Jack Kelly: A Syrian sidestep?

About those Iraqi WMDs: More signs are pointing to a neighborly transfer

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Last week a man who had been deputy chief of Saddam Hussein's air force claimed Iraq moved weapons of mass destruction into Syria before the war began.

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

Special Republican Guard brigades loaded yellow barrels with the skull and crossbones sign on each barrel onto two airliners from which the seats had been removed, Georges Sada said. There were 56 flights in all.

"Saddam realized this time the Americans are coming," Mr. Sada told The New York Sun, one of a handful of news organizations which took note of what he had to say.

There are grounds for skepticism. Mr. Sada was deputy chief of the Iraqi air force during the first Gulf War, not the more recent one, and his account of the movement of WMD to Syria is secondhand.

Mr. Sada said he was told of the WMD transfer by the pilots of the two airliners, who approached him after Saddam was captured.

But Mr. Sada's is only the most recent of a series of accounts by people in a position to speak with authority who say (some of) Saddam's chemical and biological weapons wound up in Syria.

Last month Moshe Yaalon, who was Israel's top general at the time, said Iraq transported WMD to Syria six weeks before Operation Iraqi Freedom began.

Last March, John A. Shaw, a former U.S. deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said Russian Spetsnaz units moved WMD to Syria and Lebanon's Bekaa Valley.

"While in Iraq I received information from several sources naming the exact Russian units, what they took and where they took both WMD materials and conventional explosives," Mr. Shaw told NewsMax reporter Charles Smith.

Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong was deputy commander of Central Command during Operation Iraqi Freedom. In September 2004, he told WABC radio that "I do know for a fact that some of those weapons went into Syria, Lebanon and Iran."

In January 2004, David Kay, the first head of the Iraq Survey Group which conducted the search for Saddam's WMD, told a British newspaper there was evidence unspecified materials had been moved to Syria from Iraq shortly before the war.

"We know from some of the interrogations of former Iraqi officials that a lot of material went to Syria before the war, including some components of Saddam's WMD program," Mr. Kay told the Sunday Telegraph.

Also that month, Nizar Nayuf, a Syrian journalist who defected to an undisclosed European country, told a Dutch newspaper he knew of three sites where Iraq's WMD was being kept. They were the town of al Baida near the city of Hama in northern Syria; the Syrian air force base near the village of Tal Snan, and the city of Sjinsar on the border with Lebanon.

In an addendum to his final report last April, Charles Duelfer, who succeeded David Kay as head of the Iraq Survey Group, said he couldn't rule out a transfer of WMD from Iraq to Syria.

"There was evidence of a discussion of possible WMD collaboration initiated by a Syrian security officer, and ISG received information about movement of material out of Iraq, including the possibility that WMD was involved. In the judgment of the working group, these reports were sufficiently credible to merit further investigation," Mr. Duelfer said.

In a briefing for reporters in October 2003, retired Air Force Lt. Gen. James Clapper Jr., who was head of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency when the Iraq war began, said satellite imagery showed a heavy flow of traffic from Iraq into Syria just before the American invasion.

"I think the people below Saddam Hussein and his sons' level saw what was coming and decided the best thing to do was to destroy and disperse," Lt. Gen. Clapper said.

You haven't heard much about these reports, because they contradict the meme that Saddam either had no WMD, or destroyed it well before the Iraq war began.

The captured files of the Iraqi intelligence service, still mostly untranslated, could shed light on what did happen to Saddam's WMD.

John Loftus, a former Justice Department prosecutor, said a civilian contractor who has been among those examining the Mukhabarat files has found audiotapes of meetings in Saddam's office where WMD was discussed. The contractor, a former military intelligence analyst, will make the tapes public Feb. 17 at a conference sponsored by Intelligence Summit, a private group that Mr. Loftus heads.

Mr. Loftus wouldn't disclose the identity of the contractor in advance of the conference, but said his tapes have been verified by the National Security Agency. "This isn't a smoking gun. It's a smoking cannon," he said.

Those who have bet their political futures that Saddam had no WMD may be starting to sweat.



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