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Thursday, July 02, 2009


Justifying the invasion of Iraq

A major story in the Washington Post today begins with the following claim:
Saddam Hussein told an FBI interviewer before he was hanged that he allowed the world to believe he had weapons of mass destruction because he was worried about appearing weak to Iran, according to declassified accounts of the interviews released yesterday.
This (not the FBI interview, obviously, but the claim itself) was one of the major pieces of "evidence" used to justify the invasion of Iraq at the time, so its repetition now, from the mouth of Saddam Hussein no less, would be an important post-facto justification for the invasion. But the claim itself was bullshit at the time. The truth, as I wrote at the time, was that while Gen. Colin Powell was at the U.N. lying through his teeth (or spouting lies put in his mouth by others, if you prefer to be generous to Powell) about the "evidence" the U.S. had, Iraqi Gen. Amer Al-Saadi (still imprisoned as far as we know) was saying clearly and quite publicly that Iraq had no WMD whatsoever. That's one funny way to "allow the world to believe that you have WMD."

And, guess what? No such statement from Saddam Hussein appears in the interviews, which are all online at the National Security Archive at George Washington University. The interviews aren't even transcripts, they are all simply summaries of the conversations made by an FBI agent, with only a tiny amount of direct quotations embedded within them. But even in those summaries, no such claim appears. Glenn Kessler, the author of the Post article, writes: "The formal interviews covered Hussein's rise to power, the Kuwait invasion, and Hussein's crackdown on the Shiite uprising in extensive detail, while the subject of the weapons of mass destruction and al-Qaeda were raised in the casual conversations, after the formal interviews." As a result, I read every word of the five "casual conversations" that are posted online, twice. I repeat - no such claim by Saddam Hussein appears (nor does it appear in the summary of the documents prepared by the NSA) - that is entirely a fiction created by the Post.

The Post also omits some rather interesting material, like this:

The former Iraqi leader, when asked about his accomplishments, listed social progress for the people of Iraq, a temporary truce with the Kurds in the early 1970s, the nationalization of Iraq’s oil in 1972, support for the Arab side during the 1973 Middle East war with Israel, and after that, for the remaining 30 years of his rule, simple survival – through a devastating eight year war with Iran that he had launched, and a 12-year sanctions regime imposed on his people after another war that he began.
But it wasn't just the Post omitting things. The FBI either neglected to ask Hussein about some rather interesting subjects (or has simply not released the notes of those interviews, even redacted), like this:
Not included in these FBI reports are issues of particular interest to students of Iraq’s complicated relationship with the U.S. – the reported role of the CIA in facilitating the Ba’ath party’s rise to power, the uneasy alliance forged between Iraq and the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq war, and the precise nature of U.S. views regarding Iraq’s chemical weapons policy during that conflict, given its contemporaneous knowledge of their repeated use against Iranians and the Kurds.
Update: Just to be clear, some will say that these sentences from the June 11 conversation is what the Post was referring to:
"Even though Hussein claimed Iraq did not have WMD, the threat from Iran was the major factor as to why he did not allows the return of the UN inspectors. Hussein stated he was more concerned about Iran discovering Iraq’s weaknesses and vulnerabilities than the repercussions of the United States for his refusal to allow UN inspectors back into Iraq."
But what “weaknesses and vulnerabilities” was Hussein referring to? The lack of WMD? Hardly, as the very next sentences make quite clear:
"In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq. Hussein demonstrated this by pointing at his arm and stated striking someone on the forearm would not have the same effect as striking someone at the elbow or wrist, which would significantly disable the ability to use the arm."
Second Update: Some additional context. Hussein says "In his opinion, the UN inspectors would have directly identified to the Iranians where to inflict maximum damage to Iraq." Where would he get that idea? From history. Because the U.S./British bombing campaign which began when the inspectors withdrew (in anticipation of the bombing) in 1998 was conducted using targeting based on information provided by those inspectors. That a future Iranian attack might also be based on information provided by the inspectors was hardly a farfetched idea, and certainly a reasonable basis for not readmitting the inspectors. And again, having nothing whatsoever to do with WMD.

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