Jack Kelly: They're out there

The case of Iraq's weapons is not closed

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Within a long, convoluted answer to a softball question tossed him by MSNBC's Chris Matthews on his "Hardball" program Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry said something remarkable:

   
Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).
  

"It appears, as we peel away the weapons of mass destruction issue, and -- we may yet find them, Chris," Kerry said. "Look, I want to make it clear: Who knows if a month from now, you find some weapons. You may."

Kerry's response undercuts the Democratic meme that "Bush lied!" about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

Perhaps Kerry was hedging because the night before Jordanian television had broadcast the confessions of the surviving suspects in an al-Qaida plot to attack the U.S. embassy in Amman and the headquarters of the Jordanian intelligence service with 20 tons of explosives and deadly chemicals.

"Shown in a casual interview setting, detainees Azmi al-Jayousi and Hussein Sharif Hussein provided calm descriptions of a plot they say was hatched in Iraq and forged in Syria and Iraq," wrote the Chicago Tribune's Evan Osnos.

The explosives and chemicals were to be carried in three trucks with reinforced bumpers for crashing through gates. The explosives were to be just enough to create a poisonous cloud of blister, choking and nerve agents. (In the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, the terrorists used too much explosive, and the chemicals in the van were consumed in the blast.) The conspirators said they hoped to kill as many as 80,000 people.

Intelligence expert John Loftus said the nerve agent in the chemical cocktail was VX. Syria doesn't make VX. Saddam Hussein's Iraq did.

The same day that Jordanian conspirators were making their confessions, Israel's military chief told an Israeli newspaper there is "no doubt" that Iraq possessed both chemical weapons and the means to deliver them. In the first two days of the war, the United States -- acting on tips from Israeli intelligence -- destroyed the aircraft Saddam had prepared to carry chemical munitions, Lt. Gen. Moshe Yaalon said. The munitions themselves were buried, or transferred to other countries.

"We very clearly saw that something crossed into Syria," he said.

"We have six or seven credible reports of Iraqi weapons being moved into Syria before the war," a senior administration official told Kenneth Timmerman of Insight magazine.

A Syrian intelligence officer, in letters smuggled to an anti-regime activist in Paris, identified three sites in Syria where Iraqi WMD are being stored, Timmerman said. The sites were the same as those identified earlier by a Syrian journalist who defected to Europe.

Syria's defense ministry has been smuggling missiles and weapons of mass destruction components to Sudan in an apparent effort to conceal them from Western inspection, Middle East Newsline reported last week. "Western intelligence sources said the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad has been flying shipments of Scud C and Scud D extended-range missiles as well as WMD components to warehouses in Khartoum since at least January 2004," MENL said. "The sources said the Syrian shipments to Khartoum were placed on civilian airliners but were authorized and directed by the Defense Ministry."

MENL said Sudanese President Omar Bashir was unaware of the Syrian shipments. When he learned of them, Bashir ordered that the missiles and WMD components be returned to Syria, Arab diplomatic sources said.

"New evidence out of Iraq suggests that the U.S. effort to track down Saddam Hussein's missing weapons of mass destruction is having better success than is being reported," Timmerman said. "In virtually every case -- chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missiles -- the United States has found the weapons and the programs that the Iraqi dictator successfully concealed for 12 years from U.N. weapons inspectors."

Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, said that a primary source for funding Saddam's illicit weapons programs was kickbacks on contracts set up under the United Nations' Oil-for-Food program.

These developments have received little attention from the major media, perhaps because they are unhelpful to Democratic prospects in the fall. But what if the Jordanian attack had succeeded? What if the target had been Chicago instead of Amman? Some things are more important than domestic politics.



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