Shortly before Saddam Hussein suspended all cooperation with the UNSCOM inspectors, in 1998 a surprise inspection at the Air Operations Directorate turned up a number of documents relating to “special” weapons — the designation for WMD used by Iraqi forces. This caused the UN to declare a violation on the Iraqis, and touched off a massive internal investigation in Saddam’s armed forces to find out who forgot to cleanse the files. The series of memos and statements in document IZSP-2003-00300856 shows that the Iraqis not only intended on making an example of the men who did such a poor job of purging the files, but that they actively hid materials that implicated Iraq in the hoarding of WMD.
Like any investigation, one has to start out with the specifics of the crime (page 4):
According to the Secret, Personal and Urgent letter of the Diwan of the Defense Ministry no. Intelligence and Security/8/2/5493 dated 19 July 1998; we authorize you to form an investigation committee headed by you including Staff Major General Fahim Sari ‘Inad, who is affiliated with the Diwan of the Defense Ministry, Intelligence Colonel Zahar Yunis Muhammad, and the Director of the Air Force Security System.
The duty of the committee is to investigate the incident, in where some special documents have not been kept in the 1st Section of the Air Force Operations Directorate according to the document security instructions. The documents were found by the Special Inspection Committee, which searched our command on 18 July 1998.
The file contains the statements made under interrogation of all the personnel assigned to the office in question. Most amusing are the excuses one gets from the staff, who knew that punishment would be swift and severe for embarrassing Saddam to the international community. Take the statement of Wing Commander Mazin Rashid:
Q1: Wing Commander Mazin Makki Muhammad Rashid, the Assistant Commander of the Surveillance Department in the First Section of the Aerial Movement Directorate, was interrogated about the reason and the person who asked him to sign a statement stating that there are no documents records, material and equipment related to the banned
weapons. He replied:
A1: The other officers and I were asked by the Assistant of the Section Commander to destroy all documents related to the banned weapons. Therefore, I searched my office, and found nothing. Afterwards, the officers and I searched the section office and destroyed many of these documents.
Q2: What measures did you take, when the Inspection Team entered the Commands Complex at 0900 hr on 18 Jul 1998?
A2: I participated with other officers in evacuating the secret dossiers and documents from the file cabinet in the directorate. Those documents were kept with Colonel Bilal, the Security Officer of the Directorate.
Q3: The Inspection Team found weapons issuing records in the file cabinet of the section. The records were titled with the word “Special”. Why was this word not deleted by you, although you claimed that nothing left about this type of documents??
A 3: These records were in the file cabinet, but none of the officers noticed them. It was in a file including about lectures. I was unaware of this dossier because it wasn’t in my office, but it was in the file cabinet.
As it turns out, many of the people at the Air Directorate had tasks that apparently excluded them from housekeeping. Commander Muhammed Hasib tells investigators that the cabinet in question belonged to the section manager — and then tells them that the unit had no section manager. Staff Air Commodore Ansaf Muhammed explains that he couldn’t be responsible, because someone else was supposed to have cleaned out the cabinet before he was assigned to that unit. Iraqi investigators heard every excuse except that the dog was supposed to eat the documents.
In the end, they pinned blame on two high-ranking officers, both Commodores, and explained the circumstances (page 54). Included in the summation is this rather telling description of Iraqi cooperation (emphasis mine):
4- After the investigation, they found out that the word (private) that is mentioned in the file wasn’t audited, either by the previous Director of the Section (Al-Qadisiyyah Hero), the Staff Air Commodore Mahmud Jasim Muhammad or by his successor the Staff Air Commodore Insaf Jasim who is the senior officer in the section. In addition, the Staff Air Commodore Insaf Jasim confessed that he omitted and damaged all the documents related to the Special Committee (as mentioned in the Investigating Council) without checking because he thought that the file didn’t include the word (private).
5- The Investigating Council found out that the previously mentioned section followed the orders of the superiors regarding destroying all of the documents relating to the banned weapons and they damaged 12 bags of files and plans. In addition, the section hid many important files during the presence of the Special Committee members, before they arrive and while granting approval to enter.
The two men apparenly received courts-martial for their ineptitude. However unlucky they were, the case shows that Iraq had no intention of ever honestly working with UN inspectors to verify that they had disarmed themselves of WMD capability. The notion that the entire WMD program was some big red herring or a figment of Saddam’s imagination dies a painful death on the review of this document. The Iraqis spent a lot of time and effort in clearing out information on those programs in advance of the inspections — and those who did not succeed in thwarting the inspectors paid the price.