containment is not working. The weapons of mass destruction programme is not shut down; it is up and running now.”


Only old remains

However, for reasons that can only be speculated about, Blair’s message on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” shifted dramatically in the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq – he stopped claiming that Iraq was currently manufacturing chemical and biological agents and weapons.  To the best of my knowledge, he never repeated his confident assertion of 24 September 2002 that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction programme is active, detailed and growing” and producing agents and weapons.


Certainly, you will search in vain in the Prime Minister’s speech in the House of Commons on 18 March 2003 for any hint that Iraq had operational production facilities in March 2003.  All he spoke about then was “old remains” manufactured before the Gulf War, which UN inspectors deemed “unaccounted for” in December 1998 – and which Hussein Kamel said had been destroyed.  For example, he told the House of Commons that day [5]:


“When the inspectors left in 1998, they left unaccounted for 10,000 litres of anthrax; a far-reaching VX nerve agent programme; up to 6,500 chemical munitions; at least 80 tonnes of mustard gas, and possibly more than 10 times that amount; unquantifiable amounts of sarin, botulinum toxin and a host of other biological poisons; and an entire Scud missile programme. We are asked now seriously to accept that in the last few years – contrary to all history, contrary to all intelligence – Saddam decided unilaterally to destroy those weapons. I say that such a claim is palpably absurd.”


Listeners were meant to understand from those remarks that UN inspectors had stated that this vast array of weapons and agents actually existed in 1998 and therefore must still exist in March 2003, since it was absurd to believe that Saddam Hussein destroyed it unilaterally in the interim.  (In fact, it wasn’t all that absurd, since Saddam Hussein had destroyed loads of proscribed material unilaterally in 1991). 


Of course, UN inspectors merely said that this material was “unaccounted for” in 1998, and was still unaccounted for in March 2003.  They never said it actually existed.  The Prime Minister engaged in verbal trickery to conjure “unaccounted for” material into existence in order to persuade the House of Commons to vote to take military action.


And he omitted to tell the House of Commons that a reliable witness had told UN inspectors that “all weapons – biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed”, causing the Joint Intelligence Committee to conclude that Iraq hadn’t much in the way of missile or of chemical weapons or agents.


What is more, he omitted to tell the House of Commons that any “unaccounted for” sarin, VX and botulinum that did exist would no longer be effective as warfare agents.  A UN document Unresolved Disarmament Issues: Iraq’s Proscribed Weapons Programmes [8], published on 6 March 2003, a couple of weeks before he spoke, said so:


“There is no evidence that any bulk Sarin-type agents remain in Iraq - gaps in accounting of these agents are related to Sarin-type agents weaponized in rocket warheads and aerial bombs. Based on the documentation found by UNSCOM during inspections in Iraq, Sarin-type agents produced by Iraq were largely of low quality and as such, degraded shortly after production. Therefore, with respect to the unaccounted for weaponized Sarin-type agents, it is unlikely that they would still be viable today.” (Unresolved Disarmament Issues, p73)


“VX produced through route B [the method used by Iraq in 1990] must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8 weeks), which would probably be satisfactory for wartime requirements.” (ibid, p82)


“Any botulinum toxin that was produced and stored according to the methods described by Iraq and in the time period declared is unlikely to retain much, if any, of its potency. Therefore, any such stockpiles of botulinum toxin, whether in bulk storage or in weapons that remained in 1991, would not be active today.” (ibid, p101)


Iraq Study Group

Was Hussein Kamel telling the truth?  It seems so.  After the invasion, the CIA established the Iraq Study Group (ISG) to find Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”.   Here are the key findings of its report [26] published on 6 October 2004.


On the central question - had Iraq any “weapons of mass destruction” in March 2003? – the ISG concluded:


“ISG has not found evidence that Saddam Husayn possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but the available evidence from its investigation – including detainee interviews and document exploitation – leaves open the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq although not of a militarily significant capability.” (Chapter 1, page 64)


When were the stocks unaccounted for by UN inspectors destroyed?  Answer:


“Following unexpectedly thorough inspections, Saddam ordered Husayn Kamil in July 1991 to destroy unilaterally large numbers of undeclared weapons and related materials to conceal Iraq’s WMD capabilities.” (Chapter 1, page 46)


Specifically, on delivery systems:


“Desert Storm [1991 Gulf War] and subsequent UN resolutions and inspections brought many of Iraq’s delivery system programs to a halt. While much of Iraq’s long-range missile inventory and production infrastructure was eliminated, Iraq until late 1991 kept some items hidden to assist future reconstitution of the force. ...


“The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) has uncovered no evidence Iraq retained Scud-variant missiles [capable of reaching Cyprus], and debriefings of Iraqi officials in addition to some documentation suggest that Iraq did not retain such missiles after 1991.” (Chapter 3, Key Findings)


On nuclear weapons:


“Iraq Survey Group (ISG) discovered further evidence of the maturity and significance of the pre-1991 Iraqi Nuclear Program but found that Iraq’s ability to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program progressively decayed after that date.


“Saddam Husayn ended the nuclear program in 1991 following the Gulf war. ISG found no evidence to suggest concerted efforts to restart the program.


“Although Saddam clearly assigned a high value to the nuclear progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war, the program ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years.” (Chapter 4, Key Findings)


On chemical weapons:


“While a small number of old, abandoned chemical munitions have been discovered, ISG judges that Iraq unilaterally destroyed its undeclared chemical weapons stockpile in 1991. There are no credible indications that Baghdad resumed production of chemical munitions thereafter, a policy ISG attributes to Baghdad’s desire to see sanctions lifted, or rendered ineffectual, or its fear of force against it should WMD be discovered.”  (Chapter 5, Key Findings)


On biological weapons:


“ISG judges that in 1991 and 1992, Iraq appears to have destroyed its undeclared stocks of BW weapons and probably destroyed remaining holdings of bulk BW agent. However ISG lacks evidence to document complete destruction.” (Chapter 6, Key Findings)


It seems that Hussein Kamel told the truth in August 1995.



David Morrison

4 May 2007