Deadly Game: A Special Report on
by CNN, March 31, 1998
In the spring of 1991, after 44 days of war, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, the man who had invaded Kuwait, was all but destroyed. But in the six and a half years since then, Saddam Hussein has played a deadly game in Baghdad; trying to retain and enhance his remaining weapons of mass destruction, while U.N. arms inspectors try to find and destroy them.
In late 1997, Saddam Hussein raised the stakes even further, blocking U.N. investigators who were seemingly within reach of his ultimate secrets.
"After six years, Iraq has not yet come to the conclusion that they are going to give us the access and material that we need," Charles Duelfer, a member of the U.N. Special Commission to Iraq, said at the time. "That's why we have this crisis today."
When the Gulf War ended, Iraq agreed to the U.N. inspections. But U.N. officials state that since then, Saddam Hussein has offered their inspectors lies, misinformation and active obstruction. So far, the search for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction has cost a quarter of a billion dollars, and the job is still not complete.
Dead in Their Tracks
Iraqi obstruction started
early. In the summer of 1991, after only two months of inspections, U.N. personnel were stopped dead in their tracks in a face-off lasting four days. Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekeus -- who led the U.N. investigations from the cease-fire through the summer of 1997 -- headed to Baghdad for talks.
"These talks were quite tough," said Ekeus. "And I remember my report for the (U.N.) Security Council saying Iraq has undertaken what has been requested, and promised to cooperate."
But according to U.N. documents, Iraq did not cooperate. Instead, a ritual developed. Every few months, Ekeus' reports to the United Nations spoke of "gaps and inconsistencies," a "policy of concealment," "unaccounted for warheads," "wrong information" and "disturbing incidents."
And over the years, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz would regularly assert Iraqi compliance.
"We have been working day and night strenuously for six and a half years," Aziz insisted late last year. "Give us a chance before stampeding another unjust resolution against Iraq."
By 1994, after three years' work, U.N. inspectors had a solid grip on Iraq's remaining nuclear and missile capacity. But they still knew little about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons -- and almost nothing about his ability to wage biological warfare.
While chemical weapons kill through exposure to poisons, usually toxic gas, biological weapons spread death through infectious disease. These deadly organisms are inexpensive to make with simple equipment and easy to conceal.
And they have the potential to be as devastating as a nuclear weapon when properly dispersed. U.N. biologists had all that in mind when they visited the Al-Hakam protein plant southwest of Baghdad in June 1994.
Dr. Raymond Zilinskas was one member of the inspection team. "The whole inspection team was pretty spooked," said Zilinskas, a former U.N. weapons inspector. "We were kind of in awe of this, how big it was. And all the time we were thinking -- what is this thing here for? It doesn't make sense."
Something else didn't make sense. At Al-Hakam, inspectors found drum after drum of a powder called growth media -- a kind of plant food for the organisms being grown in giant fermenters. Growth medium is needed to make protein -- but it is also essential in the manufacture of biological weapons. And in this massive complex, inspectors said, they found too much of it to just make protein.
"In Iraq they needed maybe one ton of media per year," said Zilinskas. "So here is a question: Why did they import 34 tons of it?"
The inspectors concluded -- before blowing up Al-Hakam -- that the plant had stockpiled so much growth media because it had mass-produced anthrax -- one of nature's deadliest organisms. Untreated, a person will die from anthrax in 48 hours.
After the 1994 discovery of growth media, Ekeus demanded an explanation. "I said, 'How could you produce a large amount of such an extremely dangerous agent without having any idea what to do with it?' The response was: 'We don't do it as you do in Europe. There you have a plan. You say you'll produce it for something, and then you produce it. But here in the Arabic world we produce first, and when we're producing we start thinking what to do with it' -- and that was the explanation."
Between May 1992 and September of 1997, Iraq gave the United Nations seven reports which it declared were "full, final and complete disclosures" of its biological warfare program. All were rejected -- the most recent as "not remotely credible."
It wasn't until 1995, when Saddam Hussein's son-in-law defected from Iraq to Jordan, that U.N. investigators first began to grasp just how much Iraq was still concealing -- and not just about biological warfare.
Hussein Kamel told officials that Iraq had obtained enriched uranium from France and Russia.
Days after Hussein Kamel's defection came even bigger revelations, when box loads of secret Iraqi documents mysteriously turned up on a Baghdad chicken farm.
It was a treasure trove of weapons secrets, touching almost every aspect of Saddam Hussein's illegal war machine.
To Ekeus -- demonized by Iraq for years as a brutal skeptic -- the documents brought vindication.
"Iraq stated that they had declared everything," Ekeus recalls. "Iraq stated that no documents existed in Iraq because they had been destroyed. That was exploded totally, because Iraq itself admitted in writing even that it had been lying, cheating systematically from when we started in 1991 up until this very date in August of 1995."
There was, however, a huge piece of the puzzle still missing --- production details of Iraq's biological weapons program.
"They have the ammunition, I imagine, the bombs and maybe some missiles hidden," Ekeus contends. "And there are something like 80 biological facilities ranging from research to storage -- and they are fully equipped. And certainly most important, the expertise that resided in the biological weapons program is intact."
The search for Saddam Hussein's biological warfare secrets was reinforced in early 1997 when the United Nations quietly created special "concealment teams" to track individuals, cars and safe houses.
"It is very aggressive," said Charles Duelfer, deputy chairman of the U.N. Special Commission to Iraq. "We have very energetic inspectors, and it gets us into a great deal of friction with the Iraqis."
U.N. reports reveal that in June of last year, Iraqi personnel accompanying the concealment teams "grabbed the co-pilots' controls" "threatened to shut off the fuel pump" "interfered with the flight controls" and "lunged at some of the switches."
"They were fighting with the photographer," Ekeus said. "They were moving in one case with their own choppers surrounding ours, bringing it very close."
What U.N. inspectors fear most is that Iraq may yet use stockpiled chemical or biological weapons, perhaps in an attack on Israel, or a terrorist mission in the United States. Iraq says the inspectors' fears are contrived.
"This is a big lie that has been floated by the American elements and UNSCOM (the U.N. weapons inspection team) in order to use it as a pretext for keeping the sanctions," said Aziz. Despite Iraq's promises, U.N. inspectors are doubtful that the apparatus of biological war -- from 14 missing tons of growth media to the secret production facilities to the final delivery systems -- will be willingly disclosed.
Says Ekeus: "We should be extremely watchful and careful, that is clear. Because this is the most dangerous weapon imaginable."