Much has been made this week about the history and significance of Iraq's Al Qaqaa weapons facility, and for good reason. The site was home to many of Hussein's WMD stockpiles, research and manufacturing programs. At last some focus has been directed at this reasoned evidence of ongoing WMD programs. After two years of the mainstream media ignoring a fact that was apparent to everyone (The UN, former Administrations, Journalists, and even John Kerry) prior to 2003, it is ironic that the scent of scandal has drawn so many negligent entities to the real scandal that Iraq represented on the world stage. Is it any wonder that the UN, on the verge of exposure, is attempting to obfuscate the facts while Russian diplomats are in full denial. At the Washington Times, Bill Gertz is reporting that the Russians sent military teams to Iraq, including Al Qaqaa, to remove munitions and equipment and destroy records. (Russia tied to Iraq's missing arms)
Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.Subsequent updates indicate: (Photos point to removal of weapons)
While the story may contain much complexity and present too many complications to be fully plausible, it does beg the question... why would the Russians go though so much trouble to help 'sterilize' a known Iraqi weapons depot sure to be overrun by an invading Coalition Army? Granted, Claudia Rosette's intense investigations into the UN's Oil for Food Scandal would suggest that Russia - as well as other member nations - was snuggled deep in Hussein's bed. Trading obstruction and influence as a Member nation, for Hussein's coveted Oil voucers, Russia might certainly have found itself in an awkward position on the eve of War of having to help hide the evidence that would provide the American President's justification, and demonstrate a provocative degree of collusion.
Pentagon official John A. Shaw... told The Washington Times on Wednesday that recent intelligence reports indicate Russian special forces units took part in a sophisticated dispersal operation from January 2003 to March 2003 to move key weapons out of Iraq...Officials said numerous intelligence reports in the past two years indicate Saddam used trucks and aircraft to withdraw weapons from Iraq before March 2003. However, the new information indicates that Russian troops were directly involved in assisting the Iraqi military and intelligence services to secure and move the arms.
Skepticism and indignation abound on the blogs. At Captain's Quarter's, Captain Ed considers this possibility unlikely.
I doubt that the cash-strapped Russian military, with its own Islamist problems in Chechnya and elsewhere, would have acted as a hire-out moving service for Saddam Hussein in March 2003, with the US poised to invade. No one really knew how US forces would come into Iraq and running the risk of having a Russian unit captured by the Americans after Russia's opposition to enforcing UNSC Resolution 1441 seems far too big a gamble.Ed keeps the focus on a Presidential candidate and an American newspaper conspiring with the UN and foreign nations to undermine a Presidential election by fabricating a story about missing munitions. Whiskey continues, however, to analyze the Time's story, noting a deliberate intent to the Russian involvement in the evacuation...
Documents reviewed by the official included itineraries of military units involved in the truck shipments to Syria. The materials outlined in the documents included missile components, MiG jet parts, tank parts and chemicals used to make chemical weapons, the official said.The last bit of that statement is one that I find to be most notable: chemicals used to make chemical weapons. Hussein was known to have posessed chemical weapons. He used them, in fact, to massacre Kurds after the first Gulf War. There is no reason to believe that his penchant for WMD had simply vanished along with the tons of materials that he did posess. Shells discovered by Coalition forces earlier this year add additional confirmation.
Additionally, it was suspected that Saddam had an active biological weapons program. It's a suspicion once confirmed by former Soviet Weapons chief scientist, Ken Alibek (Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov) now a distinguished professor of medical microbiology and immunology at George Mason University. A 2002 BBC Story, Silent Weapons, discussed the proliferation of biological weapons in the post Cold War era.
Ken Alibek believes that, following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, unemployed or badly-paid scientists are likely to have sold samples of smallpox clandestinely and gone to workin rogue states engaged in illicit biological weapons development. DA Henderson agrees that this is a plausible scenario and is upset by the legacy it leaves. 'If the [Russian bio-weapons] programme had not taken place we would not I think be worrying about smallpox in the same way. One can feel extremely bitter and extremely angry about this because I think they've subjected the entire world to a risk which was totally unnecessary.'
There is no hard evidence, but in Alibek's opinion, 'there are many non-official stocks of smallpox virus'. Western intelligence agencies also believe, based on circumstantial and anecdotal evidence, that three countries - North Korea, Iraq and Russia - currently have the capacity to deploy smallpox as a weapon of mass destruction.
With this added consideration, we might recall the original accounts from Al Qaqaa in the earliest days of the Operation Iraqi Freedom. The 3rd ID reported finding white powder believed to be chemical or biological agents, along with a large number of biohazard suits . At that time, great care was taken to determine if the site, a known chemical weapons facility, contained evidence of WMD. A CBS report from that time (Hat Tip to Captain's Quarters) noted,
U.S. troops found thousands of boxes of white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents on how to engage in chemical warfare at an industrial site south of Baghdad. But a senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the materials were believed to be explosives...
The facility had been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons site. U.N. inspectors visited the plant at least nine times, including as recently as Feb. 18. (U.S. Searches 'Suspicious' Iraqi Site - April 2003)
The reason for the presence of the biohazard equipment remained allusive, if not suspicious. In a 2003 symposium, Mr. Alibek made the following observation (War in Iraq: Weapons of Mass Destruction)
Hussein and his regime knew for sure that the U.S. would never use WMD against them. In this case -- why do they want these stockpiles of protective gear. If there was no threat, then why? It raises a completely different question. When you yourself use chemical weapons you need to protect your own forces.
Clearly there is strong evidence suggesting that the Al Qaqaa facility was a WMD site. Both the US and the UN believed that prior to the War. The IAEA catalogued an indeterminate amount of WMD component explosives along with Nuclear weapons components. Why these materials were left in the hands of Saddam, bay UN inspectors, remians the real 'scandal' of this story. Indeed, in light of US knowledge regarding the nature of the facility, accusations that the site was not adequately searched nor protected are absurd. Regardless, the question remains, where did the munitions from that site go after the last inspection and prior to invasion? And why would the Russians be involved? Mr. Alibek provides additional enlightenment from the same symposium.
In 1995, an Iraqi delegation came to Moscow to buy some equipment for building a facility for "single cell protein production." they claimed that 5,000 liter reactors would be used to produce yeast. It was so silly. If you use this for protein production, your yeast would have have a price of a big piece of gold. The only real explanation would be that they had a completely different reason for this. But when I read the name of the person who headed the Russian delegation, Prof. Matveev, he's professor was a major designer of Russian bioweapons facilities. So there's a big question -- why this person was responsible for talking about equipment for protein production.
When Colin Powell showed us a picture of Iraq's mobile bioweapons facilities. There were three trucks. One truck was manufacture truck. One was for cultivation of pathogens and concentration. The third was for drying and packaging. It's logical, but what shocked me, is that this is an identical copy of the Soviet concept for bioweapons production. This design was done by the Institute in Moscow, firstassembles of this equipment were made in St. Petersburg and another city. When I saw these, I remembered the Iraqi/Russian 1995 negotiations.
If, as Alibek suggests, the Russians supplied Hussein with biological weapons systems, equipment and agent (anthrax or small-pox), the diplomatic backlash from its discovery would have been devastating to the beleagured nation. It would have certainly, therefore, been in Russia's best interest to remove those materials - and consequently, anything else Hussein wanted removed - to Syria, before the Coalition forces arrived. There was evidence of Russian forces moving through Iraq occupied areas near the Syrian border in early April of 2003. In one such account, A Russian journalist travelling with a convoy reported that it was caught in a crossfire between coalition and Iraqi forces. The convoy was hit as it travelled from Baghdad in the direction of the Syrian border. (Russian Convoy Attacked... ) Dare we trust that this convoy was indeed a diplomatic evacuation as was reported, in light of what we are learning about the events at Al Qaqaa?
There is indeed a mystery that needs to be unravelled concerning the activities and munitions stored at the weapon's facility. It is equally apparent, however, that the only parties that can be trusted to shed light on those events, is the U.S. Military and the Administration, in light of the malicious rhetoric emanating from the UN and a reckless Presidential candidate with a history of jumping from dubious conclusions to forthright condemnation absent any facts whatsoever.
Silent Weapon: Smallpox and Biological Warfare
Annals of War: The Bioweaponeers
New York Times - Russia's Deadly Expertise
Dueler88 weighs in - 10.29.04 10:45 Lima:
Russia is a sticky wicket. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the attempted Coup d’Etat in Moscow (where a good friend of mine was killed), everybody in the west either believed, or wanted to believe, that the Russians were finally our good friends. Therefore, it was instantaneously and collectively thought that we finally shared the same belief system in Individual Liberty as our own. After growing up in the Cold War, I wanted to believe that as much as anybody else did. And I believe I did, to a certain extent. But given the circumstances of al Qaqaa and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I have to conclude that the Bear still has the same powerful body, sharp teeth and deadly claws. The question is whether or not this Bear has been domesticated.
Could a country whose history is so full of overt and covert attempts to further its Communist agenda around the globe really go from a Grizzly to a Panda overnight? What is certain is that Russia will always act in its own self-interest, whether it be making nicey-nicey with the Americans (don’t get me wrong here – I think that Bush and Putin get along splendidly) or supplying chemical and biological weapons to a dictator that will give them cheap oil and an intelligence foothold in the Middle East.
Regardless of whether or not the Bear is friendly or hostile, it would be difficult for it to simply roll up its ability to act in its own self-interest. It would be foolish for us to not believe that all of its intelligence networks and operations remain, in one form or another, to this day.
The whole Russia/Iraq thing noted here sounds like a Tom Clancy novel. Tom Clancy novels are full of covert brinksmanship of varying types – little activities done in the dark that have profound global consequences. Maybe I’ve read too many of them (ha – I’ve read all of his fiction novels), and my application of fictitious espionage activities to real-world situations goes a little too far. But I have long held a belief that, given sufficient motive, opportunity and lack of innate morality/ethics, people will do potentially catastrophic things. This counts as much in espionage or terrorism as it does in biotechnology.
Nothing surprises me anymore, and if all of this is true, we can say that the Bear is still as powerful and insidious as it has ever been.
Update: 10.29.04 12:31pm:
Powerline continues to track the Al Qaqaa story through the impact of today's Pentagon Press briefing after which it seems that story is clearly a liability for the Kerry campaign and the Old Busted Media. Questions about WMD, however, persist with evidence building.
Is this enough, from President Bush's standpoint? It certainly should be. The obvious conclusion is that the New York Times and John Kerry shot from the hip, accusing the Army of incompetence when they didn't know the facts. They relied on a patently self-serving and anti-Bush letter from Mohammed El Baradei, a less-than-honest U.N. bureaucrat.
The story that has been illuminated by this attempted scandal is not, it seems, the one the Liberal Media wanted to tell in the 11th hour of a close election season... one of renewed terrorists threats, a belligerant UN, an irrational Democrat Presidential Candidate, and Weapons of Mass Destruction.