Experts believed no Iraqi WMDs in 2001: analysts

By ROGER WARD - Canadian Press

07/18/03: TORONTO (CP) -- A conference of top-level military analysts was told Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction months before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks -- a message that later fell on deaf ears in the American capital, analysts say.

Former Canadian military officer-turned-analyst, Sunil Ram remembers the January 2001 conference Understanding the Lessons of Nuclear Inspections and Monitoring in Iraq: A Ten-Year Review.

What he heard at the meeting he has repeated for months, he says, getting little attention from the mainstream media: that U.S. President George W. Bush had no grounds to base the invasion of Iraq on the disarmament issue.

"The people doing the presentation were weapons inspectors and former weapons inspectors and senior members of (U.S. government) agencies," Ram said in an interview.

"These were the guys on the ground (in Iraq) who had this stuff (weapons facilities) taken apart."

The conclusion they reached, says Ram, was that "Iraq's nuclear weapons program (didn't exist) because (the Iraqi government) had dismantled it."

He says the message of experts at the meeting was heard loud and clear by many U.S. military and political officials.

He admits the message didn't necessarily mean Saddam Hussein was not trying to acquire nuclear capability, but points out that months before the United States was insisting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was a threat to other nations, top U.S. officials had been told the opposite.

The Washington meeting dealt specifically with nuclear weapons, but Ram said it also addressed chemical and biological weapons to a smaller extent. Even there, he says, the danger to the world from such weapons was dismissed by the presenters.

If there were such weapons in Iraq at that time, Ram says, "they were negligible in quantity and militarily meaningless."

He also refuted Bush's view that biological and chemical weapons could have been a threat to the world in the hands of Saddam Hussein.

"The major problem that has not been picked up by the media is that nuclear weapons are weapons of mass destruction, whereas biological and chemical weapons are akin to weapons of mass terror. They are militarily ineffective."

Ram is not the only Canadian military analyst who has believed for months that weapons of mass destruction did not exist to any significant extent in Iraq before the 2003 war.

Scott Taylor, publisher of Esprit de Corps, a magazine on Canadian military affairs, was in Iraq before and after the war and says it was common knowledge -- despite insistence of American officials such as Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld -- that it was not a certainty the weapons would be found.

"The unit the Americans had sent (to Iraq) on April 9 (was sent) to find these weapons of mass destruction and secure them (but they) have all come up empty handed," Taylor says.

"That unit has in fact suspended its operations and the people (on the team) have a report out to say they do not expect to find any chemical or biological weapons."

Referring to the now-disproved claim in Bush's State of the Union address that Saddam Hussein was negotiating for uranium with an African country, Taylor says "what's left in his speech isn't enough to justify (the invasion of Iraq) especially when things are not going as smoothly as expected."

Taylor also believes what has happened is a form of vindication for Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who refused to send troops to Iraq.

"Obviously this is not a time to gloat," he said.

"We can't say at this point 'I told you so,' (but) anybody who had anybody on the ground (in Iraq) or was reading the actual intelligence could have predicted this."

Taylor also believes Canada's refusal makes it a likely candidate to take a significant role in rebuilding Iraq. He described the reaction of Iraqi people to the fact he is Canadian: "I was there and all the time people were actually saying (to me) 'Jean Chretien No. 1' when they knew you were from Canada."

Ram had a less sympathetic view of Canada's status in light of its refusal to join the war.

"We are paying a much greater price economically and it is apparent in the way the Bush administration has treated us," he says.

Copyright: Canadian Press

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