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Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal


Notes further to the counter-dossier - Updated September 29, 2002
[These notes will be updated: go to for updates.]

On 17 September, a week in advance of the release of the Prime Minister's "dossier" <> on Iraq's non-conventional weapons, a pamphlet (a "counter-dossier") that I co-authored with Alan Simpson (MP for Nottingham South) was released. The intention of this pamphlet was to pre-empt some of the claims in the Prime Minister's dossier, and to raise the issues that the dossier would need to address in detail for it to be credible. An official version of the counter-dossier is at:

What follows are some further remarks on the themes of counter-dossier. These are in part a response to points in the Prime Minister's dossier. They may also serve as reference notes, to be used in order to examine from a critical perspective subsequent claims that are made about Iraq's non-conventional weapons.

I should flag up that I am not a biochemist, a pharmacologist or a nuclear physicist. None of the claims below about Iraq's nuclear, chemical or biological facilities are made as a result of my own scientific investigations. Instead, they are collected from two sources. Firstly, the majority of points below are taken from published accounts of reputable institutions, governmental bodies and international organisations who have access to expertise that I do not have. Secondly, a smaller number of claims are taken from my own consultation with independent experts in the fields of relevance. Unlike the UK Government's own dossier on Iraq's non-conventional weapons, these notes indicate the sources for all the claims that it makes.

If any of the technical claims made below are incorrect or incomplete, such mistakes have not been made in a deliberate attempt to mislead the reader: corrections and clarifications would be greatly appreciated.

These comments are divided on issues of the threat of Iraq's weapons and those on the possibility of a viable inspections regime.

1. The threat of Iraq's weapons.

I. Stockpile

This Prime Minister's dossier claims that information already in the public domain "points clearly to Iraq's continued possession, after 1991, of chemical and biological agents and weapons produced before the Gulf War." (Executive Summary, para.2). There are also references to surviving stocks of weapons in Chapter 2, para.13 and Chapter 3, paras.3 and 5-7 of the dossier.

If Iraq had a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons in 1998, it must consist of items produced prior to 1991. Not even the British government claims that Iraq was engaged in the active production of chemical or biological weapons in the period of weapons inspections (1991 to 1998); the ongoing monitoring and verification undertaken by UNSCOM would have detected any such attempts.

The Iraqi government never provided UNSCOM with information assessed to be sufficiently complete to verify that Iraq had destroyed all the chemical and biological agents it had produced prior to 1991. These are items that are considered as "unaccounted for". It may also be the case that Iraq had in fact produced more of these agents than they had declared to UNSCOM or that UNSCOM itself had uncovered.

Whilst it would undoubtedly be useful to have a clear understanding of what happened to all of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons material that it had produced, a more pressing question here is whether any chemical or biological agents produced by Iraq prior to 1991 would have remained useable after at least 11 years. As the analysis below attempts to demonstrate, the overwhelming majority of the chemical and biological warfare agents produced by Iraq prior to 1991 would be expected to have deteriorated to the point where they are no longer lethal.

If the Prime Minister's past allegations that Iraq possessed a stockpile of illicit weapons were to be true, then the dossier would need to present credible evidence that Iraq had managed to stabilise its chemical and biological agents to a greater extent than it is previously thought to have done. The dossier does not make this claim: it only makes an unsubstantiated assertion (in Chapter 3, para.6) that Iraq had "the knowledge and capability to add stabiliser to nerve agent and other chemical warfare agents which would prevent such decomposition." The fact that this assertion falls short of the claim that Iraq actually achieved the stabilisation of its chemical agents can be taken as an acknowledgement that no evidence has been discovered - after over 7 years of intrusive inspections and 11 years of intelligence gathering - to demonstrate Iraq's retention of stabilised chemical or biological agents.


(a) Biological warfare agents.

Before 1990, Iraq manufactured four major biological agents.

(i) Clostridium botulinum (botulinum toxin). According to the "strategic dossier" of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) of 9 September 2002:
"Any botulinum toxin produced in 1989-90 would no longer be useful" (p.40).
According to a CIA briefing of 1990 on the threat from Iraq's biological weapons facilities:
"Botulinum toxin is nonpersistent, degrading rapidly in the environment. .. [It is] fairly stable for a year when stored at temperatures below 27c."
("Iraq's Biological Warfare Program: Saddam's Ace In The Hole", August[?] 1990, at:

(ii) Anthrax. Much of the discussion of the threat of Iraq's biological weapons has focused on Iraq's past development of anthrax. By contrast, a report from 1998 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) seems to discount the possibility that the anthrax produced in bulk prior to 1991 can still be effectively weaponised:
"Anthrax spores are extremely hardy and can achieve 65% to 80% lethality against untreated patients for years. Fortunately, Iraq does not seem to have produced dry, storable agents and only seems to have deployed wet Anthrax agents, which have a relatively limited life."
(Anthony H. Cordesman, "Iraq's Past and Future Biological Weapons Capabilities", CSIS Middle East Dynamic Net Assessment, February 1998; at:
It should be noted that this assessment of the degradability of wet anthrax is not accepted by the entire expert community. The IISS report of 9 September 2002 states that "wet anthrax from [the 1989-90 period - if stored properly - would still be infectious." (p.40).

(iii) Aflatoxin. The Prime Minister stated in the House of Commons on 24 September 2002 that Aflatoxin is a lethal agent. It is not. Prolonged exposure may be carcinogenic, but as a weapon its relevant characteristic is in inducing headaches, vomiting and liver disease.
Source: CSIS paper of February 1998, as above; p.13.

(iv) Clostridium Perfringens (causing gas gangrene). Persistence unknown. However, as an anaerobic bacillus, it has the same causes for a short-shelf life as other anaerobic bacteria such as clostridium botulinum.

(b) Chemical warfare agents.

Before 1990, Iraq had produced and weaponised four lethal chemical agents:

(i) and (ii) Sarin and cyclosarin. These "G-series" nerve agents, used in the latter stages of the Iran-Iraq war, deteriorate rapidly, especially if impurities are present in their manufacture. This seems to have been the case with Iraq's nerve agents. The Persian Gulf War Illnesses Task Force of the US Department of Defense gave the following assessment in March 2001:

"Impure or improperly stored sarin is unstable and degrades over time. US experts consider chemical warfare agents less than 50 percent pure to be militarily ineffective. Western sources estimate the sarin Iraq produced never exceeded 60 percent purity, and Iraq reported that poor operating practices at Al Muthanna limited the purity of sarin to between 20 and 50 percent. Since it contained at least 40 percent impurities when manufactured, sarin produced at Al Muthanna had a short shelf life. The CIA estimates the chemical warfare agent in the rockets stored at Al Muthanna had deteriorated to approximately 18 percent purity by the time that Bunker 2 was destroyed, leaving about 1600 kilograms (1.6 metric tons) of viable sarin." ("The Gulf War Air Campaign - Possible Chemical Warfare Agent Release at Al Muthanna, February 8, 1991", 19 March 2001; at:

The taskforce of the Department of Defense attributed the high level of Iraqi cooperation in revealing the scale of its earlier chemical programme to the fact that the Iraqi government realised that the nerve agents it had produced were no longer viable:

"We believe Iraq was largely cooperative on its latest declarations because many of its residual munitions were of little use - other than bolstering the credibility of Iraq’s declaration - because of chemical agent degradation and leakage problems."
("Chemical Warfare Agent Issues During the Persian Gulf War", Persian Gulf War Illnesses Task Force, April 2002; at:

A similar assessment was made by the CIA in a memorandum from January 1991:

"Iraq is not able to make good-quality chemical agents. Technical failures have reduced their purity and caused problems in storage and handling. This is a particular problem for the sarin- type nerve agents (GB and GF). These both contain hydrofluoricacid (HF), an impurity that attacks metal surfaces and catalyzes nerve agent decomposition. This leads to metal failure and leaks in the ammunition, increasing handling hazards. ... Lower purity significantly limits shelf life and reduces toxic effects when the munition is employed. ... The nerve agent should have already begun to deteriorate, and decomposition should make most of the nerve agent weapons unserviceable by the end of March 1991."
("Iraq: Potential for Chemical Weapon Use", 25 January 1991; at:

This assessment is repeated in the IISS strategic dossier of 9 September 2002:

"As a practical matter, any nerve agent from this period [pre-1991] would have deteriorated by now.." (p.51)

(iii) Mustard. A "blister agent", mustard has a longer shelf-life than G-series nerve agents. As the final assessment report from UNSCOM recorded:

"a dozen mustard-filled shells were recovered at a former CW storage facility in the period 1997 - 1998 .. After seven years, the purity of mustard ranged between 94 and 97%."
(Enclosure 1 to the Annex of the Letter to the President of the Security Council, 29 January 1999, S/1999/94, para.33; at:

However, mustard has a low volume-to-effectiveness ratio. As the IISS record in the strategic dossier:

"large amounts of mustard are necessary for effective military operations. Roughly, one tonne of agent is needed to effectively contaminate 2.6 square kilometres of territory, if properly disseminated."

Iraq declared that it filled approximately 13,000 artillery shells with mustard prior to 1991. UNSCOM accounted for 12,792 of these shells, and destroyed them in the period of 1992-94. However, Iraq also declared that 550 mustard-filled artillery shells had been lost in the aftermath of the Gulf War. The extent to which these - if they still existed - could constitute an ongoing danger should be assessed in light of the need to deploy large amounts of mustard for effective use.

(iv) VX. In 1998, UNSCOM found VX degradation products on missile warheads, indicating that Iraq had stabilised VX sufficiently and had managed to weaponise it (in contrast to the Government of Iraq's own claims). The IISS strategic dossier records the status of VX produced before the Gulf War:

"Any VX produced by Iraq before 1991 is likely to have decomposed over the past decade ... Any G-agent or V-agent stocks that Iraq concealed from UNSCOM inspections are likely to have deteriorated by now." (pp. 52 and 53)

.In summary, the overwhelming majority of the chemical and biological weapons agents that Iraq has retained from prior to 1991 would no longer be useable in the present day - if the assessments presented above are correct. The major exception is mustard. However, there is no evidence to suggest that Iraq has retained sufficient stocks of mustard to deploy in a militarily effective way.

II. Ongoing development

The majority of the claims in the Prime Minister's dossier, from pp.17-32, relate not to the retention of prior stocks - the focus of UNSCOM's work - but to the development of new nuclear, chemical and biological facilities. Any new facilities could either manufacture new weaponisable material, or - more simply - they could constitute chemical agents out of precursor stocks that were undeclared by Iraq to UNSCOM and would not have deteriorated as the agents themselves would have done. For example, if stable precursors for VX, sarin or cyclosarin were retained by Iraq after 1991, they could be used to produce fresh supplies of these agents.

However, the Prime Minister's dossier - like the strategic dossier of the IISS - provides no evidence that this is actually taking place. The assertions that facilities are being reconstituted or built is phrased in noticeably ambiguous language: this indicates that there is considerable uncertainty within the UK intelligence institutions about whether Iraq is actually engaged in the development of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

(a) Nuclear development

The main evidence presented in the dossier for the continuation of Iraq's nuclear programme is that Iraq has been "making concerted covert efforts to acquire dual-use technology and materials with nuclear applications" since 1998. However, it should be noted that the claim in the dossier is not that the materials that Iraq has sought to import can only be used as part of a nuclear weapons programme, but that these materials could be used in such a programme. Conversely, it is quite conceivable that these materials are not being used in a nuclear programme at all.

For example, the dossier notes that Iraq has attempted to purchase Anhydrous Hydrogen Fluoride (AHF) since 1998, and that AHF could be used in gas centrifuges for the enrichment of uranium (Chapter 3, para.21). However, AHF is also used as an alkylating agent in the petrochemical industry. For a country that has been made solely dependent upon its petrochemical exports for its foreign exchange, the import of AHF can hardly be a surprise or a cause for suspicion.

More significantly, the attempts by Iraq to import aluminium tubes has been highlighted both in President George W. Bush's paper "A Decade of Deception and Defiance" (12 September 2002), p.9, ( and in the Prime Minister's dossier on p.26, para.22, and presented as evidence that Iraq was seeking to construct gas centrifuges. David Albright, former IAEA inspector and director of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), has argued that the aluminium tubes are more likely to be used in the making of conventional artillery rockets. Although this was mentioned in the original counter-dossier, an ISIS paper has subsequently made the following clarifications:

* Iraq has imported the same form of aluminium tubes from the 1980s onwards, for non-nuclear purposes.

* That steel or carbon fibre tubes would have been more suitable if Iraq had been planning to use them in the construction of gas centrifuges. Iraq had previously invested in developing steel and carbon fibre parts for its nuclear programme before 1990.

* These tubes are not critical centrifuge components; the most advanced components (rotors, end caps, bearings) would still need to be imported if Iraq was intent on building gas centrifuges.
(ISIS report, "Aluminum Tubing..", 23 September 2002, updated on 27 September; at:

It is noteworthy that none of the imports listed in the Prime Minister's dossier are identified as being for the exclusive purpose of nuclear development, and it is not claimed that these items are in fact being put to use in a nuclear programme.

The sole claim that could indicate an active nuclear programme is one of the most ambiguous in the entire dossier: it is claimed that "Iraq has sought the supply of significant quantities of uranium from Africa" (Chapter 3, para.20). The absence of any detail - such as the year (or even the decade) in which this purported attempt to obtain uranium; the country in which Iraq's alleged activities are thought to have taken place; and the quality of the uranium sought - coupled with the lack of emphasis given to this claim in the dossier may indicate that a serious risk is not attributed to this possibility. Iraq has indeed sought to import significant quantities of uranium (yellowcake) from Niger; this was in 1981-82. Could it be this episode to which the dossier refers, and the reason why the claim is left in such an ambiguous form?

(b) Chemical and biological weapons development

One of the most detailed set of claims in the Prime Minister's dossier concerns the rebuilding of facilities that were formerly associated with chemical and biological weapons. It is noticeable that the dossier does not claim that any specific facility is currently being used for the production of chemical or biological warfare agents. Instead, the facilities are identified as being capable of producing such agents as well as civilian products, or that the material that is being produced could be used in the development of illicit weapons.

Unless there is a reliable assessment that the production undertaken at these facilities is part of a chemical and biological warfare programme, the information presented in Chapter 3, paras.8-13, cannot be taken as indicating that Iraq has recently produced illicit chemical and biological agents. This is an overview of the sites mentioned in the Prime Minister's dossier.

* Fallujah 2, near Habbaniyah: this site, which used to produce chemical weapons precursors, was bombed in the Gulf War, and its remaining stocks were removed and destroyed by UNSCOM. It was inactive in 1998. The Prime Minister's dossier claims that it now produces chlorine and phenol (ie carbolic acid), which could serve as precursor chemicals. They could also be used as disinfectants. There are no assertions in the dossier that they are currently being used otherwise.

* Ibn Sina Company at Tarmiyah: the dossier identifies this as a chemical research centre (and provides a satellite photograph). The Research Centre for Industrial Chemistry which was established in March 1992. According to IAEA reports from 1993 ( and 1994 (, the Centre was engaged in small scale chemical recovery work, such as the purification of phosphoric acid and the recovery of vanadium from coal ash.

* al-Qa'qa' chemical complex: according to the dossier, this plant produces phosgene. Iraqi officials claimed to journalists visiting the site after the release of the dossier that phosgene is produced as a by-product of the manufacture of gun-powder.

* al-Sharqat: this facility is identified in the dossier as producing nitric acid. Indeed, according to the IAEA report of January 1994, ( it is the principle supplier of sulphuric and nitric acid to Iraqi industries. The dossier does not claim that the nitric acid produced at al-Sharqat is used in the production of illicit weapons, merely that nitric acid "can be used" in missile fuel and in purifying uranium.

* Fallujah: this is identified in the dossier as producing castor oil. The official purpose of the production of castor oil is for brake fluids.

* al-Dawrah Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Institute (also known as al-Manal). Prior to 1991, it was engaged in research on viral warfare agents. In March 2001, the Government of Iraq wrote to the UN Secretary-General to notify him of the reactivation of this facility for the production of foot and mouth vaccine. A number of journalists have visited al-Dawrah since then. On 12 August 2002, a reporter from Russian news agency RIA-Novosti recounted ( that: "Journalists were shown empty shops at the plant, and dark, dusty premises with no light. Electric cables and various pipes along the walls had been cut through. Remnants of structures and equipment were piled on the floor."

* Amariyah Sera and Vaccine Plant at Abu Ghraib: according to the dossier, this site has expanded storage capacity. Journalists were allowed into the new buildings at this plant within two hours of the dossier's release, and reported that they found only empty fridges.

III. Delivery means

Unless the chemical and biological agents could be delivered by Iraqi forces, they cannot be considered to be a danger. Four possibilities are mentioned in the Prime Minister's dossier (Chapter 3, para.14): free-fall bombs, artillery shells and rockets, helicopter and aircraft borne sprayers (such as the L-29), and ballistic missile.

With regard to Iraq's biological weapons, the IISS strategic dossier claims:

"On balance, Iraq's ability to deliver BW efficiently with conventional munitions (missiles, planes, rockets, etc.) against opposing forces on the battlefield or against civilian targets beyond Iraq's borders appears to be limited, unless Iraq has made substantial advances in delivery technology." (p.29)
There are no claims in the Prime Minister's dossier about such substantial advances. Out of the four delivery means listed above, helicopter and aircraft borne sprayers have been discussed in the counter-dossier, and shown not to be a viable delivery means beyond Iraq's borders. Artillery shells and Iraq's rockets have a very limited range, and could only be considered a threat to Iraq's own citizenry and those within a few kilometres of Iraq's borders.
Ballistic missiles are also not a credible delivery means. The IISS strategic dossier reviews the evidence on the design of Iraq's missile warhead for al-Hussein missile:
"dissemination would be extremely inefficient if Iraq has not advanced beyond its 1990-era design. Most agent would be destroyed on impact, and the immediate area of dispersal would be fairly small (a few hundred metres in diameter)." (p.40; for biological agents).
"Unless Iraq has advanced beyond the impact fusing and warhead design of its 1990-era special warheads, however, its ability to effectively disseminate CW agent with such missile warheads is questionable. Most of the CW agent is likely to be destroyed on impact, and the remainder would be dispersed over a limited area." (pp.53-54).
Delivery of free-fall bombs would require strong air force capabilities. According to the IISS, however, these are "very weak ... Poor maintenance, lack of spare parts, and low flight training time has likely degraded operational performance." (p.54)

IV. Threat

There is no presentation in the Prime Minister's dossier of Iraq having a strategic doctrine - or even a military plan - to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in an offensive capacity. There is no indication of why Iraqi leaders would have an intention to use such weapons, other than to deter current US attempts to unseat the current regime by force.

2. The need for ongoing inspections in Iraq

One of the most problematic parts of the Prime Minister's dossier is the discussion of the "Presidential sites" (Part 2, para.5). The dossier states that inspectors were "barred" from these sites in December 1997, and by virtue of omission implies that these sites remained unaccessed by inspectors.

Instead, an agreement was reached in February 1998 between the UN Secretary-General and the Government of Iraq (the Memorandum of Understanding - - of 23 February 1998) which allowed weapons inspectors access to all sites in Iraq, as long as they were accompanied by senior diplomats appointed by the UN Secretary-General at eight listed Presidential sites (the procedure for inspections is here - The Memorandum of Understanding was endorsed by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1154 (2 March 1998) (; it was agreed to by the British government of the time, also headed by Prime Minister Blair. The Iraqi government fulfilled the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, and no further delays and obstacles were reported by weapons inspectors over these sites in the remaining period of inspections. Satisfactory compliance from the Government of Iraq with regard to Presidential sites was noted in the reports to the Security Council of 15 April 1998 (S/1998/326)( and 6 May 1998 (S/1998/377), and was welcomed in a statement of the President of the Security Council of 14 May 1998 (S/PRST/1998/11) (

In the dossier and in the Prime Minister's accompanying speech to the House of Commons, repeated reference was made to the large area of the Presidential sites. The UN technical mission to Iraq that surveyed these sites issued a report on 20 February (, prior to the conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding. The total area of the eight Presidential sites amounts to 31.5 square kilometres, of which approximately 10.2 square kilometres is made up of lakes. One site, the Radwaniyah in Baghdad, totalled around 17.8 square kilometres, and is by far the largest (para.14). The mission conducted detailed surveys of each site, and found no military installations (other than sentry towers, guard rooms, and - in one case - headquarters for the Presidential Battalion) on any of them (para.12).

The draft resolution placed by the US before the Security Council on 28 September seeks to do away with this category of Presidential sites, and thus nullify the Memorandum of Understanding that the US and UK had previously agreed to. As expected, the Government of Iraq has rejected this new provision. It is likely that if the resolution is passed, Iraq will not permit inspectors into Presidential sites without the diplomatic accompaniment agreed in 1998; it is possible that the whole inspections regime will be blocked by the US if there is no agreement on this issue. Alternatively, a confrontation will be provoked in which the Government of Iraq withdraws its offer to allow unrestricted access to weapons inspectors. The US will thus have succeeded in preventing the resumption of inspections, and in preserving the pretext for war that the Iraqi offer threatened to discredit.

GLEN RANGWALA, 27 September 2002.(


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