Interview with Hussein Kamel: 

Text of the transcript is here pdf format.

Gen. Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq's Military Industrialization Corporation, in charge of Iraq's weapons programme, defected to Jordan on the night of 7 August 1995, together with his brother Col. Saddam Kamel. Hussein Kamel took crates of documents revealing past weapons programmes, and provided these to UNSCOM. Iraq responded by revealing a major store of documents that showed that Iraq had begun an unsuccessful crash programme to develop a nuclear bomb (on 20 August 1995). Hussein and Saddam Kamel agreed to return to Iraq, where they were assassinated (23 February 1996).

The interview was conducted in Amman on 22 August 1995, 15 days after Kamel left Iraq. His interviewers were:

  • Rolf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of Unscom (from 1991 to 1997).
  • Professor Maurizio Zifferero, deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and head of the inspections team in Iraq.
  • Nikita Smidovich, a Russian diplomat who led UNSCOM's ballistic missile team and former Deputy Director for Operations of UNSCOM.

During the interview, Major Izz al-Din al-Majid (transliterated as Major Ezzeddin) joins the discussion (p.10). Izz al-Din is Saddam Hussein's cousin, and defected together with the Kamel brothers. He did not return with them to Iraq in 1996, moving instead to Jordan and now to an unknown European country.

In the transcript of the interview, Kamel states categorically:

"I ordered destruction of all chemical weapons. All weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed"
(p. 13).

Kamel specifically discussed the significance of anthrax, which he portrayed as the "main focus" of the biological programme (pp.7-8). Smidovich asked Kamel: "were weapons and agents destroyed?"

Kamel replied: "nothing remained".

He confirmed that destruction took place "after visits of inspection teams. You have important role in Iraq with this. You should not underestimate yourself. You are very effective in Iraq." (p.7)

Kamel added: "I made the decision to disclose everything so that Iraq could return to normal." (p.8)

Furthermore, Kamel describes the elimination of prohibited missiles: "not a single missile left but they had blueprints and molds for production. All missiles were destroyed." (p.8)

On VX, Kamel claimed: "they put it in bombs during last days of the Iran-Iraq war. They were not used and the programme was terminated." (p.12).

Ekeus asked Kamel: "did you restart VX production after the Iran-Iraq war?"

Kamel replied: "we changed the factory into pesticide production. Part of the establishment started to produce medicine [...] We gave insturctions [sic] not to produce chemical weapons." (p.13).

Despite the significance of these claims, it was not known that Kamel made this assertion until February 2003. Kamel's claim was first carried on 24 February 2003 by Newsweek, who reported that Kamel told U.N. inspectors that Iraq had destroyed its entire stockpile of chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles, as Iraq claims (Newsweek, 3/3/03). Newsweek reported that the weapons were destroyed secretly, in order to hide their existence from inspectors, in the hopes of someday resuming production after inspections had finished. The CIA and MI6 were told the same story, Newsweek reported.

However, these facts were "hushed up by the U.N. inspectors" in order to "bluff Saddam into disclosing still more", according to Newsweek.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow angrily denied the Newsweek report. "It is incorrect, bogus, wrong, untrue," Harlow told Reuters the day the report appeared (Reuters, 24 February 2003).

On Wednesday (26 February 2003), a complete copy of the Kamel transcript -- an internal UNSCOM/IAEA document stamped "sensitive" -- was obtained by Glen Rangwala.

The Significance of Hussein Kamel

Kamel's departure from Iraq was the major turning point of the inspections saga. As UNSCOM said in their final substantive report:

" the overall period of the Commission's disarmament work must be divided into two parts, separated by the events following the departure from Iraq, in August 1995, of Lt. General Hussein Kamal".

(25 January 1999 letter to U.N. Security Council, Enclosure 1, para.12).

Kamel's defection has been cited repeatedly by President Bush and leading officials in both the UK and US as evidence that (1) Iraq has not disarmed; (2) inspections cannot disarm it; and (3) defectors such as Kamel are the most reliable source of information on Iraq's weapons.

  • Prime Minister Tony Blair in his statement to the House of Commons on 25 February 2003, said: "It was only four years later after the defection of Saddam's son-in-law to Jordan, that the offensive biological weapons and the full extent of the nuclear programme were discovered."

  • President Bush declared in a 7 October 2002 speech: "In 1995, after several years of deceit by the Iraqi regime, the head of Iraq's military industries defected. It was then that the regime was forced to admit that it had produced more than 30,000 liters of anthrax and other deadly biological agents. The inspectors, however, concluded that Iraq had likely produced two to four times that amount. This is a massive stockpile of biological weapons that has never been accounted for, and capable of killing millions."

  • Colin Powell's 5 February 2003 presentation to the UN Security Council claimed: "It took years for Iraq to finally admit that it had produced four tons of the deadly nerve agent, VX. A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes. Four tons. The admission only came out after inspectors collected documentation as a result of the defection of Hussein Kamal, Saddam Hussein's late son-in-law."

  • In a speech on 26 August 2002, Vice-President Dick Cheney said Kamel's story "should serve as a reminder to all that we often learned more as the result of defections than we learned from the inspection regime itself".

Hussein Kamel was not in the process of providing excuses for the Iraqi regime. Much of the interview is taken up with his criticisms of its mistakes: "They are only interested in themselves and not worried about economics or political state of the country. [..] I can state publicly I will work against the regime." (p.14). And yet, when it comes to prohibited weapons, Kamel is unequivocal: Iraq destroyed these weapons soon after the Gulf War.

The Significance of the Kamel Transcript

The above quotes from President Bush, Prime Minister Blair and Secretary Powell refer to material produced by Iraq before the 1991 Gulf War. The administration has cited various quantities of chemical and biological weapons on many other occasions -- weapons that Iraq produced but which remain unaccounted for. All of these claims refer to weapons produced before 1991. According to Kamel's transcript, Iraq destroyed all of these weapons in 1991.

Kamel's statement casts into new light the claims made by the Iraqi government that it destroyed its non-conventional weapons in the period immediately after the end of the Gulf War. This topic remains highly potent, with Hans Blix declaring that "[o]ne of three important questions before us today is how much might remain undeclared and intact from before 1991" (statement of 27 January 2003 to the Security Council). If Kamel is to be taken as seriously as the UK and US administrations have previously held him to be, then his claim that "[a]ll weapons - biological, chemical, missile, nuclear were destroyed" should be taken seriously.

Text of the transcript is here pdf format.

This briefing was produced by Glen Rangwala. Thanks to Seth Ackerman of FAIR for his assistance in putting it together.

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