CIA: Egyptian help key to Iraqi chemical weapons
U.N. arms inspectors corroborate U.S. finding
Saturday, March 12, 2005 Posted: 9:07 PM EST (0207 GMT)
NEW YORK (AP) -- Egypt secretly supplied crucial help -- both technology and expert manpower -- to the chemical weapons program of Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s, U.S. arms investigators have found.
The CIA's Iraq Survey Group says Egyptian specialists helped the Iraqis make "technological leaps" on poison gas at the height of the Iran-Iraq War, when Baghdad used nerve agents to kill thousands of Iranian soldiers and Iranian and Iraqi civilians.
The U.S. report is the most authoritative and detailed since such collaboration between the Arab nations was first rumored in the late 1980s.
The Cairo government rejected those earlier allegations, and Egypt's Washington embassy reiterated that denial when asked by The Associated Press about the CIA report. But in AP interviews, United Nations arms inspectors who scoured Iraq's files and facilities in the 1990s corroborated the U.S. finding.
Like former enemy Israel, Egypt has long been believed to possess chemical weapons. Experts say there's strong evidence Egyptian warplanes repeatedly used mustard-gas bombs against royalist forces during Cairo's intervention in the Yemen civil war of the 1960s.
In 1981, after the outbreak of war with Iran, Saddam's Iraqi government paid Egypt $12 million "in return for assistance with production and storage of chemical weapons agents," the U.S. weapons hunters say in a little-noticed annex of their Comprehensive Report, a 350,000-word document issued last October.
The Iraq Survey Group, led by CIA special adviser Charles A. Duelfer, had spent 20 months in 2003-2004 searching for evidence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, cited by President Bush as the rationale for invading Iraq two years ago.
The U.S. arms teams discredited Bush's claims, finding that Iraq had dismantled its advanced weapons programs under U.N. inspection in 1991. In the process, the Americans uncovered previously unreported details of the programs, such as the findings on Egypt and chemical arms.
"During the early years, Egyptian scientists provided consultation, technology and oversight allowing rapid advances and technological leaps in weaponization," the Duelfer report says.
From 1983 to 1988, the Iraqis repeatedly used mustard gas, tabun, sarin and possibly other chemical agents against the Iranians. Most notoriously, in 1988, Iraqi aircraft dropped sarin and mustard gas on Iranian-held villages in rebellious Iraqi Kurdistan, killing up to 5,000 Iraqi Kurdish civilians.
The Duelfer report says that in the mid-1980s Baghdad had invited Egyptian chemical weapons experts to Iraq to help with production of sarin, a nerve agent that when inhaled can produce symptoms within seconds -- convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and possibly death.
From five tons in 1984, Iraqi sarin production rose to 209 tons in 1987 and 394 tons in 1988, the report says.
The U.S. arms hunters specify two other instances of critical Egyptian help:
• In 1983, the Egyptians modified the Iraqis' Grad 122mm multiple-launch rocket system to enable warheads to carry chemical agents. That powerful weapon system can launch 40 rockets with a range of 12 miles.
• A year later, the Egyptians supplied Iraq with 9-foot-long Grad rockets pre-equipped with plastic inserts in the warheads to hold the poisons.
The Duelfer findings were unsurprising to experienced U.N. inspectors, who first entered Iraq in 1991, after it was defeated by a U.S.-led coalition in the Gulf War, to destroy its chemical and biological weapons and dismantle its project to build nuclear bombs.
"We were aware from back in 1991 that there was a link between Iraq and Egypt on chemical weapons," said Ron G. Manley of Britain, a former senior U.N. adviser on chemical weapons. He said the warhead inserts, known as an Egyptian design, were an early clue.
The U.N. inspectors pinned down details of the connection through extensive searches of scientists' and government offices, downloading of Iraqi computer files and, finally, through "open and frank" discussions with officials in Egypt, said another expert familiar with the U.N. work.
This specialist, who spoke with AP on this "very sensitive matter" on condition he not be named, said much has yet to be made public about Egyptian-Iraqi dealings on chemical weapons.
"It represents a small piece of a long history of cooperation," he said of the Duelfer disclosures.
The U.N. inspectors never publicly divulged the Cairo connection, in keeping with a policy of not naming companies and countries that helped Iraq, to encourage them to cooperate in investigations. Nor have the CIA or U.N. agencies made documentary evidence of the Egypt link public.
In Washington, Egyptian Embassy spokesman Hisham Elnakib repeated a long-standing official denial: "Egypt had no relation whatsoever with Iraq in the field of chemical weapons."
Iraq's actions violated the 1925 Geneva Protocol banning use of chemical weapons, but Egyptian aid, strictly speaking, would not have been a violation, said a leading scholar in this field, Jonathan Tucker of California's Monterey Institute of International Studies.
However, "it definitely is a violation of an emerging norm against chemical warfare," he said.