Voice from the Commonwealth Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts
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U.S. intelligence officials hunting for Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction would do well to talk with one of their opposite number - a former Iraqi intelligence officer who became the involuntary guest of jailers in a Kurdish prison in northern Iraq. He says he can tell them where some of Saddam's secrets are buried. Literally. Because he helped bury them.
"We transported them to numerous sites, for example, we would transport them from Salman Pak to Tikrit, a desert area, or outside Baghdad....to a desert area called the Al-'Ayth Desert region," the onetime Iraqi agent said in an interview contained in a new book, "Avoiding Armageddon," published by Basic Books, which I wrote as a companion to the PBS series of the same name (on which I was managing editor) that aired this month.
"It is a deserted, uninhabited desert except for a few shepherds. ... It wasn't a building. We would find prepared places, large holes already dug by shovels during the night. The shovels were ready there. There were cranes that would raise the weapons, put them into the holes and cover them up."
The former Iraqi intelligence officer says that after the first Persian Gulf War, a key mission of his elite unit was to hide the weapons from the UNSCOM inspectors, headed then by Richard Butler.
"The Iraqis transported weapons expeditiously, when Richard Butler came," he said. "He would want to inspect a certain site. The Iraqis did not take precautions, thorough precautions, for example wearing special uniform, or clothes protecting one from chemical weapons. They would transport the weapons right away and would be in direct contact with the chemical agents, without taking any full precautions. A large number of my friends contracted diseases. Some of them had cancer and other diseases through their contact ... "(Our unit) would not take ordinary missions, only when we had the duty of assassinating a prominent figure abroad outside Iraq or transporting Kuwaiti prisoners of war or transporting prohibited weapons, that is, we carried out very special missions. It was called the Unit of Special Missions. Our duties or missions would be issued from the presidency council, from the president directly.
"Saddam Kamil (Saddam's son-in-law) would directly contact us, sometimes at very late hours at night, saying that we had to transfer prohibited weapons. We would have to sign a pledge, a vow, that whoever divulged the secret would be executed. He would say that those were prohibited weapons and anyone who would reveal where they came from and where they would be taken knew what would happen to him. Thus we knew the nature of the weapons.
"...We transported them in containers, plastic containers. ... There were no markings on them. Their color was tawny or deeper. ... We transported them on those trailers that carry 45 tons."
He said he did not know precisely what was in the containers he helped bury - "my knowledge is limited since this is not within my specialization. ... All I knew was that those containers contained weapons internationally prohibited. If they hadn't been internationally prohibited, we would have handed them over to Richard Butler and that would be the end.
"And if Saddam didn't want to use those weapons, he would have ended this tragedy, the tragedy of the sanctions, and handed the weapons to Butler and ended this tragedy."
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