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Context of 'Mid-2002: Al-Zarqawi Forms Alliance with Kurdish Militant Group in Northern Iraq'

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In early 2000, Islamist militant leader Musab Abu al-Zarqawi starts a new training camp in Afghanistan, near the town of Herat. Osama bin Laden reportedly does not like him, but al-Zarqawi gets some help from al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel, who serves as a liaison between al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda. His camp starts with only a dozen or so followers, but it rapidly grows and eventually numbers several thousand. His group consists mostly of Jordanians and Syrians, and is helped by links to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Atlantic Monthly, bin Laden repeatedly asks al-Zarqawi to come to him and take an oath of allegiance, but each time al-Zarqawi refuses. “Under no circumstances did [al-Zarqawi] want to become involved in the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. He also did not believe that either bin Laden or the Taliban was serious enough about jihad.” But in October 2001, the US begins bombing Afghanistan, and al-Zarqawi’s camp is targeted. He is reportedly wounded in the chest when a ceiling falls on him. But in December 2001, he manages to escape to Iran with about 300 followers and is based there for several months while regrouping. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Al-Tawhid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jordanian Islamist militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi flees Afghanistan (see Early 2000-December 2001) and heads to Iran where he continues to run his militant group, al-Tawhid. He uses telephones and a network of couriers to maintain contact with operatives in Europe. By April 2002, he still is based in Iran and has little to no ties to Iraq. But some time in mid-2002, he unites with Ansar al-Islam, an Islamist group based in a part of northern Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels and opposed to Saddam Hussein (see Mid-2002). He reportedly moves his base of operations there and establishes an explosive training center camp there as well. [Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003] In an effort to justify military action against Iraq, the Bush administration will later claim that Saddam Hussein is aware of al-Zarqawi’s presence in Baghdad and therefore is guilty of knowingly harboring a terrorist (see September 26, 2002). The administration will also allege—falsely—that al-Zarqawi is a senior al-Qaeda agent and that his visit is evidence that Saddam’s regime has ties to Osama bin Laden. [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Newsweek, 6/25/2003 Sources: Shadi Abdallah] But the administration never offers any conclusive evidence to support this allegation. The claim is disputed by intelligence analysts in both Washington and London. [Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In May 2002, the CIA began using new torture techniques on captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After), and by June senior CIA officials prepare a preliminary report to determine whether Zubaida’s confessions are accurate or not. According to author Gerald Posner, they “found nothing that could definitively prove Zubaida a liar. And they had uncovered some minor corroborating evidence about the times and places of the meetings he had mentioned, which meant he could be telling the truth.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 192] Vanity Fair will later comment that the “CIA would go on to claim credit for breaking Zubaida, and celebrate [James] Mitchell”—the psychologist who devised the torture techniques used on Zubaida by the CIA (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After, and Mid-April 2002)—“as a psychological wizard who held the key to getting hardened terrorists to talk. Word soon spread that Mitchell and [his business partner Bruce] Jessen had been awarded a medal by the CIA for their advanced interrogation techniques. While the claim is impossible to confirm, what matters is that others believed it. The reputed success of the tactics was ‘absolutely in the ether,’ says one Pentagon civilian who worked on detainee policy.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]
Much Intelligence Comes from His Possessions and FBI Interrogations - However, the reliability of Zubaida’s confessions remains controversial years later, and several factors complicate accessing their impact. For one, it appears that some of his most important confessions took place a month earlier when the FBI was interrogating him using rapport building instead of torture (see Late March through Early June, 2002). What the New York Times calls his two most notable confessions—that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the 9/11 mastermind and giving up the name of Jose Padilla, a militant living in the US—appear to come from this earlier period, although some accounts conflict. [New York Times, 6/27/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117; New York Times, 9/10/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] Furthermore, it is often not clear what was obtained from Zubaida’s confessions and what was obtained from his possessions. Journalist Ron Suskind will later write: “The phone numbers, computers, CDs, and e-mail address seized at Zubaida’s apartment now—a month after his capture—began to show a yield.… These higher-quality inputs were entered into big Cray supercomputers at NSA; many then formed the roots of a surveillance tree—truck to branches to limbs and buds.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 116-117] So while it is said that information from Zubaida helped lead to the capture of al-Qaeda figures such as Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Omar al-Faruq, and Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, it is unclear where this information came from exactly. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] Additionally, it is not even clear if he provided such leads. For instance, it has been reported that the main break that led to bin al-Shibh’s capture had nothing to do with Zubaida (see June 14, 2002 and Shortly After). [Salon, 9/7/2006]
Zubaida Describes Vague and Unverifiable Plots - By most accounts, Zubaida’s confessions under torture around this time are frustratingly vague. He describes many planned attacks, such as al-Qaeda attacks on US shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, and more. Red alerts are sounded and thousands of law enforcement personnel are activated each time, but the warnings are too vague to lead to any arrests. Suskind will later comment that Zubaida’s information was “maybe nonsense, maybe not. There was almost no way to tell.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 115-116, 121] But Suskind will later say more definitively: “[Zubaida] said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered.” [Salon, 9/7/2006] Posner claims that Zubaida provided “false information intended to misdirect his captors.” For instance, “He caused the New York police to deploy massive manpower to guard the Brooklyn Bridge at the end of May [2002], after he told his interrogators that al-Qaeda had a plan to destroy ‘the bridge in the Godzilla movie.’” [Posner, 2003, pp. 191]
Link between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Perhaps the most important claims Zubaida makes, at least from the viewpoint of Bush administration officials, are his allegations of an operational relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Some of Zubaida’s claims will later be leaked by administration officials, particularly his assertion that Osama bin Laden’s ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was working directly with Saddam Hussein to destabilize the autonomous Kurdish regime in northern Iraq (see December 2001-Mid-2002, October 2, 2002, and January 28, 2003). A former Pentagon analyst will later say: “I first saw the reports soon after Abu Zubaida’s capture. There was a lot of stuff about the nuts and bolts of al-Qaeda’s supposed relationship with the Iraqi Intelligence Service. The intelligence community was lapping this up, and so was the administration, obviously. Abu Zubaida was saying Iraq and al-Qaeda had an operational relationship. It was everything the administration hoped it would be.” Another Pentagon analyst will recall: “As soon as I learned that the reports had come from torture, once my anger had subsided I understood the damage it had done. I was so angry, knowing that the higher-ups in the administration knew he was tortured, and that the information he was giving up was tainted by the torture, and that it became one reason to attack Iraq.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Zubaida Appears to Be Feeding Interrogators' Expectations - Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert at the time who was able to analyze all the evidence from Zubaida, will later claim that the CIA “got nothing useful from the guy.” [Congressional Quarterly, 12/14/2007] Coleman will say: “The CIA wants everything in five minutes. It’s not possible, and it’s not productive. What you get in that circumstance are captives and captors playing to each other’s expectations, playing roles, essentially, that gives you a lot of garbage information and nothing you can use.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 114] Given his low position in the jihadist hierachy, Coleman will add, Zubaida “would not have known that if it was true. But you can lead people down a course and make them say anything.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Counterterrorism “tsar” General Wayne Downing is apparently intimately involved in Zubaida’s interrogation and will later recall: “[Zubaida] and some of the others are very clever guys. At times I felt we were in a classic counter-interrogation class: They were telling us what they think we already knew. Then, what they thought we wanted to know. As they did that, they fabricated and weaved in threads that went nowhere. But, even with these ploys, we still get valuable information and they are off the street, unable to plot and coordinate future attacks.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002] In legal papers to prepare for a military tribunal hearing in 2007, Zubaida himself will assert that he told his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear to make the torture stop. [Washington Post, 12/18/2007]

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, Bruce Jessen, Ahmed Muhammad al-Darbi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dan Coleman, Jose Padilla, Wayne Downing, Omar al-Faruq, James Elmer Mitchell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The area controlled by Ansar al-Islam in 2002 is marked in orange. Two of the group’s camps, Sargat and Biyara, are both near the town of Khurmal.  The area controlled by Ansar al-Islam in 2002 is marked in orange. Two of the group’s camps, Sargat and Biyara, are both near the town of Khurmal. [Source: Adam Weiskind / Christian Science Monitor (slightly modified)]Beginning in early 2002, some Islamist militants fleeing from the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan settle in parts of Iraq controlled by Kurdish rebels. According to an informant, around the middle of 2002, militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi holds a meeting somewhere in Iraq with Mullah Krekar, head of the Ansar al-Islam militant group. This group controls a very small region of Kurdish Iraq near the Iranian border. Krekar and al-Zarqawi agree to work closely together, and they plan to equip some militants to carry out attacks against US targets in Jordan and in Iraq once the US invades Iraq. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 362] Al-Zarqawi moves to the area controlled by Ansar al-Islam a short time later (see December 2001-Mid-2002).

Entity Tags: Ansar al-Islam, Mullah Krekar, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

A wanted poster for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted by the US military in Iraq.A wanted poster for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi posted by the US military in Iraq. [Source: US Department of Defense]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claims the US government has “bulletproof” confirmation of ties between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda members, including “solid evidence” that al-Qaeda maintains a presence in Iraq. The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan (see December 2001-Mid-2002). Rumsfeld’s statement is based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives. But Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that, according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002] Two years later, Rumsfeld will back away from his allegation after it is disproven (see October 4, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Fallujah II chemical plant.Fallujah II chemical plant. [Source: CIA]In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. [US President, 10/14/2002] Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Guardian, 10/9/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Albright, 10/9/2003] Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. [Washington Post, 9/19/2002; Independent, 9/22/2002] Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). [Central Intelligence Agency, 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright]
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” [United Nations Special Commission, 4/16/1998; New Yorker, 5/12/2003]
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” [Guardian, 10/9/2002] And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002] These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. [Associated Press, 8/24/2003]
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” [US President, 10/14/2002] But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002]
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” [US President, 10/14/2002] On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. [US President, 10/14/2002] But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” [US President, 10/14/2002] The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005; New York Times, 11/6/2005] And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. [CNN, 9/26/2002; Newsday, 10/10/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; Washington Post, 6/22/2003]
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002; US President, 10/14/2002] Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).

Entity Tags: Al-Tawhid, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Anthony Cordesman, David Albright, Institute for Science and International Security, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, George W. Bush, Hussein Kamel, Houston G. Wood III, Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, International Atomic Energy Agency, US Department of State, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, US Department of Energy, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Taliban, Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, Khidir Hamza

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation.Colin Powell and George Tenet, at the UN presentation. [Source: CBS News]US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 371-2; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003]
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). [Independent, 2/3/2003; Daily Telegraph, 2/4/2003] Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). [CNN, 9/26/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2004; Newsweek, 7/5/2005] Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” [Newsweek, 11/10/2005] Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003]
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003] But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2003] Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. [Reuters, 2/7/2003; Guardian, 2/15/2003] Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003]
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. [Mercury News (San Jose), 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse, 6/6/2003]
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; London Times, 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003] Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2003] Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. [Sydney Morning Herald, 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/9/2003] Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. [Newsday, 2/6/2003]
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. [New York Times, 2/5/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003; Reuters, 2/11/2003] Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. [CBS News, 11/4/2007] Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” [Guardian, 2/5/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, 8/22/2003; Los Angeles Times, 3/28/2004; Knight Ridder, 4/4/2004; Newsweek, 4/19/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004] Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. [Buzzflash (.com), 11/27/2007] In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” [Washington Post, 2/6/2003] After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). [CNN, 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse, 3/7/2003; CNN, 3/7/2003] Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/6/2003] But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 2/5/2003; Washington Post, 3/8/2003] Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). [Albright, 10/9/2003] Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). [Washington Post, 8/10/2003] This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 1/24/2003] Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). [Financial Times, 7/29/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003] Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) [Annan, 1/27/2003 pdf file] On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) [CNN, 3/7/2003]
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; New York Times, 2/6/2003]
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). [Daily Telegraph, 1/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/18/2003; BBC, 1/19/2003; US Department of State, 2/5/2003] A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” [Guardian, 2/15/2003; BBC, 2/17/2003; Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. [US Department of State, 2/5/2003] It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. [Associated Press, 8/9/2003]
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” [US Department of State, 2/5/2003; CNN, 2/5/2003]
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).

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