The Los Angeles Times translated reams of documents seized after the fall of Saddam Hussein and reports that Syria ran extensive smuggling operations on behalf of the Iraqi dictator’s regime, designed to undermine UN sanctions:
A Syrian trading company with close ties to the ruling regime smuggled weapons and military hardware to Saddam Hussein between 2000 and 2003, helping Syria become the main channel for illicit arms transfers to Iraq despite a stringent U.N. embargo, documents recovered in Iraq show.
The private company, called SES International Corp., is headed by a cousin of Syria’s autocratic leader, Bashar Assad, and is controlled by other members of Assad’s Baath Party and Alawite clan. Syria’s government assisted SES in importing at least one shipment destined for Iraq’s military, the Iraqi documents indicate, and Western intelligence reports allege that senior Syrian officials were involved in other illicit transfers.
Iraqi records show that SES signed more than 50 contracts to supply tens of millions of dollars’ worth of arms and equipment to Iraq’s military shortly before the U.S.-led invasion in March. They reveal Iraq’s increasingly desperate search in at least a dozen countries for ballistic missiles, antiaircraft missiles, artillery, spare parts for MIG fighter jets and battle tanks, gunpowder, radar systems, nerve agent antidotes [emphasis mine] and more.
Nerve agent antidotes would have been very expensive, and would not have been bought unless Iraq was sure that they were needed on the battlefield. Why would they have thought that? Surely they know that the US could not possibly have used nerve agents in battle without our coalition abandoning us — and rightly so. The purchase makes sense only if the Iraqis planned on using nerve agents against US troops. After all, the money spent on antidotes could have gone for more of the materiel they bought, which included:
* 380 SAM engines from Poland
* 20 T-72 tank barrels, and contracted for 175 of them
* 1,000 Russian heavy machine guns
* 20 million rounds of ammunition
* Tank engines
* Missile fuel pumps
In short, the UN arms embargo on Iraq was a miserable failure, helped in no small part by Syria, a member of the UN Security Council and the Middle East representative on the UN Counter-Terrorism Committee. Syria, as the article makes clear, accomplished the rearming of Iraq through extensive machinations at the highest levels of its government and profited handsomely from its actions. It evaded detection by a massively ineffective UN inspection process, if not completely incompetent. As a prime example, read the following narrative on the documents on which the Times based this article:
When they returned to Iraq in late November 2002 after four years’ absence, U.N. weapons inspectors thus focused on smuggling in their search for evidence of proscribed missiles and chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. “We went one by one to every single [military] company we knew of in Iraq,” said a senior U.N. inspector, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Al Bashair was target No. 1 on that list.”
On March 2, 30 inspectors from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency arrived without notice to check reports that Al Bashair had put public tenders out on the Internet to buy high-strength aluminum tubes. The CIA had insisted the tubes could be used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.
IAEA experts, customs experts, computer specialists and others locked the doors, unplugged phones and grilled Munir, the company’s director, in his office. Before leaving, they copied 4,000 documents and downloaded data from office computers. They found no signs of nuclear-related procurement. Five days later, a team from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, the chief U.N. weapons hunting group, launched another surprise raid to check intelligence that Al Bashair had helped Hussein acquire mobile biological laboratories to churn out germ weapons. Again, they found no evidence.
The war began less than two weeks later. Days after U.S. troops entered Baghdad in April, Christoph Reuter, an investigative reporter for the German newsmagazine Stern, removed selected files from the abandoned Al Bashair office. He later provided the records and cooperated with The Times, which had the documents translated from Arabic and verified their contents with interviews in more than a dozen countries.
Note that the Times is careful to inject the issues of nuclear and biological weapon searches, in order to protect the UN inspection process, but the inspectors were supposed to be looking for all violations of UN resolutions. Iraq was not supposed to be purchasing any of these items, and Syria was not supposed to be shipping them across the border. Why didn’t the inspectors find these documents? Because the inspections process was useless, and this episode proves it. Plus, these were the records that Al Bashair left behind; who knows what they destroyed or carted off as Baghdad fell? I would guess that the officials, using what little time they thought they had, would take care to make sure that records of the most egregious violations never fell into Coalition hands, as they would be useful evidence for later war-crimes trials.
As more captured Iraqi files are translated, we will find more evidence that the UN inspection process was a complete failure in terms of enforcing UN resolutions and ensuring global security. Even those who are supposed to be acting on behalf of global security, the UNSC, aided and abetted Saddam’s scams for rearmament. Working through international bodies is a necessary step in protecting our national interests, but this article ought to remove any illusions that organizations that put dictatorships in positions of power will protect the interests of Western democracies. Bush was correct to proceed after the UN refused to enforce its own resolutions to build a coalition of Western powers to remove Saddam and put an end to a twelve-year chapter of impotence. (via a tip from Instapundit)
UPDATE: Power Line notices the reference to nerve agent antidotes, too.
UPDATE 2: The Times has published the second part of this article, and I’ve blogged it here.