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Profile: Con Coughlin
Con Coughlin was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
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]
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