Today's date:
Spring 2004

The UN Disarmed Saddam

Rolf Ekeus was the chief UN arms inspector for Iraq (UNSCOM) from 1991–1996.

NPQ | Were you surprised by the testimony of David Kay, head of the United States Iraq Survey Group, when he said that “we were all wrong,” there are no large stockpiles of mass destruction weapons to be found in Iraq?

ROLF EKEUS | No, I was not surprised at all. What David Kay now says fits perfectly with what we in UNSCOM had been saying all along. By 1998, UNSCOM had discovered and destroyed 95 percent of Saddam’s programs for mass destruction weapons. The remaining 5 percent involved the chemical precursors and growth medium that couldn’t be accounted for. But as we said at the time, it made very little sense to make weapons stockpiles out of this and store them because they would deteriorate rapidly unless used.

NPQ | The conclusion you draw, then, is that the inspection process did much more to disarm Saddam than the US invasion?

EKEUS | Oh, definitely. The UNSCOM operation, as I said, was about as close as we have gotten to complete success in disarming a nation of mass destruction weapons. This was all reported to the United Nations Security Council and known to its member states.

NPQ | Do you think there is anything at all left to be found in Iraq?

EKEUS | Yes. My concern all along has been the “software”—the engineers, scientists and dual-use facilities factories—which had been left in place. David Kay and his team have focused on finding the “hardware” of stockpiles and weapons. His successor, Charles Deulfer, was once my deputy at UNSCOM. His focus is more on searching out the software, not kicking down doors of buildings.

Though it will take some time to interview scientists and engineers, I suspect the Iraqi software infrastructure is what will be found as all that remained of Saddam’s weapons program. After all, there has been no lobotomy performed on those who were trained and prepared to produce chemical and biological weapons in Iraq.

NPQ | Obviously, you were not wrong in your assessment of Iraq. US and British intelligence was wrong. Why?

EKEUS | After the first Gulf War in 1991, these intelligence agencies were surprised to find Saddam’s big weapons programs that they hadn’t detected. The politicians told them they were wrong, that they had underestimated Saddam. So they overcompensated by overestimating his programs and projected that into the future.

No one was prepared to step up and say that UNSCOM worked, he probably had gotten rid of most of his weapons. Their mistake was to ignore the disarmament documented by UNSCOM. They acted as if that never happened.

NPQ | Did these intelligence agencies ask your views?

EKEUS | No. Even important biological inspectors, like David Kelly in Britain, were consulted but kept far from the center of things. Anyone who had been associated with UNSCOM had a kind of stigma attached, for American and British intelligence. Perhaps that now will change. Everyone knows now it was they, not we, who were wrong.