The Iraq Survey Group (ISG), after 17 months of hunting through Iraq and interviewing hundreds of members of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein's regime, delivered a verdict unhelpful to the US and UK administrations: that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) when they went to war, and that Saddam's regime posed no imminent threat. \nUS President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will have to take comfort in the ISG's conclusion that Saddam Hussein intended to resurrect his WMD program as soon as the UN sanctions, imposed in 1991, were lifted. \nThey will also find a scrap of solace in the report's disclosures of the extent to which, as the Foreign Office long claimed, France and Russia received millions in oil revenues in expectation that they would use their influence in the UN security council on behalf of Iraq. \nThe 1,200-page report also lists individuals, such as Russia's Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the Liberal Democratic party leader, and the former French defense minister, Pierre Joxe, as beneficiaries of Iraqi money, the latter claim based on an Iraqi intelligence report. \nThe report concludes: "ISG has not found evidence that Saddam possessed WMD stocks in 2003." The few weapons that existed were "not of a military significant capability." \nThe conclusion again undermines Blair and Bush's repeated claims before the war that, based on US and British intelligence reports, including the two infamous British dossiers, there was conclusive evidence that Saddam had stockpiles of WMD and posed a clear and imminent threat. \nThe mystery has been why Saddam refused to comply fully with the UN, given that he no longer possessed WMD. The ISG focuses on Saddam's psychology, suggesting that he was driven by two opposing requirements: one to have sanctions lifted by persuading the UN he no longer had WMD -- and the other to persuade his own military, his internal enemies and neighboring countries, primarily Iran, that he had WMD. \nIn a stunning insight into Saddam's preparations for war provided by former deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, the report describes how Saddam called his senior military officers together in December 2002, only three months before the invasion, and informed them that he had no WMD. \nThe officers until that point had believed Saddam had had some hidden, and the revelation resulted in a sudden drop in morale as they realized they would have to confront the US without WMD. The report also records an officer saying that if the Iraq military had had WMD, Saddam would have used them to protect his regime. \nUndercut Rationale \nThe rationale on which the "coalition of the willing" went to war is undercut by the report, the most comprehensive study to date of the utter lack of a WMD threat. Bush and Blair's only defense is to claim that even if Saddam did not pose a threat at the time, he could have done so a few years later -- hardly the imminent threat they had claimed. \nAbout 500 ministers, officials, officers and scientists were questioned. The consensus was that once the sanctions were lifted -- and by 2000 they were beginning to crumble as the public perception in the US and Europe was that the Iraqi people were suffering unfairly from their imposition -- Saddam could embark on a chemical weapons program and a ballistic missiles program. \n"The Iraq Survey Group has uncovered no evidence Iraq retained Scud-variant missiles, and debriefings of Iraqi officials in addition to some documentation suggests that Iraq did not retain such missiles after 1991." \nIraq was allowed to retain missiles with a range up to 150km. When the UN weapons inspectors returned to Iraq in January last year, after an absence of two years, they found missiles with a range of 165km. This was seized on by the US and British governments as evidence of non-compliance, but the extra 15km were insignificant in terms of targets that Iraq could threaten. \nThe report suggests that Saddam's ambition went further than 165km, and that he had designs for ballistic missiles with ranges of between 400km and 1,000km and a 1,000km cruise missile. \nOne of the British dossiers on WMD had claimed that Saddam had missiles capable of reaching Cyprus, which has a British military base, allowing Blair to claim there was a direct threat to Britain. In reality, Saddam Hussein had no such weapons. \nRegarding chemical, biological and nuclear warfare, "Saddam never abandoned his intentions to resume a chemical warfare effort when sanctions were lifted and conditions were judged favorable." \nIn spite of Bush and Blair's claims to the contrary and the issuing of US and British military with chemical warfare suits going into battle, the report concludes that Iraq, in compliance with the UN, got rid of its chemical warfare capability after the 1991 Gulf War. \nBush and Blair will again have to justify the war in terms of Saddam's wishes rather than the reality. The report concludes that Iraq maintained scientists with the knowledge to produce chemical weapons and new chemical plants from the 1990s onward that were capable of producing such weapons. Such weapons could be manufactured within a matter of weeks or months. \nMain Threat \nThe ISG sees chemical weapons as the main threat. Almost no trace is found of a biological weapons program, although the ISG argues that it is easier to hide, as only small amounts are needed and that such a program could be founded within a matter of weeks. \nOn nuclear weapons, the ISG said again that there was no evidence of any such program in Iraq. At most, Saddam may have wanted a nuclear capability and could have sought to develop one after sanctions were lifted. The ISG dismisses the idea that aluminum tubes, claimed by the US as part of a nuclear program, were intended for use as weapons. It takes a neutral position on the idea, still pursued by British intelligence but rubbished in the US, that Iraq sought uranium from Niger. \nThe ISG report is intended as the final word from the US and British governments on WMD. But there are a few questions left over for further investigation, mainly a claim that Saddam smuggled some WMD to Syria on the eve of the war. The ISG says that the question remains open, though it is difficult to square this with the report's assertion that Saddam would have used WMD to protect his regime. If that claim is true, it is hardly likely he would have moved them over the border. \nRegarding procurement, the reports concludes: "Saddam's regime, in order to induce France to aid in getting sanctions lifted, targeted friendly companies and foreign political parties that possessed either extensive business ties to Iraq or held pro-Iraq positions. In addition, Iraq sought out individuals whom they believed were in a position to influence foreign policy." \nThis is the freshest and politically most combustible part of the report. France will have to challenge the assertions. Similar claims are made about Russia. \nThe central allegation is that Saddam stole Iraq's oil revenues under a program set up by the UN to alleviate the impact of sanctions. Iraq's oil was intended to buy food for its population. \nInstead, Saddam used it to try to secure influence to block moves hostile to Iraq by the US and Britain on the UN Security Council and to promote resolutions favorable to Iraq. \nBoth France and Russia, as permanent members of the council, were in an ideal position to influence deliberations. \nSince the late 1990s and into the new century, the US and the British Foreign Office have claimed that French and Russian opposition to sanctions in Iraq and the subsequent move to war was based not purely on humanitarian motives but, at least in part, on financial considerations. The ISG report provides support for that. \nThe individuals in France, Russia and elsewhere named as recipients will have to respond to the charges, as will the two governments. The allegation can be used by the US for further criticism of the French government and its pre-war position, even if Paris has repeatedly denied the suggestions by the \nUS and British governments that \nits Iraq policy was financially motivated.
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