By Glenn M. Stewart

What happened to the WMDs?

In 2003 the Bush administration backed by “a coalition of the willing”, principally Great Britain led the United States into a prolonged and bloody war with Iraq. The main argument used by then President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair and their supporters was that the regime of Saddam Hussein posed a threat to both regional and world stability as a result of its development and possession of weapons of mass destruction and their willingness to use them.

The fact that Saddam’s regime at one time had some of these weapons, primarily nerve gas is incontrovertible as they were used against both the Kurds within Iraq and against the Iranians during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. In addition the United States and other western countries had sold components to the Iraqi regime that were used in the building of such weapons.

All of the main intelligence services of the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy were all convinced that Saddam’s regime possessed large numbers of these weapons. Yet when US troops scoured Iraq no trace of any such weapons could be found.

This has resulted in charges that the Bush and Blair administrations deliberately lied to their own people in order to foment this war. I do not believe that to be the case. I believe in fact that the intelligence that these governments had, was in fact accurate, to the extent that they had intelligence that they relied upon. But it was the way in which that intelligence was gathered coupled with a deep misunderstanding of the cultural and structural framework of the Iraqi regime that led to the embarrassing failure to find any weapons.

Our intelligence gathering capabilities in the electronic intercept sphere are unparalleled. We can read anybody’s mail, anywhere in the world. However, in Iraq we had no one on the ground. Humint as it is known in the trade. In fact Saddam had very efficiently rooted out and killed just about all of our assets in Iraq.

I believe that the reason that we never found any WMDs in Iraq is because most of them never existed!
This, in my opinion is how it happened:

The Iraqi generals running the weapons development programs stole most of the money that was allocated by the Iraqi government for the procurement and building of the weapons. In this scam they would also have suborned and paid off Iraqi government auditors and members of the mukhabarat (secret police) that would have had responsibility for reporting on the weapons programs. They would have built some so that physical inspections of the ones they did build could take place but most of the weapons never existed

The generals would have then sent glowing reports back up the chain of command describing what weapons they had built and possessed. The intercepts of these reports are what formed the basis for our intelligence services to conclude that the Iraqis possessed a formidable capability in these weapons. It is important to understand that when an American analyst sitting in Langley is reading electronic intercepts of official Iraqi government or military personnel that it will not be within his framework of cultural assumptions to suppose that ranking military officers would pilfer government funds in this manner. It wouldn’t happen in the US Army, but this kind of corruption is prevalent throughout the Middle East.
Close to the time the war started I believe that the French and the Russians convinced Saddam that if he got rid of his WMDs that they could get the UN sanctions on Iraq lifted. I believe the Iraqis then destroyed what they actually had and between these two events that is why we were unable to find any WMDs when our troops searched for them.

This is not the only instance of how a lack of understanding of how things work in the Middle East will cause policy and other failures on our part.
Glenn StewartGlenn M. Stewart is a renowned expert on Middle Eastern affairs and business. a graduate of Oxford University, Glenn M.Stewart holds an advanced degree in Islamic History and Arabic and lived in the Middle East for 27 years. A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Stewart has a unique insight into this critical and important area of the world.

If you would like to see my other writing, please visit www.glennmstewart.com