Iraq War 2003: Background & Lessons

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October 28, 2002:

Iraq Moves WMD Matériel to Syrian Safe-Havens

Exclusive. Analysis. With input from GIS stations and sources in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere. Highly-authoritative, experienced GIS sources have reported that the Iraqi Government and Armed Forces have moved substantial caches of chemical weapons and related materials to safe-havens across the border into Syria, to avoid any chance of discovery by United Nations (UN) inspectors. 

Iraq moved stockpiles of chemical weapons and nuclear matériel as well as key production machinery and key experts to the Hsishi compound near Kamishli, in Syria, along with strategic weapons, ammunition, military fuels and other defense matériel, gold reserves, national archival records and national art treasures. It is believed that the moves took place in late August and early September 2002.

It is also understood that some of the matériel, production machinery and experts moved into Hsishi compound were from the al-Qaim facility, which had been based near the H-3 base area in Western Iraq. The al-Qaim facility had been involved, before 1991, almost exclusively in uranium enrichment for nuclear weapons, but since it was reconstituted after the bombings of the 1991 Gulf War it was engaged in chemical and biological weapons development work, along with some nuclear-related activity. It is believed that some of the warhead materials for the chemical and biological weapons were at the al-Qaim facility, and that this is now in Hsishi.

The move reflects the earlier breakthroughs in strategic relations between Iraq and Syria, given the fact that Syria is strategically dependent on Iran, which has traditional rivalries and hostility with Iraq. The movement of Iraqi strategic combat matériel into Syria is the first tangible evidence of the accords which have been struck between Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus in the escalation of the war against Israel and the US. The evidence provided a pointed reminder to those US White House security policy officials who had decried suggestions by some other White House staffers that Iran could be persuaded to help the US in its war against Iraqi Pres. Saddam Hussein.

The series of agreements between Iraq and Syria for the movement of Iraqi strategic assets into Syria were described in detail in the newly-released book, The High Cost of Peace: How Washington’s Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism, by Yossef Bodansky. [See review in Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily, October 21, 2002.]

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily had earlier indicated that the Saddam Administration had long been taking steps to ensure that the Iraqi so-called weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs — including ballistic missile development, chemical and biological weapons programs, and nuclear weapons and nuclear-related “dirty” weapons — were protected from both discovery and destruction. The earlier steps had included the long-term policy of undertaking much of the research and development (R&D) for Iraqi weapons in Libya, in programs which often overlapped Libyan and Egyptian strategic weapons development. As well, the security options included, and continue to include, the placement of WMD matériel, laboratories and operational launch options on riverine barges operating on the Tigris-Euphrates rivers system.

GIS/Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily reported on April 4, 2002, that Iran and Iraq had achieved a working accommodation on deployment in a new war against Israel [see references, below], but the new move to place Iraqi CW matériel inside Syria reflects the first physical evidence of the implementation of this understanding. The April 4, 2002, report noted:

Iran’s al-Quds military forces — forces earmarked for the liberation of “al-Quds”: Jerusalem — were reported on April 3, 2002, to be preparing to move by land across Iraq, with permission from the Iraqi Government, to bolster anti-Israeli forces (Syrian and Iraqi) in the area of the Golan Heights.

Iraq’s al-Quds force of armor and mechanized infantry, under the command of Qusay Hussein al-Takriti, is now preparing to move into position at the junction of Syria, Jordan and Iraq from the major military base at H-3, one of the two major “H” bases named after the old pipeline stations in Iraq’s al-Anbar region. Both “H” bases were re-opened in early 2001, with their airfields refurbished, and with SA-6 surface-to-air missile systems installed. The al-Quds forces, under Qusay since mid-2001, include key Iraqi special forces units and the Hummarabi division of the Republican Guard, equipped with T-72 tanks. The total Iraqi al-Quds force is five to six divisions. Jordanian sources advise that the quality of the Iraqi special forces units, which have been operating in the area for about a year, including incursions into Jordan and through Jordan to the West Bank, are of a high quality. Based on information from various sources, it was understood that the Iraqi al-Quds forces were expected to move quickly across the top of Jordan into Syria and take up positions, as they did in earlier conflicts, in the area of the Golan Heights, facing the Israeli-occupied area.

Significantly, the Iraqi CW dumps inside Syria are (a) sufficiently close to the Iraqi al-Quds forces to be safeguarded by Iraq, and (b) ready for operational use against Israel.

Given the ongoing Syrian dependence on Iran, the latest move would indicate that the Iranian commitment to Iraq’s military plans to escalate the war against Israel as part of any Iraqi response to a US attack continues to be in effect. Although there has been no recent evidence of an actual commitment by the Iranian clerical leadership to the provision of Iranian troops to a new war against Israel — or, indeed, the Iraqi comfort level in having Iranian al-Quds forces physically transit Iraqi territory — it is clear that the clerical leadership in Iran has continued its commitment to providing practical support for Iraq’s war against both the US and Israel.

Significantly, Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Asad visited Kamishli and, reportedly, Hsishi Compound, in early September 2002, presumably to check on the Iraqi deployment.

As well, GIS sources indicated that the arrest by Turkish security forces of individuals with enriched uranium in September 2002 was connected with the supply of raw matériel for the Iraqi nuclear program, and that this was destined for Hsishi, not necessarily for immediate weapons use, but to re-start the Iraqi weapons program after the UN/US weapons inspectors had searched and destroyed any Iraqi capability left in-country, either through the UN program or through a US attack. Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily of October 1, 2002, reported:

Turkish paramilitary police were reported on September 28, 2002, to have seized more than 15 kg (33 pounds) of weapons-grade uranium and detained two men accused of smuggling the material. Officers in the southern province of Sanliurfa, which borders Syria and is about 250km (155 miles) from the Iraqi border, were reportedly acting on information from an informant when they stopped a taxi cab and discovered the uranium in a lead container hidden beneath the vehicle’s seat. Authorities said that they believed the uranium came from an east European country and had a value of about $5-million. Israel Radio quoted Turkish police as saying that the uranium originally came from a former Soviet state. 

It was not immediately clear when the seizure operation was carried out. The Turkish Anatolian News Agency only gave the first names of the suspects, which appeared to be Turkish. Police in Turkey seized more than one kg of weapons-grade uranium in November 2001; that had been smuggled into Turkey from an east European nation.