IRAQ'S WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION
New study assesses Iraq's capabilities, President Bush challenges UN to act
Despite seven years of intrusive United Nations inspections and decimation of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Iraq was able to sequester sizable stocks of chemical and biological weapons, some missiles to deliver them, and the scientific and technical expertise, but not the fissile material, to build nuclear weapons.
That is the assessment of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a respected independent London-based research organization. IISS based its conclusions on publicly available information gathered before and since Iraq kicked out UN inspectors in 1998.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabri immediately denounced the report as a "false accusation." He said its findings were a pretext used by the U.S. and the U.K. for aggression against Iraq.
IISS draws no conclusion on whether Iraq's arsenal is sufficient cause for mounting war against Iraq. But the report notes that developing such weapons has been "the core objective of the regime," one Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has pursued relentlessly for a decade in violation of commitments he made to end the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Terence Taylor, president of IISS in the U.S., says, "Wait and the threat will grow. Strike and the threat may be used."
Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, which monitors Iraq's programs, says, "It is prudent to assume that the threat is increasing, but whether that constitutes a reason for going to war now is a political judgment."
Bush Administration officials have repeatedly pointed to Iraq's quest for nuclear arms to explain President George W. Bush's call for military action to oust Hussein. IISS concludes that Iraq may not be able to build nuclear weapons for years because it cannot make the highly enriched uranium needed for such devices. However, IISS believes that Iraq could build a nuclear weapon "in a matter of months" if it were able to obtain fissile material on the black market, possibly from states of the former Soviet Union.
In a Sept. 10 speech to trade unionists, British Prime Minister Tony Blair insisted Hussein had to be disarmed. "Let it be clear that there can be no more conditions, no more games, no more prevaricating, no more undermining of the UN's authority," Blair said. And, he warned, "should the will of the UN be ignored, action will follow."
Blair cited the IISS study but said the British government would release its own assessment shortly. His speech paved the way for Bush's major policy address to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 12.
At the UN, Bush systematically laid out his argument for regime change in Iraq and challenged the UN to issue Iraq an ultimatum: Allow unfettered UN inspections immediately or risk the consequences. "We will work with the UN Security Council for the necessary resolutions," he said. "But the purposes of the U.S. should not be doubted. The ... resolutions will be enforced. The just demands of peace and security will be met, or action will be unavoidable. And a regime that has lost its legitimacy will also lose its power."