New theory for Iraq's missing WMD: Saddam was fooled into thinking he had them
Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger in Washington
Wednesday December 24, 2003
British officials are circulating a story that Saddam Hussein may have been hoodwinked into believing that Iraq really did possess weapons of mass destruction.
The theory, which is doing the rounds in the upper reaches of Whitehall, is the result of an attempt to find what one official source called a "logical reason" why no chemical and biological weapons had been found in Iraq.
According to the theory, Saddam and his senior advisers and commanders were told by lower-ranking Iraqi officers that his forces were equipped with usable chemical and biological weapons.
The officers did not want to tell their superiors that the weapons were either destroyed or no longer usable.
The trouble for Britain was, the theory goes, that MI6's informants were the senior officials close to Saddam with the result that British intelligence was also hoodwinked.
The hypothesis, which is being spread privately by offi cials, is open to the interpretation that the government is searching for an excuse, however implausible, for failure to discover any WMD in Iraq.
"A delicious irony if true" is how it was described yesterday by Gary Samore of the International Institue for Strategic Studies.
He said he was familiar with the hypothesis being put about by British officials "trying to figure out why Saddam behaved in such an irrational fashion".
He said it was possible that Britain or the US had captured documents written by Iraqi officers, and sent to Saddam, making exaggerated claims about Iraq's WMD programme.
Dr Samore also said US and British intelligence had picked up "chatter" during the war interpreted as Iraqi forces preparing to use chemical weapons. That, he said, could be explained by Iraqis "playing games" - pretending the weapons existed to frighten the enemy knowing they would be overheard. Alternatively, it could indicate Saddam really did order the weapons to be used, said Dr Samore.
US officials reacted sceptically to the suggestion that Saddam was fooled by his own scientists.
"That sort of thing is verifiable after all. Saddam's people could have gone to check if they had the tube of anthrax or whatever weapon they claimed to have," said one intelligence source in Washington.
But David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector in regular contact with Iraqi scientists, said the system in which those scientists worked was guaranteed to produce misleading information.
"Scientists would hoodwink their own bosses with all sorts of exaggerations of their achievements," said Mr Albright, who heads the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security.
Hans Blix, the former US weapons inspector in Iraq, said yesterday that most experts on Iraq now believed Saddam almost certainly destroyed his weapons of mass destruction after the first Gulf War in 1991.
"I think the vast majority of people are feeling there is very little likelihood that they [the Iraqis] had anything, and the biggest chance is that they destroyed them in 1991," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
Dr Blix has always argued that weapons may be unaccounted for, but that did not mean they existed.