Saturday, June 24, 2006

So-Called Iraqi WMD By Larry C. Johnson

Senator Rick Santorum's desperate effort to re-energize his failing re-election campaign by touting the discovery of so-called Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Repeat after me, BULL FECAL MATTER!

Leave it to Faux, er ... I mean, Fox News, to spin the malarkey: "We have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, chemical weapons," Senator Rick Santorum, R-Pa., said in a quickly called press conference late Wednesday afternoon.

Reading from a declassified portion of a report by the National Ground Intelligence Center, a Defense Department intelligence unit, Santorum said: "Since 2003, coalition forces have recovered approximately 500 weapons munitions which contain degraded mustard or sarin nerve agent. Despite many efforts to locate and destroy Iraq's pre-Gulf War chemical munitions, filled and unfilled pre-Gulf War chemical munitions are assessed to still exist."

Now for a reality check. Mustard gas and sarin gas are not Weapons of Mass Destruction. They are potential Mass Casualty Weapons, but they do not cause "mass destruction." They can cause mass casualties but, fortunately, are not very reliable weapon systems. How do we know? We have the empirical evidence from the Iraq-Iran war. Most of the casualties in that 8 year war were caused by conventional weapons, not so-called "WMD." To cause mass casualties, mustard or sarin must be delivered via massive artillery bombardment or through air platforms (i.e., airplanes). Then Mother Nature has to cooperate and ensure that the wind is blowing toward the enemy lines. And the soldiers have to stand still and breathe the gas. Of course, soldiers do not always cooperate. Instead of sitting around smelling the fumes, they turn and run and escape the danger (which many did). Chemical weapons are effective systems for disrupting the attack of an invading army. Even the threat of a chemical attack can force troops to don bulky chemical suits, which, when coupled with stifling heat, can rapidly degrade an Army's ability to fight. Chemical weapons are more of a nuisance, a potentially deadly nuisance, but they are not nuclear weapons. A nuke is a genuine mass destruction weapon.

Saddam relied on chemical weapons primarily to deter Iran. He was not Adolf Hitler with a big mustache. He did not set up extermination camps to routinely gas civilian populations. Despite repeated administration efforts to portray the chemical attack on the Kurds at Halabja as a common event, reports from the US intelligence community at the time showed that the Kurds were victims of an exchange of chemical weapons between Iran and Iraq (See "A War Crime or An Act of War?" by Stephen C. Pelletiere, New York Times, January 31, 2003.). Saddam certainly did not weep for the Kurds, but he was not out to exterminate the Kurds as Hitler tried to do with the Jews of Europe. And, when it comes to attacking Kurds, the Iranians and Turks are not exactly known for their humanity.

Degraded weapons buried in the desert were not the bill of goods sold to the American people to justify invading Iraq. We were warned of imminent mushroom clouds and unmanned aerial vehicles spritzing amusement parks with deadly biological agents. Santorum's pathetic attempt to misrepresent the truth about Iraq's weapon systems in order to win political support must be rebuffed in the strongest possible terms.

Larry C. Johnson is CEO and co-founder of BERG Associates, LLC, an international business-consulting firm that helps corporations and governments manage threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. Mr. Johnson, who worked previously with the Central Intelligence Agency and US State Department's Office of Counter Terrorism (as a Deputy Director), is a recognized expert in the fields of terrorism, aviation security, crisis and risk management. Mr. Johnson has analyzed terrorist incidents for a variety of media including the Jim Lehrer News Hour, National Public Radio, ABC's Nightline, NBC's Today Show, the New York Times, CNN, Fox News and the BBC. Mr. Johnson has authored several articles for publications including Security Management Magazine, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. He has lectured on terrorism and aviation security around the world.