Iraqi WMD Watch

A former Iraqi general is claiming that Iraqi WMDs were covertly smuggled into Syria before the March 2003 invasion:

Mr. Sada, 65, told the Sun that the pilots of the two airliners that transported the weapons of mass destruction to Syria from Iraq approached him in the middle of 2004, after Saddam was captured by American troops.

“I know them very well. They are very good friends of mine. We trust each other. We are friends as pilots,” Mr. Sada said of the two pilots. He declined to disclose their names, saying they are concerned for their safety. But he said they are now employed by other airlines outside Iraq.

The pilots told Mr. Sada that two Iraqi Airways Boeings were converted to cargo planes by removing the seats, Mr. Sada said. Then Special Republican Guard brigades loaded materials onto the planes, he said, including “yellow barrels with skull and crossbones on each barrel.” The pilots said there was also a ground convoy of trucks.

The flights – 56 in total, Mr. Sada said – attracted little notice because they were thought to be civilian flights providing relief from Iraq to Syria, which had suffered a flood after a dam collapse in June of 2002.

He doesn’t have anything that provides verifiable proof, but his story matches what we do know. Saddam knew that the hammer was likely to fall sooner or later, and moving WMDs across the Syrian border would be the logical thing to do. There was plenty of cross-border traffic across the Syrian border before the war, everything from refugees to commercial flights to illegal oil shipments. Slipping a few barrels of VX or even a disassembled anthrax lab into one of those flights or shipments would not have been difficult at all, and we’d have no way of telling what was in those containers without physically inspecting them.

I would not at all be surprised if eventually some real evidence of low-level production and storage of WMDs were found in Iraq, or when the Assad regime in Syria falls we find that Iraqi WMDs were sent across the border. Saddam was a malignant narcissist, but not an idiot. He knew that not even a few chemical shells would save him, so it would make great amounts of sense for him to make it look like everyone was wrong about Iraqi WMDs.

All this, of course, is just theoretical now. We haven’t found any evidence of significant WMD programs beyond a few degraded chemical shells and some miscellaneous lab equipment. It’s equally possible that Saddam’s WMD capabilities had steadily degraded since the Gulf War and everyone in Iraq was lying to everyone else to save their own necks – saying that destroyed stocks of WMDs existed and inventing phantom programs. Such activities are part and parcel of an authoritarian and autocratic state like Saddam’s Iraq.

If there is one thing that history teaches us, however, it’s that widely-assumed judgments like “Saddam did not have any WMDs” can easily be overturned by explosive new evidence – and while that evidence hasn’t yet materialized, it remains a possibility.

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