Irrefutable Evidence Against Iraq?
The Telling of a Tall Tale
"A third-rate intelligence team could have done it," said Iraqi General Amer Al-Saadi, Chief Science advisor to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in his refute of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's "evidence" before the U.N. Security Council.
The world was holding its breath as it waited for what the U.S. would provide as proof that Iraq was withholding illicit bio-weapons, is a threat to the U.S. and is complicit with al-Qaeda.
While the world listened to Powell, Arabs found the alleged intercepted phone conversations troublesome.
"I couldn't believe that they would actually call the intercepted Iraqi intelligence messages proof," said Hashem Kardani, a political analyst in Jordan. "It could have just about been anybody."
Arabs are now eyeing the U.S. portfolio with suspicion. Although the English translation of the intercepted conversations seems irrefutable, the original Arabic tells a much different story.
It is particularly striking that the conversations were not in code; that the Iraqi intelligence apparatus (one of the most detailed, scrupulous and notorious in the Middle East), which included a brigadier-general, would so blatantly refer to UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors by name and weapon items by name.
One would think the Iraqis (who had been instructed to be as thorough as to study footage of Israeli tank movements in Gaza and the West Bank to learn of possible Israeli armored weaknesses) would have by now learned that the U.S. had tried to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan by intercepting and monitoring his phone conversations and therefore avoided such conversations.
There are some inconsistencies in the Arabic version of the recordings. Firstly, the two men appear slightly dazed and confused. The Iraqi slang for the word yes, "eee," is repeated too many times, suggesting the two men did not know what to say next.
"Is the world community to believe that this could not be the work of the Iraqi opposition who would beg to be part of any endeavor, any arrangement to see Saddam's demise?" adds Kardani.
In addition, who were these two men? If they were a brigadier-general and his aide, why were their names not revealed? One would think a brigadier-general is high-ranking enough to be a prominent figure.
The two men mention illicit equipment manufactured in the Al-Kindi company in northern Iraq. What Powell failed to mention is that 15 IAEA inspectors conducted a radiological survey of the Al-Kindi premises on December 19th, 2002. According to an IAEA press release, and subsequent testimony from the inspectors, the IAEA and UNMOVIC reported that the group had inspected areas of the company that manufacture products for commercial use and took extensive samples from a water-treatment plant. UNMOVIC reported that Al-Kindi is a missile and rocket development site, which also produces electronic and industrial products for the civil sector.
Secondly, the U.S. is touting the line that the aluminum tubes Iraq admitted to have imported a few months ago are a crucial part of the Iraqi nuclear weapons program. That is in striking contradiction to the findings of the IAEA as revealed by its head Mohammed al-Baradei on January 27th. He told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq's claims that the tubes were for the U.N.-sanctioned Iraqi missile program were well founded and consistent with IAEA research.
"Al-Baradei even put the kibosh on at least one specific charge made by Washington when he reported that aluminum tubes alleged by U.S. officials to have been imported by Iraq for use in uranium-enrichment centrifuges were, in fact, unsuitable for this purpose and had been used, as Iraq claimed, for missile-engine development." (Tony Karon, Time Magazine)
Baradei's conclusions were also supported by former UNSCOM inspector David Albright, who believes it unlikely that these tubes were destined for Iraq's nuclear program.
The question beggars itself: why did Powell contradict the IAEA and persist that the tubes are a "whimpering gun" when the world's leading atomic and nuclear institutions concludes the contrary? Why was the same contradiction voiced during the State of the Union Address just one day after Baradei's statements?
Thirdly, the pictures, graphics and satellite images of Iraqi sites are reminiscent of the evidence the U.S. alleged in September when it claimed that the Tuwaitha site in Iraq had undergone reconstruction to house nuclear weapons-related centrifuges. UNMOVIC visited this and other sites in the September report. They came up empty. Vigorous soil, air, and water samples were taken of Tuwaitha, and other sites, and analyzed. Any chemical, biological, or nuclear activity leaves traces and residue that once analyzed could act as irrefutable proof. Once again, UNMOVIC and IAEA tests came up empty.
Powell provided satellite imagery of the Taji complex near Baghdad and showed specific areas in Taji where illicit chemical and biological weapons were being researched and stored.
UNMOVIC inspectors have routinely and persistently visited, revisited, and re-revisited the Taji complex since early December and have found nothing to substantiate Powell's allegations. The inspectors have intruded into people's houses, scaled walls, taken air, water and soil samples in and around Taji and produced no evidence of illicit activity.
According to UNMOVIC press releases, an early December visit by inspectors saw them spend over three hours at Nasr (Victory) complex in the Taji area, where there are factories producing light conventional ammunition and heavy civilian machinery. Ironically, these facilities had been mentioned by the United States in recent months as sites suspected of producing banned weapons. Inspectors found nothing.
In late December, IAEA and UNMOVIC inspectors visited the Al-Azz Company and the Salam Factory in Al-Taji. The two produce generic electronic equipment and communications equipment for both civilian and military applications. Once again, their intrusive inspections, along with water, air and soil samples found nothing.
Powell claims that the inspectors found nothing because other satellite imagery shows trucks moving in and out of the area. That those trucks could have been carrying military equipment and munitions for the Iraqi army as it hunkers down in defense of a likely invasion is not an idea Powell wishes to entertain.
In late January 2003, the IAEA teams inspected the Al Sumood industrial manufacturing plant in the Taji area north of Baghdad. A second group of inspectors performed a motorized radiation survey in the Taji area. That team later joined the first at Al Sumood and carried out a manual radiation survey of buildings and stores. Alas, nothing.
In the north of Iraq, the Al-Kindi company came under further scrutiny from a third IAEA team in late January; they inspected the Al Kindi Research and Development Company near Mosul and found nothing.
In early February, unbeknownst to the North American public, air sampling equipment was installed by the IAEA and is operating on the roof of the Canal Hotel, the operations base for the Agency's inspections in Iraq. "This is the initial step in the re-installation of both fixed and mobile air samplers as part of wide-area environmental monitoring in Iraq," said Hiro Ueki, UNMOVIC Baghdad spokesperson.
The mobile air samplers have dedicated nothing but smog over Baghdad.
Powell also chose to ignore that air, soil and water sampling in those areas is tantamount to DNA testing and the most damning proof any inspections regime could conjure. These and all other tests have proved negative.
Claims of Iraqi mobile bio-weapons units were also a crucial issue in Powell's speech today. Powell charged that the Iraqis possessed such units but that none could be found because Iraq is hiding them. No pictures, documents, or eyewitness accounts have ever been produced to verify the actual existence of these units. Moreover, the issue of these units was raised in 1998, when UNSCOM (UNMOVIC's predecessor) determined that 95 percent of the Iraqi armaments file had been resolved and that the remaining 5 percent were over technical issues. Such a report in 1998 would have forced the U.N. Security Council to lift the sanctions on Iraq, a nightmare scenario for the then Clinton administration. Consequently, UNSCOM chief Richard Butler raised the specter of mobile bio-weapons units. Where did this information come from? Unknown.
Powell also showed pictures of alleged unmanned Iraqi airplanes being developed to carry chemical weapons. The picture depicts a lightweight aircraft with a wingspan of nearly four meters and could be brought down by a migrating family of geese. Hardly the threatening device which Americans must fear.
Fearing that the Powell testimony would not be enough to sway the public, the U.S. intelligence community once again began touting the line that Iraq and al-Qaeda were in cahoots together. Powell was careful, however, not to imply that Iraq was behind, or connected in any way, to the tragic 9-11 attacks in the U.S. However, to the viewing and listening public, he did not need to. The words al-Qaeda and Iraq, thrown together into one sentence, are enough to play on the emotions of the U.S. public and automatically incriminate Iraq.
Powell did not answer reporters' questions why the BBC had a day earlier published an article in which U.K. intelligences sources had leaked that they had not found any evidence whatsoever that Iraq had at any time aided, abetted or even ideologically supported the criminal fanatics of al-Qaeda.
"The classified document, written three weeks ago, says there has been contact between the two in the past, but that the relationship had foundered due to mistrust and incompatible ideologies. That conclusion contradicts one of the charges laid against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein by the United States and Britain -- that he has cultivated contacts with the group blamed for the 11 September attacks." (BBC)
Nevertheless, Powell pressed ahead and charged that Iraqi al-Qaeda members had assassinated a U.S. AID official in Jordan two months ago. Powell's evidence is short on substance and complete with vitriol and flair. In a bid to scare the U.S. public, Powell demonstrated to the U.N. Security Council how a vial he held in his hand was enough to kill 750,000 people if it had contained anthrax. This was the Bush administration's bid to play on the anthrax scare in fall 2001, which resulted in five unfortunate fatalities.
Powell neglected to say that U.S. intelligence sources, as well as the media, believe the source of the anthrax to be homegrown and that in the past year, serious scrutiny has fallen on a certain Dr. Steven Hatfill, who has disappeared from the media in recent weeks. Another question beggars itself; is Powell trying to scare the U.S. public into supporting a war on Iraq?
The answer came within minutes of the end of the Security Council session.
"The threat of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is at a higher level than in previous months because of the possibility of impending military action against Iraq, U.S. counterterrorism officials told CNN on Wednesday. 'The threat level is definitely up. Our guys have been told to act as if we have already bombed Iraq,' one senior counterterrorism official told CNN." (CNN)
Other counterterrorism officials also revealed to CNN that they were closely monitoring 1,000 Iraqis in the U.S. who are thought to be Saddam's agents.
It is clear from the above, that the Bush administration knows that its "irrefutable evidence" will not sway the informed. Consequently, the al-Qaeda connection and the implication that Iraqis may carry out attacks in the U.S. are raised.
Fear-mongering for a public that till now has been reluctant to fully back U.S. war plans.
Firas Al-Atraqchi, B.Sc (Physics), M.A. (Journalism and Communications), is a Canadian journalist with eleven years of experience covering Middle East issues, oil and gas markets, and the telecom industry. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org