March 14, 2006

More on Saddam and WMD

Recently, I was asked to comment on an article in the Christian Science Monitor. Although dated, it did raise my blood pressure. The article is titled "CIA'S CONCLUSION - A final take on Iraqi WMD," by Pter Grier and Faye Bowers, published October 7, 2004.

I was surprised - the CSM is usually pretty good, but this piece is awful. With the exception of this one issue, I am not going to address the rest of the problems I have with it.

"Mr. Hussein personally believes that WMDs saved his skin twice - first, when he used chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, and second, when their threat helped halt US troops short of Baghdad in the Persian Gulf War."

"First of all, the weapons were obviously very important to him, according to an official with access to survey group documents. The Iraqi leader and his top generals believe that their long-range strikes with chemical warheads was what ended the Iran-Iraq war. They similarly appear to believe that in 1991 Hussein's order to disperse WMDs, and preauthorize their use if necessary, is what saved them from a final assault by the US on Baghdad."

I'll forego comment on the use of "Mr. Hussein" - I am not what Saddam's father has to do with this. The proper reference is Saddam, Saddam Husayn, or if they insist, Mr. Saddam or Mr. Saddam Husayn.

What saved Saddam's skin in the Iran-Iraq war was an intelligence relationship with the United States. Without the US-provided intelligence to know what targets to strike, the Iranians would have won. The chemical weapons played a part, but none of us believe they were the deciding factor.

There were NEVER any long-range ballistic missile (or other, air, etc.) strikes with chemical warheads in the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq had not developed the warheads until after the end of that conflict. If Saddam had had them, he would have used them. The ballistic missiles that Iraq had were the standard SCUD, most of which were modified into the Al-Husayn variant with a warhead reduced in weight by 90 percent, trading the weight and volume for extra fuel and longer range, allowing the Iraqis to range Tehran from Iraqi territory - with conventional HE warheads. Iraq chemical agents were dispersed primarily by artillery and rockets, and some aerial bombs, and always on the battlefield.

I don't think that Saddam believes it was his chemical weapons arsenal that stopped the U.S. from going to Baghdad. I can tell you from being in the planning cell that there was never an intention to go to Baghdad. Besides the reason that it was not authorized by the UN resolutions, we were stretching our logistics pretty thin to operate in southern Iraq. I believe Saddam's assessment was that the United States would not approach Baghdad because we were too casualty-averse - actually not a bad analysis.

As for the preauthorization to use chemical weapons in 1991 - not quite accurate and not the whole story. Saddam did order the dispersal of chemical munitions weapons in August 1990 after the initial deployment of American forces to Saudi Arabia. He also reiterated Iraqi chemical warfare doctrine that release authority rested with the corps commander (a lieutenant general), in this case with III Corps (Kuwait) commander, Lt Gen Salah 'Abbud Al-Daghastani.

In December (still 1990), when it became apparent that there was likely going to be an invasion of Kuwait (he was not sure about an invasion of Iraq), he rescinded release authority from the corps commanders (specifically III, IV and VII Corps) and reserved that for himself alone. He had received thinly-veiled warnings from the United States (Secretary of State Baker) and the United Kingdom via Tariq 'Aziz that use of chemicals on our forces would be met with an "overwhelming response."

Had we approached Baghdad, Saddam may have given the order to use chemical weapons, but he alone retained that authority.

Like the caveman told the GEICO spokesman in the commercial, "Maybe next time, do a little research."