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Context of 'December 7, 2003: Iraqi Claims to be Source of 45-Minute WMD Claim; Tells Lurid Tale to British Reporter'

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The Times of London uses the recently released intelligence “dossier” from British intelligence (see September 24, 2002) to report that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein has sent agents into Africa to find uranium for Iraqi nuclear weapons. The Times does not inform its readers that many British journalists were shown evidence contradicting the British intelligence claims (see September 24, 2002). It focuses on the dossier’s claim that Iraqi “agents” have secretly visited several African countries in search of uranium. Thirteen African nations produce uranium to one extent or another. A Whitehall source tells The Times that while Hussein may have attempted to find African uranium, those alleged efforts were unsuccessful. “If Iraq had succeeded in buying uranium from Africa, the dossier would have said so,” the source says. The Times reports that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from, among other sources, the Democratic Republic of Congo, though at least part of that nation’s uranium mines are currently under the control of troops from Zimbabwe. The dossier does not specify any other countries that may have been contacted by Iraq. The Times also repeats the dossier’s claim that Iraq has biological and chemical weapons that can be launched against targets in as little as 45 minutes (see Late May 2003, August 16, 2003, December 7, 2003, January 27, 2004, and October 13, 2004), that Iraq is developing missiles with ranges of 600 miles (see January 9, 2003, January 16, 2003, February 27, 2003, March 7, 2003, and June 2004), and that Hussein may have given his son Qusay the power to order the use of those weapons. It also reports that the dossier specifically downplays suspected links between Iraq and radical Islamist groups such as al-Qaeda. Hussein has little sympathy for Islamist fundamentalists, The Times reports. [London Times, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, London Times, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. [White House, 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity, 1/23/2008] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 264]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The single source for the controversial claim that Iraq could launch a strike with its weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes (see September 28, 2002 and March 12, 2007) is identified as “Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh,” an Iraqi who has allegedly spied on Saddam Hussein’s government for British and US intelligence for over seven years. Al-Dabbagh, who does not allow his first name to be used or his photograph taken, is interviewed in Baghdad by journalist and author Con Coughlin. Al-Dabbagh, identified as an adviser to the Iraqi Governing Council, is later revealed to be an Iraqi defector who was brought to US and British attention by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Coughlin is apparently unaware of this. He portrays al-Dabbagh as a heroic risk-taker, “not a man who is easily frightened,” he writes. “[D]eath threats from Saddam’s loyalists” do not deter him from “revealing details of the former Iraqi dictator’s deployment of weapons of mass destruction”; his determination “remain[s] undiminished.”
WMD Remain Hidden - These selfsame loyalists are the reason why US forces cannot find the weapons of mass destruction, al-Dabbagh tells Coughlin. “Saddam’s people are doing this all the time,” he says. “That is why it is so difficult to find the weapons of mass destruction. I am sure the weapons are hidden in Iraq just like I see you now. I am concerned that the chemical and biological weapons are there.” Al-Dabbagh says he is proud to risk his life in divulging Hussein’s secrets: “If Saddam’s people kill me for saying this, I do not mind. I have done my duty to my country and we have got rid of Saddam. And if the British government wants me to come to London to tell the truth about Saddam’s secret weapons program, I am ready to help in any way I can.”
Claim '200 Percent Accurate' - The 45-minute claim is “200 percent accurate!” al-Dabbagh exclaims. “And forget 45 minutes. We could have fired them within half an hour.” Is he the original source of the intelligence? Coughlin asks. Al-Dabbagh replies, “I am the one responsible for providing this information.” A member of the Iraqi Governing Council, General A. J. M. Muhie, al-Dabbagh’s supposed brother-in-law, confirms that al-Dabbagh is the sole source of the claim: “We only had one source for this information and that was Dabbagh,” says the general. Fellow council member Iyad Allawi says he was the one who funnelled al-Dabbagh’s reports to Western intelligence agencies. Muhie is the one who set up the meeting between Coughlin and al-Dabbagh.
Plans to Use WMD against US Invading Forces - Al-Dabbagh tells a detailed story of how the weapons were to be deployed against the American invaders, saying that he and other officers were ordered to use specially designated four-wheel drive Isuzus and only to deploy them if Iraqi forces were in danger of being overrun. Al-Dabbagh and others were then to drive the Isuzus towards American troop emplacements and fire the weapons, presumably chemical and biological weapons tipping hand-held rockets. But the weapons were never deployed, al-Dabbagh claims, because the majority of Iraqi soldiers refused to fight against the Americans. “The West should thank God that the Iraqi army decided not to fight,” he says. “If the army had fought for Saddam, and used these weapons, there would have been terrible consequences.” Whatever became of those fearsome weapons, al-Dabbagh does not know. He believes they were hidden away by Hussein’s Fedayeen loyalists. The weapons will be found, al-Dabbagh predicts, when Hussein is caught or killed: “Only when Saddam is captured will these people talk openly about these weapons. Then they will reveal where they are.” [Sunday Telegraph, 12/7/2003]
Claims Proven False - Weeks after Coughlin’s interview, al-Dabbagh’s claims will be proven entirely false, and both al-Dabbagh and Allawi will deny any responsibility for their claims (see January 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Iyad Allawi, Saddam Hussein, A. J. M. Muhie, “al-Dabbagh”, Con Coughlin, Iraqi Governing Council

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The lurid tale of Iraq’s readiness to deploy WMD within 45 minutes, a claim used to great effect by both British and American officials to justify the war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and December 7, 2003), is shown to be false (see October 13, 2004)). Both the source, supposed Iraqi military official Lieutenant Colonel al-Dabbagh, and Iraqi government official Iyad Allawi, who turned over al-Dabbagh’s raw intelligence to US and British agents, now say they bear no responsibility for the claims. Nick Theros, Allawi’s Washington representative, says the information was raw intelligence from a single source: “We were passing it on in good faith. It was for the intelligence services to verify it.” Middle East expert Juan Cole says that Allawi and al-Dabbagh “passed to British intelligence and to Con Coughlin at the Telegraph a series of patently false reports that bolstered the case for war against Iraq but which were wholly unfounded. (Coughlin is either gullible or disingenuous.)” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Juan Cole, 1/27/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004] Theros now says al-Dabbagh’s information was a “crock of sh_t,” and adds, “Clearly we have not found WMD.” [Newsweek, 1/12/2004; Guardian, 1/27/2004]

Entity Tags: Nick Theros, “al-Dabbagh”, Con Coughlin, Iyad Allawi, Juan Cole

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he cannot remember anyone making the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes. British Prime Minister Tony Blair made the claim over six months before the US-British invasion of Iraq (see September 24, 2002). The claim was later revealed to have come from a single, anonymous, unverified source (see August 16, 2003 and December 7, 2003). Some British newspapers ran banner headlines saying that the claim meant British troops in Cyprus could be attacked with Iraqi WMD within 45 minutes. Rumsfeld tells reporters at a Pentagon briefing, “I don’t remember the statement being made, to be perfectly honest.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004; BBC, 2/11/2004] General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who accompanies Rumsfeld in the press conference, adds, “I don’t remember the statement, either.” [Department of Defense, 2/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The British government embellished intelligence used to justify the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, according to Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector. Blix, who led the UN search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq until June 2003, says a later discredited dossier on Iraq’s weapons programs had deliberately embellished the case for war. Tony Blair’s government published a dossier before the invasion that claimed Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and could deploy some within 45 minutes, but the dossier turned out to be riddled with errors and deliberate falsehoods. Blix says, "I do think they exercised spin. They put exclamation marks instead of question marks." Blix says that as a result, Blair and Bush had "lost a lot of confidence" once failures in intelligence were exposed. Britain’s dossier on Iraq’s supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction was criticized by a 2004 official British inquiry into intelligence on Iraq. Though the inquiry’s head, Lord Butler, did not fault Blair’s government, he criticized intelligence officials for relying in part on “seriously flawed” or "unreliable" sources. Butler’s review concluded that the dossier, which helped Blair win the support of Parliament to join the US in the conflict, had pushed the government’s case to the limits of available intelligence and left out vital caveats. Blix says that if UN inspectors had been allowed to carry out inspections "a couple of months more," intelligence officials would likely have drawn the eventual conclusion that Iraq had no weapons stockpiles and that their sources were providing poor quality information. [Associated Press, 3/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Hans Blix, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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