After the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein conducted a systematic concealment operation to disrupt the mission of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), whose mandate was to eliminate Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD). This article surveys and analyzes the different techniques used to fool and foil inspectors so as to conceal continued development or possession of these weapons.
After Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 war over Kuwait, the Iraqi government was forced to accept agreements, defined and authorized by UN resolutions, mandating its full cooperation in giving up all weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In response, Iraq developed a concealment apparatus: a network of intelligence agencies, military units and government ministries assigned to procure, hide, and defend Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. By 1998, while many weapons had been uncovered and destroyed—often in the face of Iraqi non-compliance—the lack of cooperation forced the withdrawal of inspectors.
In late 2002, however, a new UN resolution giving Iraq one more chance to implement its pledges led to a new round of inspections by the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). Concurrently, the concealment apparatus continues to function, albeit with some modifications. These same agencies also have a role in directing and controlling Iraq’s weapons systems, as well as procurement. This network involves thousands of officials from Iraq’s General Intelligence, Special Security Organization, Military Industry Commission and the Special Republican Guards.
Iraq’s denial and deception process was characterized in a U.S. Department of Defence briefing as “The deliberate, methodical, extensive and well-organized national-level strategic effort which aims at deceiving not just the United States, not just the United Nations or even the public media, but, in fact, the entire world.”(1)
According to the briefing, Iraq’s strategy has three key objectives. The first objective is for Iraq to demonstrate ostensible “compliance” with UN resolutions. This ostensible compliance is an attempt to undermine the credibility of the need for an inspections regime and then, further, to erode support for continued sanctions. The second objective is to ensure that UN inspectors will not uncover the full scope of Iraq’s WMD and missile programs. The third objective is to obstruct UN inspectors from completely disarming Iraq of its chemical, biological, nuclear, and missile capabilities.(2)
The goals of the concealment apparatus, according to UNSCOM, have been to “retain production capability and the ‘know-how’ documentation necessary to revive programs when possible.”(3) The apparatus has been in charge of concealing the full extent of the nuclear and chemical weapons programs (including the VX project), and retaining the required production equipment and raw materials. In this regard, it has been responsible for the concealment of warheads capable of delivering chemical and biological munitions; indigenous long-range missile production, and retaining guidance systems and missile engines production capability. Finally, this network has been tasked with concealing the very existence of Iraq’s offensive biological weapons program, while retaining all of its necessary production capabilities.(4)
Each intelligence agency has its own special role in this process. The elite Special Security Organization, Amn al-Khas, headed by Saddam’s son Qusay, serves as one of the major command-and-control oversight bodies of this concealment network. General Intelligence, al-Mukhabarat has at least two sub-directorates involved in the concealment effort: a covert operations unit and a covert procurement unit. Military Intelligence (al-Istikhabarat) has a role in the strategic concealment of Iraq’s WMDs, while General Security’s (al-Amn al-‘Amm) military unit, the Emergency Forces (al-Quwwat al-Tawari’), provides security for the facilities that house these programs.
The Special Republican Guard (SRG#al-Haris al-Jamhuri al-Khas) is involved in the transportation, concealment and guarding of military facilities and materials. The al-Hadi agency, which is responsible for monitoring signals intelligence, is believed to eavesdrop on UN inspectors’ communications. One of the most important agencies of all in the concealment operation is the Military Industrial Commission (MIC), which is part of the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI). Both MIMI and MIC oversee Iraq’s military industries and seek to conceal sensitive activities from UN inspectors.(5)
These agencies form a vast, complex and wide-ranging labyrinth, all of which play a role in the procurement and concealment of Iraq’s WMD program. The duties and functions of these agencies overlap, complying with Saddam’s security doctrine of not allowing any one agency to have a monopoly over any one area of securing and concealing Iraq’s WMD program. While the agencies play a key role in this concealment process, its coordination is clearly a family affair. All the individuals involved were brought into the project only after very careful investigations about their personal connections and loyalty to Saddam.(6) The heads of these agencies are generally from Saddam’s immediate family, his al-Bu Nasir clan or from his hometown of Tikrit.
In May 1991, Saddam Hussein formed a Concealment Operations Committee (COC) to be supervised by Qusay.(7) UNSCOM inspectors became aware of the existence of this covert network as a result of inspections and interviews conducted between 1991 and 1996. They believed that this apparatus, created in 1991, was designed to hide documents, computer records, and equipment related to its WMD program. When the COC was created, the Iraqis believed that the inspection process would last only a few months. They based their assessment on the model of previous IAEA inspections, which had examined Iraqi nuclear facilities without detecting the Iraqi nuclear weapons program.(8)
UNSCOM investigations into the activities and tactics of the concealment apparatus began in March 1996 and were continuously impeded by the Iraqis. As a result, UNMOVIC’s, and its predecessor UNSCOM’s, mandate evolved from inspection agencies to detective agencies in order to investigate, impede and unravel the activities of this Iraqi concealment network. Chairman of UNMOVIC Hans Blix declared on January 28, 2003, “As we know,” the idea that Iraq would declare its weapons and then the inspectors would verify these statements “too often turned into a game of ‘hide and seek.’”(9)
The “hide and seek” game mentioned in Blix’s statement has characterized the interaction between the Iraqi concealment apparatus and UN inspectors. Blix adds, “Rather than just verifying declarations and supporting evidence, the two inspecting organizations found themselves engaged in efforts to map the weapons programs and to search for evidence through inspections, interviews, seminars, inquiries with suppliers and intelligence organizations.”(10) Blix indicated that the deception practiced by the Iraqi concealment apparatus continues unabated.