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June 2003 (Volume 55, Number 2)

Notes from the Editors

The chief, indeed the only, justification that Washington offered for its invasion of Iraq during its build-up for war between September 2002 and March 2003, was the need to “disarm” an Iraqi regime that Washington contended had broken UN resolutions banning weapons of mass destruction in that country. The problem, though, was that there was no hard evidence that Iraq, which had effectively destroyed its weapons of mass destruction in the 1990s under UN supervision, had any such weapons—or if it did that they were functional and constituted a significant threat. Nevertheless, the Bush administration continued to insist (based on speculation, hearsay, and what turned out to be fabricated evidence) that Iraq had such banned weapons in significant quantities and was actually deploying them. In an extraordinary propaganda campaign in which the whole mainstream media took part, the U.S. population was led to believe that they were in imminent danger of attack from these phantom weapons and had no choice but to support a pre-emptive invasion of that country.

In his State of the Union speech on January 28, 2003, President Bush claimed that U.S. intelligence had reported that Iraq had 25,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons of sarin, mustard gas, and VX nerve agent, several mobile biological weapons labs and “an advanced nuclear weapons development program.” In his presentation to the United Nations in February 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said: “Our conservative estimate is that Iraq today has a stockpile of between 100 and 500 tons of chemical weapons agent. That is enough to fill 16,000 battlefield rockets.” And he went on to declare: “We know from sources that a missile brigade outside of Baghdad was dispersing rocket launchers and warheads containing biological-warfare agent.” Powell at that time also made his famous statements on mobile-biological weapons facilities: “We have first-hand description of biological weapons on wheels and on rails,” including eighteen trucks constantly moving on Iraqi highways. Finally he insisted, “Saddam Hussein is very much focused on putting in place the key missing piece from his nuclear-weapons program, the ability to produce fissile material.”

So far none of these weapons or advanced weapons programs has materialized—either during the war or in the subsequent military occupation. This is not at all surprising since, as the UN inspectors pointed out shortly after these charges were made, they were based on false or unreliable evidence.For example, documents purportedly showing that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium feed material from Niger, offered as evidence by the Bush administration, turned out to be easily detectable forgeries. The entirely predictable failure to locate weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is now raising major questions. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, has himself indicated deep skepticism regarding U.S. claims. Given the fact that Washington had planned the U.S. invasion a long time in advance-Blix suggested in an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais on April 9—there was reason to doubt its seriousness about weapons inspections. It is possible, Blix said, that the Bush administration might have honestly believed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. But its presentation of obviously fabricated evidence threw even this into question (

As murky and full of secrecy as this whole area is, one or two things are abundantly clear at this point. As the New York Times put it on April 18, “If Saddam Hussein authorized his field commanders to use chemical weapons, as Secretary of State Colin Powell suggested to the United Nations in February, presumably some of the weapons should have been overrun by Army and Marine forces as they closed in on Baghdad.” The fact is that the Iraqi regime did not employ weapons of mass destruction in defending itself against a full-scale U.S. invasion. This is treated by the U.S. government and much of the press as a mystery. However, the most likely reason that it failed to use such weapons is that it had no such weapons to employ. As Russian President Vladimir Putin put it on April 11: “Even in the most acute moment of the fight for its survival, the Iraqi regime did not use such [weapons]. If in the last moment of its existence it did not use them, it means they do not exist.” (Toronto Globe and Mail, April 12, 2003).

Indeed, officials inside the administration have now acknowledged that the White House claims prior to the war with regard to Iraqi weapons of mass destruction were exaggerated. As one Bush administration official told ABC News on April 25, “We were not lying. But it was just a matter of emphasis.”

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