Iraq’s WMD: How Big a Threat?

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“U.S. troops in Iraq will not find any facilities with weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I am sure of that," says a former chemical and biological weapons expert of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) who remains close to and intimately informed about the recent U.N. arms inspection effort in Iraq. The expert (who requested anonymity) says that Baghdad “most likely” has shut down any WMD operations. He added that any munitions it may still possess “are most likely now in the field and being moved around the country.”

“They (the weapons) could be in railroad cars, barges or refrigerator trucks. They are being kept on the move,” explained the former arms inspector. The arms expert says by keeping the weapons on the move, they make an attack by coalition forces more difficult. Furthermore, he explained they could be shifted around the country as “conditions warrant.”

The Pentagon has repeatedly complained to the U.N. about suspected bio agents being shuffled around Iraq in “refrigerator vans.” Chief U.N. arms inspector Dr. Hans Blix told the Security Council in February that his teams “had been unable to track down the refrigerator vans in question.”

The U.N. inspector says that the Pentagon must be careful not to fall into an Iraqi trap. He suspects that the movement of substantial numbers of Iraqi Republican Guard units southwards from Baghdad to confront advancing U.S. forces may be an attempt to create a battlefield situation favorable to the use of weapons of mass destruction. “If Iraq still has chemical weapons it wants to use,” he says, “it would want to cause as much damage as possible in one short attack. Therefore, the U.S. needs to be careful not to amass large numbers of troops in any central location.” The most likely attack, he says, would come from more than "800 unaccounted for 155mm artillery shells which may contain mustard gas.”

However, says the U.N. inspector, “the Iraqis have problems delivering their WMD in a militarily effective manner.” He reveals that more than 70% of Baghdad's declared and suspected WMD were in “aerial” form—meaning they were designed to be delivered by aircraft. Since Operation Desert Storm, the Iraqi Air Force has almost ceased to exist. The U.N. inspector also added that any biological weapons that Iraq might still possess would “not cause much of a problem for the U.S. forces.” He explained that the Pentagon is familiar with most or all of Baghdad's suspected bio weapons and has procedures to protect its soldiers against such an attack.

He added that Iraq's exotic weapons programs also involved the use of psycho-tropic agents similar to LSD. “They were not meant to kill, just incapacitate, confuse,” says the inspector. This had been designed, he says, as a means to fight off rag-tag Iranian forces in the late 1980’s during the long war between Baghdad and Tehran. The other WMD weapons Iraq may still have were initially designed to “fight off Iranian human wave attacks, they really weren't meant against a force like the U.S. military.”

He adds that biological weapons in this war at this time are of little use. Iraq’s suspected bio-weapons (anthrax, botulism) take days to weaken the human body and would do little to blunt a fast moving force. He also says coalition troops have biological and chemical weapons detectors and decontamination units in the field, making it tough for bio-weapons to be much of a factor.

“My guess is that the probability of a WMD attack is small,” says the UN official. “Right now, Saddam has 80% of the world supporting him. If he used WMD, that support would dissolve. So, he has no incentive. Even if he did, it would not cause enough damage to change anything. About the only thing he may accomplish is to scare you reporters.”