IISS Report on Iraq: Why let the facts spoil a good story?

The report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is a most striking proof of this old saying that the first casualty of war is always the truth. It is being presented by the war party in Washington and Tony Blair as conclusive "proof" that Saddam Hussein is just "months away" from launching a nuclear bomb.

"The first casualty of war is always the truth." The report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) is a most striking proof of this old saying.

The report was presented to the world as the most comprehensive investigation into Iraq's acquisition of nuclear, chemical and biological weaponry, and their possible means of delivery. It is being presented by the war party in Washington and Tony Blair as conclusive "proof" that Saddam Hussein is just "months away" from launching a nuclear bomb. In fact, the report shows precisely the opposite.

Published with a fanfare of trumpets just days before September 11, and in one of the most critical periods in the debate over Iraq, the IISS report was timed to attract maximum publicity and affect public opinion. It was compiled in eight weeks, starting in June and is based on reports of Unscom, the UN weapons inspectors (who have not been in Iraq since 1998), consultations with "experts" on what may have happened since then, and newspaper cuttings.

What is the IISS?

Although the report has been presented to public opinion as the work of impartial experts, this is far from the case. The IISS was set up in 1958 at the height of the Cold War, and has very strong links to the government and the establishment. When it moved its headquarters to Arundel House from Covent Garden, Lady Thatcher and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, (the NATO secretary general), were on the guest list. This already gives us a pretty good idea of its political leanings.

The document was presented yesterday in dramatic style by Dr John Chipman:

"War, sanctions and inspections have reversed and retarded, but not eliminated Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long-range missile capacity, nor removed Baghdad's enduring interest in developing these capacities," said Dr John Chipman. "Wait, and the threat will grow. Strike, and the threat may be used."

Who is Dr Chipman? He is the Institute's director and is a former NATO fellow. The editor of the report, Dr Gary Samore, formerly worked at the US State Department during the Clinton administration. How is the Institute funded? The organisation insists it is independent and does not receive any general government funding. However, it does get funding "for the organisation of meetings and for research from government departments". According to the IISS website, its income, comes from "a range of international bodies and foundations", individual and corporate membership, and its publications.

The institute spent £8m refitting Arundel House, the former townhouse of the dukes of Norfolk, of which £1m was given by Conrad Black's Hollinger Group, which owns the right-wing Conservative Daily Telegraph. Other donations came from the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry (£350,000) and the Japanese government (£130,000). The British Foreign Office contributed a further £100,000. So much for "independence"!

This is not an impartial and scientific study. It is clearly a piece of propaganda designed to justify war against Iraq at all costs. But careful examination of the text shows that its findings do not support the conclusions. An article by Kim Sengupta in today's Independent points out that the report shows that "in fact, Iraq is far weaker in weapons of mass destruction and every other military field than it was in 1991 before the Gulf War." And that "the realistic chances of acquiring, let alone delivering, a nuclear weapon without 'substantial' outside help, is years away."

Nuclear threat?

On nuclear weapons the report finds that, following the tripling of oil prices after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war and the increase in oil revenues, Iraq embarked on an ambitious nuclear programme. However, attacks by Israeli warplanes destroyed al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre near Baghdad, setting back the programme considerably.

The Iraqi programme went underground and, by 1990, had reached a stage when it could produce two nuclear weapons a year, and - had it not been for the Gulf War - "Iraq could have accumulated a nuclear stockpile of a dozen or more weapons by the end of the decade." Again according to the report: "Gulf War strikes devastated Iraq's overt and covert nuclear facilities. All of the major facilities, including all safeguarded research reactors and most laboratories, were damaged or destroyed." (Our emphasis.)

After Iraq's defeat in 1991 there were years of weapons inspections, which only ended in 1998. it seems that Iraq attempted to hide its nuclear programme by destroying some of the evidence. The "nuclear potential was not completely eliminated…the scientific and technical expertise of Iraq's nuclear programme survived."

Since 1998, the report states: "Baghdad retains a strong interest in developing nuclear weapons but it seems unlikely Iraq has produced, or is close to producing, nuclear weapons from indigenously produced nuclear material." (Our emphasis.)

The report concludes that: "Iraq could produce nuclear weapons on a fairly short notice if it was somehow able to acquire sufficient nuclear material from a foreign source but there is no evidence it has done so. "…Iraq could divert in-country radioisotopes or obtain material from foreign sources for a radiological weapon. But how such a weapon could be delivered, and its effectiveness, remain open to question." (Our emphasis.)

In other words, there is absolutely no evidence that Iraq has the capability of manufacturing nuclear weapons, still less to deliver them!

Biological and chemical weapons

On biological weapons, the report says that at the time of the Gulf War, Iraq had filled munitions with biological weapons and deployed them. Individual commanders were given permission to use them "if Baghdad was threatened or if there was the threat of a nuclear attack by the Allies. The coalition counties were not aware of this until 1995." (Our emphasis.)

During the years of weapon inspection, Unscom found traces of biological weapons agents on the containers of destroyed al-Hussein missile warheads and R-400 bombs, but could not verify the numbers. There was no verification of Iraqi claims the programme was terminated in 1991. Since 1998, the report claims: "Iraq possesses an industrial capability and knowledge base to produce agents quickly and in volume if desired. Aside from conventional military munitions, delivery of biological weapons by individuals or small groups acting as commandos or terrorists remains a plausible threat that is very difficult to defend against."

Since no attempt is made to prove that Iraq has any intention of carrying out such operations, this is pure speculation. The report continues: "Iraqi biological munitions could spread terror and provoke a strong political response but are unlikely to cause mass casualties, unless Iraq has made substantial advances in delivery technology." (our emphasis)

In other words there is absolutely no proof that Iraq possesses such weapons in the first place (the report only speaks of a potential), and even if it does, it has no means of effectively delivering them. We should note, in passing that even during the Gulf War, the Iraqis only considered using biological weapons in self-defence (in case of an attack on Baghdad or if the Americans attacked with nuclear weapons), and in fact, never used them.

Finally, on chemical weapons the report says that from 1982 to 1988, Iraq constructed industrial-scale chemical weapons facilities, and stockpiled raw material. "It produced effective (if primitive) chemical munitions in the form of aerial bombs, artillery shells and rockets."

During the Gulf War, Iraq "apparently mobilized its chemical forces, filling al-Hussein missile warheads, R-400 aerial bombs, and other munitions. But then it adds that: "During the years of inspection, "it is unlikely that Iraq produced substantial new quantities of agents or munitions between 1991 and 1998." (Our emphasis.)

The report concludes: "Although Iraq's current chemical capabilities are reduced from their high point in 1990 before the Gulf War, it is probably able to mobilise a limited capability for use in battle against civilian targets."

So there we have it. The report concludes that, far from increasing its capabilities, Iraq's current chemical capabilities are less than what they were in 1990 before the Gulf War. They are now only "probably" able to mobilise a "limited capability for use in battle against civilian targets."

Even the authors of this cooked-up report feel embarrassed at having to publish such barefaced propaganda. They feel obliged to qualify their words and hedge their statements around with "ifs" and "buts". Nevertheless, the report concludes: "Iraq's current chemical capability probably comprises hundreds of tonnes of agents (presumably a mixture of mustard and nerve agent, most likely sarin and cyclosarin) and perhaps a few thousand munitions."

Probably, every one of these "statistics" has been invented at the State Department, most likely with the connivance of some of the ex-"inspectors", who perhaps have very good imaginations. But not a single shred of hard evidence or proof.

On Iraq's supply of ballistic missiles, crucial to the ability to deliver this dreaded (though imaginary) arsenal, the report recalls that an al-Hussein missile strike against a US military facility caused the greatest number of US casualties in one incident, and that the mobility of the launchers meant that no operational missiles were destroyed during the war.

That is very true, but it refers to a situation that existed ten years ago. Since then Iraq has suffered a serious military defeat, followed by ten years of a brutal economic blockade and until 1998 a regime of inspection so rigorous that not even a flea could escape its attention, let alone a ballistic missile. During the years of inspection, the report admits: "Unscom made considerable progress in verifying Iraqi declarations of its destruction campaign but questions still remained about a small amount of imported and indigenously produced missiles, warheads, missile propellant, and engine components." (Our emphasis.)

However, the report continues, Iraq secretly negotiated with 500 companies from 40 countries in an attempt to get missile technology. Consequently, it possesses a "small number" of al-Hussein missiles with a 650km range that could reach Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey. The report concludes: "Iraq probably has a small number of missiles. Some worst case scenario puts this number at several dozen missiles; a more likely figure is around a dozen."

So here we have it! The mountain has laboured and borne a mouse! After all the fuss, intended to cause the maximum of alarm internationally, the authors of the report conclude that - maybe, perhaps, conceivably - Iraq might possess "around a dozen" missiles capable of delivering those weapons of mass destruction that they - probably, most likely - also possess.

In order to rid the world of the menace posed by these hypothetical weapons of mass destruction, America will lead the peace-loving forces of the Free World in an attack against Iraq that will be anything but hypothetical. There will, of course, be no need to produce any report to prove the existence of the rockets, bombs and bullets that will soon be raining down on Baghdad. They are not at all hypothetical, but all too real.

Not only does the report fail to prove that Iraq really does possess weapons of mass destruction, but it also produces not a shred of evidence that Baghdad has ever intended to use them, if they do in fact exist. By contrast, the vast chemical, biological and nuclear arsenal held by the United States - by far the biggest in the world - is not hypothetical but real, and has indeed been used.

This fact is well known to the inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki whose cities were destroyed by American atom bombs in 1945, although Japan was trying to surrender at the time. And the people of Vietnam have had personal experience of the effects of chemicals that rained down from US bombers in huge quantities. All this is perfectly justified, you see, since these particular weapons of mass destruction (real, not hypothetical) are in "our" hands not "theirs".

In the murky history of international diplomacy there have been many fraudulent documents, engineered to blacken the name of one country or another and so to justify armed aggression. But for sloppiness, lack of rigor and barefaced audacity, this one is a very strong contender for first prize.