EDITOR’S NOTE: Additional sources for the information in this column are available here.
Saddam Hussein was a WMD threat and a terror threat to the United States and its allies.
Too many of the post-9/11 critics have forgotten or were never aware of this fact. Even in last week’s NRO symposium, writers called the invasion of Iraq an “unjust war,” an “optional war,” and finally a “result of the flawed intelligence that skewed the perceived threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s regime to the United States.”
There is little doubt that the pre-war intelligence on Iraq was faulty, mostly because of Saddam’s continuing attempts to convince Iran that he still maintained a potent WMD capacity despite years of sanctions. Unfortunately, in the years of recriminations following the invasion of Iraq the actual truth was lost, until it became commonplace for even those who supported the invasion to admit that Saddam did not pose a WMD threat. Likewise, as he was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks, many believe he was not a terror threat either.
Before the consensus is written in stone, it is worth going over the evidence collected since the removal of the Saddam regime. Leaving aside the fact that he slaughtered more than a million of his own people and was prone to launching unprovoked wars against his neighbors — both good reasons for his violent removal — what threat did Saddam actually pose? Let’s go through just a sliver of the evidence.
SADDAM AND WMDS
When American tanks smashed into Baghdad, Saddam had already completed construction of an anthrax production facility, which was a week away from going live. If it had been permitted to go into production, this one facility could have produced ten tons of weaponized anthrax a year. Experts estimate that anthrax spores that infect the skin will kill 50 percent of untreated victims. Inhaled anthrax will kill 100 percent of untreated victims and 50 percent of those receiving immediate treatment. That means that a mere 1 percent of Saddam’s annual production (200 pounds) sprayed by crop-duster over New York City would have killed upwards of three million people.
Anthrax, however, was far from the only WMD Saddam was actively researching and working assiduously to acquire. He also had teams working overtime to create a stockpile of some of the most deadly biological weapons possible. Several years ago, the press had a field day when two suspected mobile bio-labs, presented at the U.N. as evidence of Saddam’s continuing WMD development programs, actually turned out to be weather-balloon stations. That same press, however, then ignored the fact that postwar investigators found five actual mobile bio-labs in and around Baghdad. One of these labs was discovered in a mosque, which had been placed off-limits to prewar U.N. inspectors. Another was found in Baghdad’s Central Public Health Laboratory. One can imagine the anguished cries from the Left if we had bombed what the Iraqis claimed was a public-health facility. Saddam even had a huge bio-warfare production facility masquerading as the Samarra Drug Company. This facility would have been capable of producing up to 10,000 liters of deadly pathogens a year. It was less than a month from going into production when the invasion of Iraq began. If this plant had turned its attention to botulinum toxin, it could have produced enough in a few months to wipe out the world. Again, how would bombing a plant that Saddam would claim was producing life-saving drugs have played in the media?
Investigators also found two labs that appeared to be producing animal vaccines. However, according to investigators, all of the equipment was “dual use . . . and easily diverted to produce smallpox or other pathogenic viruses.” Another nearby lab was busily working on cowpox vaccines, with the exact same equipment necessary to create smallpox. One should note that even a thimbleful of smallpox germs would be enough to kill tens of millions. Smallpox, placed in the hands of a terrorist group and released at a sporting event, would devastate a large swath of the United States. It should be noted that each of these facilities was staffed or often visited by persons previously identified by the U.N. as being associated with Saddam’s pre–Desert Storm WMD programs. One facility, often visited by Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha al-Azawi, better known to Western intelligence as Dr. Germ, maintained, according to investigators, a “small” capacity for production of organic agents. When it comes to smallpox, a “small” capacity is all one needs to create global havoc.
Biological weapons were an important and dangerous thrust of Saddam’s WMD program, but far from all that his regime was working on. In 1991, Saddam moved all of his WMD specialists out of government labs and into universities, once again making them off-limits to inspectors and coalition bombers. According to documents discovered after the war, by 1997 the number of university “instructors” doing solely WMD work numbered 3,300, with another 700 to 800 dispatched to WMD-related facilities to help with technical problems. Between 1996 and 2002 — the eve of the invasion — spending on WMD projects increased 40-fold, and the number of specific projects increased from 40 to 3,200. Top officials captured after the collapse of the regime repeatedly told investigators that Saddam’s WMD projects were in overdrive and ready to go into production the moment sanctions were lifted.