Iraqis discussed how to deceive weapons inspectors

Iraqi officials talked about when and how to deceive international authorities about their weapons programs in the mid-1990s, referring at one point to materials imported from the United States for an apparent chemical program.

A transcript of the conversation is one of several dozen documents made public Friday by the U.S. government as part of a program allowing researchers, the media and Iraqis comb through millions of pages of documents and audio recordings confiscated since the 2003 invasion.

In the U.S. government’s translation of captured Iraqi audio recordings, an official identified as “Comrade Husayn” talks to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other officials about when it would be best to lie to weapons inspectors and U.N. Security Council members and when to be open.

He shows particular concern that outsiders will learn about the importation of material, including some from the U.S., apparently for chemical weapons.

“They have a bigger problem with the chemical program than the biological program,” he says. “We have not told them that we used it on Iran, nor have we told them abut the size or kind of chemical weapons that we produced, and we have not told them the truth about the imported material.”

He went on to say, “We imported a quantity from America and we imported a quantity from Europe. However, we did not come forth with the quantities.”

On the overall question of weapons of mass destruction, he said: “I must say that it is in our best interest not to uncover it, not only in fear of exposing the technology that we have or that we possess or to hide it for future agendas.”

The precise date of the conversation was not clear, but clues suggest it came at the end of Rolf Ekeus’ leadership of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, which he headed from 1991 to 1997.

The documents show debates among Iraq’s senior leadership about U.N. sanctions, inspections and resolutions _ and how to handle the country’s economic and military security. They come in an era when U.S. officials now believe that Saddam’s ability to develop weapons of mass destruction was diminishing, under pressure from international sanctions.

Although the Bush administration used the weapons programs as the main justification for the 2003 invasion, U.S. arms inspectors ultimately found no concrete evidence that Iraq produced weapons of mass destruction after 1991.

Yet the Iraqis apparently were far from forthcoming about their actions. Another conversation with Saddam from the mid-1990s indicates that officials knew they had problems with the weapons inspectors.

“On the nuclear file, sir, we are saying we disclosed everything? No, we have uncleared problems in the nuclear field, and I believe that they (the inspectors) know some of them,” said a man identified as al-Sahhaf, possibly a reference to the former Iraqi diplomat and Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf. “Some teams work, and no one knows some of them.”

He then apologized for speaking so clearly. “Everything is over. But, did they know? No, sir, they did not know, not all the methods, not all the means, not all the scientists and not all the places.”

He tells Saddam that missing materials and equipment _ for biological and nuclear weapons _ would be a problem in dealing with the U.N. as it crafted resolutions against Iraq. “Really, sir, we must be frank so that the resolution will be straightforward,” al-Sahaf said.

The transcripts also show extensive debates among Saddam’s inner circle about how to deal with other governments.

“Comrade Husayn” expressed frustration at Iraq’s increasing isolation, venting particularly at the French, who were managing to upset the Americans as well.

He said the French had an “attitude.”

“To be truthful before your Excellency, I do not trust the French in their current position. Maybe this will change after the election,” said Husayn. “I think that they are more distant than the Chinese are, even though the Chinese are very far also. They (French) appear in the Security Council with a yes one time and a no another time.

“Therefore, sir, my personal belief is that they are layered (two-faced) and possibly in coordination with America and in coordination with the world.”

Years later, the U.S. and the French would be at odds over the invasion of Iraq.

There are personal nuggets in the documents, too. “Bring us tea and milk,” Saddam would interrupt meetings to order. Attendants would hustle to pour.

Saddam also spoke to his aides about a need to give Iraqis hope in the face of sanctions that were starting to make them suffer.

“We can’t just tell the people to be patient,” he said. “They need to see and hear results that they consider logical.”


Associated Press Writer Cal Woodward contributed to this report.


On the Net: See the documents: