The truth about WMD in Iraq

WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications

In a new report, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications, Carnegie authors Jessica Mathews, George Perkovich, and Joseph Cirincione outline policy reforms to improve threat assessments, deter transfer of WMD to terrorists, strengthen the UN weapons inspection process, and avoid politicisation of the intelligence process.

The policy recommendations flow from a detailed study that distills a massive amount of data into side-by-side comparisons of pre-war intelligence on Iraq; weapons of mass destruction, the official US presentation of that intelligence, and what is now known about Iraq's programs.

The authors conclude that Iraq was not an imminent threat, that UN inspections were working far better than realized, that our intelligence process failed, that officials misrepresented the threat, and, importantly, that war was not the best-or only-option. Key policy recommendations include:

  • Create a nonpartisan independent commission to establish a clear picture of what the intelligence community knew and believed it knew about Iraq's weapon's program;
  • Revise the National Security Strategy to eliminate a US policy of unilateral, preventive war;
  • Formalize collaboration between the United States and United Nations to create a permanent, international, nonproliferation inspection capability;
  • Consider changing the post of Director of Central Intelligence from a political appointment to a career appointment, based on the outcomes of the independent commission.

The new report is by the Carnegie team responsible for two earlier studies, Iraq: A New Approach (Aug. 2002) and Iraq: What Next? (Jan. 2003): Jessica T. Mathews, president, George Perkovich, vice president for studies, and Joseph Cirincione, senior associate and non-proliferation project director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.option."

WMD in Iraq

By Jessica Mathews, George Perkovich, Joseph Cirincione & Alexis Orton

The following is taken from the new Carnegie study, WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications. This report attempts to summarise and clarify the complex story of WMD and the Iraq war. It examines the unclassified record of prewar intelligence, administration statements of Iraq's capabilities to produce nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and long-range missiles, and the evidence found to date in Iraq.

Drawing useful lessons from experience, the report begins with an accurate record of what happened. It is not too soon to begin this inquiry into the Iraq experience, because public confusion is widespread and revisionism has already begun.

Some pundits now claim that the war was never about WMD but was undertaken to bring democracy to Iraq or the entire Middle East. Others say it was a response to 9/11 or was the necessary answer to a composite threat posed by Saddam Hussein's domestic evils, past aggressions, defiance of the United Nations, and desire for WMD. The administration has adjusted its public expectation of what Iraq will be found to have had from actual weapons and massive stockpiles of agent, to weapons programs, to "capabilities," and even to the "capability that Iraq sought" for weapons of mass destruction. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz has called WMD merely "the one reason everyone could agree on," chosen for "bureaucratic reasons."

Notwithstanding these varied views, the definitive voice of US policy - the president's -was unequivocal that the reason for going to war was the present threat to US security posed by Iraq's WMD. From Mr. Bush's first detailed case for the war on October 7, 2002, to the declaration of war on March 17, 2003, the purpose was always clear: "Saddam Hussein must disarm himself - or for the sake of peace, we will lead a coalition to disarm him." Other than warnings addressed to the Iraqi military and reassurances to the American people regarding homeland security, the declaration of war address was only about WMD until the closing paragraphs, which touched on human liberty and a better future for the Iraqi people.

The reasons for war made to the rest of the world through months of negotiations at the United Nations, before and after the dispatch to Iraq of a greatly strengthened WMD inspection team, were the same. The basis for international action is stated in UN Security Council Resolution 1441, paragraph 2, as "bringing to full and verified completion the disarmament process." US Secretary of State Powell's detailed case to the Security Council on February 5, 2003, mirrored the President's speeches: at issue was the threat from Saddam's WMD. All other matters were at most, a minor afterthought.

Because the WMD threat was the reason Americans and citizens of most other countries were given for invading Iraq, the large divergence between prewar descriptions of the threat and what has been discovered in the nine months since the war, is a matter of some consequence. The discrepancies raise questions whose answers should inform a full understanding of the war itself, the handling of pending proliferation crises in Iran and North Korea, and an urgently needed, broad rethinking of U.S. nonproliferation policy.

These questions include:

  • Did a WMD threat to US and/or global security exist in Iraq, and if so, precisely what was it?
  • Were there errors in intelligence regarding the existence and extent of Iraqi WMD? If so, when did they arise and were they based on faulty collection or analysis, undue politicization, or other factors? What steps could be taken to prevent a repetition?
  • Did administration officials misrepresent what was known and not known and not known based on intelligence? If so, what were the sources and reasons for these misrepresentations? Are there precautions that could be taken against similar circumstances in the future?
  • How effective was the more-than-ten-year-long UN inspection, monitoring, and sanctions effort in Iraq? What lessons can be drawn regarding the applicability of international pressure to prevent proliferation elsewhere?

Although the complete story can not yet be told, a massive amount of information is available from declassified US intelligence, reports from the UN Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM), the UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), administration statements, corroborated press reports, and postwar findings. This study sorts through this mass of material, disentangles many of its complexities, and lays out a much clearer, if still incomplete, picture of what was known, uncertain, and unknown at each stage.

From this we offer partial answers to these questions and point to issues that need fuller attention by bodies with access to the full classified record and to others that need further analysis and public debate. The aim is to clarify the record of the central reason for the Iraq war and to suggest changes in U.S. and international policies and practice that could help prevent the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction.

WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications: Summary of New Carnegie Report

Summary of recommendatrions

Changes to US policy

  • Revise the National Security Strategy to eliminate a US policy of unilateral preventive war, i.e., preemptive war in absence of imminent threat.
  • Create a nonpartisan, independent commission to establish a clearer picture of what the intelligence community knew and believed it knew about Iraq's weapons program.
  • Consider changing the post of Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) from a political appointment to a career appointment, based on the outcomes of the independent commission.
  • Make the security of poorly protected nuclear weapons and stockpiles of plutonium and highly enriched uranium a much higher priority for national security policy.

International action

  • The United States and United Nations should together produce a complete history and inventory of Iraq's WMD and missile programs.
  • The UN Secretary General should commission a high-level analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the WMD inspection processes in Iraq, and how inspections could be strengthened in the future.
  • The UN Security Council should consider creating a permanent, international, nonproliferation inspection capability.
  • Make the transfer of WMD a violation of international law.

Changes to threat assessments

  • Recognise distinctions in the degree of threat posed by the different forms of "weapons of mass destruction" - chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons pose vastly different risks and cost-benefit calculations of actions to combat them.
  • Recognize red flags indicating that sound intelligence practices are not being followed.
  • Examine and debate the assertion that the combined threat of evil states and terrorism calls for acting on the basis of worst-case reasoning.
  • Examine assumption that states will likely transfer WMD to terrorists.

Summary of key findings

Iraq WMD was not an immediate threat

  • Iraq's nuclear program had been suspended for many years; Iraq focused on preserving a latent, dual-use chemical and probably biological weapons capability, not weapons production.
  • Iraqi nerve agents had lost most of their lethality as early as 1991.
  • Operations Desert Storm and Desert Fox, and UN inspections and sanctions effectively destroyed Iraq's large-scale chemical weapon production capabilities.

Inspections were working

  • Post-war searches suggest the UN inspections were on track to find what was there.
  • International constraints, sanctions, procurement, investigations, and the export/import control mechanism appear to have been considerably more effective than was thought.

Intelligence failed and was misrepresented

  • Intelligence community overestimated the chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.
  • Intelligence community appears to have been unduly influenced by policymakers' views.
  • Officials misrepresented threat from Iraq's WMD and ballistic missiles programs over and above intelligence findings.

Terrorist connection missing

  • No solid evidence of cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda.
  • No evidence that Iraq would have transferred WMD to terrorists-and much evidence to counter it.
  • No evidence to suggest that deterrence was no longer operable.

Postwar WMD search ignored key resources

  • Past relationships with Iraqi scientists and officials, and credibility of UNMOVIC experts represent a vital resource that has been ignored when it should be being fully exploited.
  • Data from the seven years of UNSCOM/IAEA inspections are absolutely essential. Direct involvement of those who compiled the more-than-30-million- page record is needed. War Was Not the Best-Or Only-Option
  • There were at least two options preferable to a war undertaken without international support: allowing the UNMOVIC/IAEA inspections to continue until obstructed or completed, or imposing a tougher program of "coercive inspections."

Download the full report at Intelligence on Irag or contact Maura Keaney or mkeaney@ceip.org. To read more about intelligence on Iraq, visit the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.


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