The good news is that the White House got a highly credible and eminently qualified individual -- veteran U.N. weapons inspector David Kay -- to head its investigation into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The bad news is that no one seems to be paying the least bit of attention to thefacts reported by Mr. Kay to Congress on Oct. 2.
"No Illicit Arms Found in Iraq, U.S. inspector Tells Congress," ran the New York Times headline. "It is clear to me that there was no evidence of a threat of weapons of mass destruction," said House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi on Oct. 3. "It was clear there was more time for diplomatic efforts before going to war."
Yet, even if no stockpiles have been uncovered to date, there have been many other important discoveries. As Secretary of State Colin Powell yesterday remarked in an op-ed article in The Washington Post, "Iraq was in material breach of its United Nations obligations before the Security Council passed Resolution 1441 last November, and Iraq went further into the breach after the resolution was passed." This was precisely the basis for the military action, which is now so widely questioned.
Additionally, Mr. Kay asserted before Congress last week that patience is crucial for this endeavor. "I cannot emphasize too strongly that the Interim Progress Report, which has been made available to you," he told members of Congress, "is a snapshot, in the context of an on-going investigation."
"Iraq's WMD programs spanned more than two decades, involved thousands of people, billions of dollars, and were elaborately shielded by security and deception operations that continued even beyond the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
Digging for the evidence is a Herculean task. For instance, the inspectors have to go through Iraq's huge stocks of conventional weapons as it was the Iraqi practice was to mix unmarked chemical ordinance in with conventional. Now, Iraq has 130 known Ammunition Storage Points, many of which are 50 miles square and hold an estimated 600,000 tons of artillery shells, bombs, etc. Of these vast piles, only 10 have been examined so far.
What the inspectors have documented is that Saddam preserved his capacity to resume his biological weapons program ifsanctions on Iraq were lifted; that he kept the option open on his nuclear program; and that he had a number of long-range missiles in development.
Among other things, the inspectors discovered:
- Lots of WMD related equipment that Iraq had concealed from the United Nations during the inspections that began in late 2002.
- A clandestine network of laboratories and safe houses within the Iraqi Intelligence Service that contained equipment suitable for the production of chemical and biological weapons.
- A prison complex that Iraqi officials had been told not to report to U.N. inspectors and which may have been for human testing of biological agents.
- Strains of biological agents hidden in scientists' homes, research on new biological weapons agents Brucella and Congo Crimean Hemorrhagic Fever, and continuing work on ricin and aflatoxin.
- Documents and equipments hidden in scientists' homes that would be useful in resuming uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons.
- Advanced designs for missiles with a range of up to 1000 kilometers (over 600 miles), far beyond what was allowed by the United Nations and which would have allowed Iraq to hit targets throughout the Middle East.
In addition to all this, extensive evidence has been found of a systematic pattern of destruction of equipment, computer hard drives and documents in offices and laboratories in Baghdad and elsewhere. As recently as July 2003, a weapons inspection team came upon a smoldering pile of ashes from destroyed documents in a prisons complex.
Mr. Kay is scheduled to deliver the next update on his investigation in January, by which time a clearer picture will emerge. It is beyond me, however, how anyone can dismiss the evidence already before us.
Interestingly, even critics of the war have not gone as far as to advocate a retreat from Iraq, the way Vietnam War opponents used to demand an immediate withdrawal from Southeast Asia. Why not? Perhaps it is because Saddam Hussein's brutalization of his own people is not in dispute. This is not to change the subject from weapons of mass destruction -- just something to think about while the weapons inspectors continue their laborious detective work.
Helle Dale is Deputy Director of The Heritage Foundation's Davis Institute.
Appeared in The Washington Times