By Tim Cornwell (Scotsman, 24 February 2003)
The highest-ranking defector ever to turn informant on Saddam Husseins government told United Nations weapons inspectors in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed all its chemical and biological weapons stocks after the Gulf war.
But UN inspectors hushed up that part of Hussein Kamels story - which he also told to debriefers from British and United States intelligence - because they wanted to keep the pressure on Iraq to tell more.
The revelation, reported in the US magazine Newsweek, raises new questions over claims by the US and Britain that Iraq has failed to account for vast stores of chemical and biological weapons.
Of the thousands of chemical bombs and thousands of litres of deadly anthrax said to have gone mysteriously missing inside Iraq, most date back to before 1991.
Iraq has long claimed to have destroyed the weapons "unilaterally", but a regime hardly famous for its honesty and openness is accused of failing to provide hard evidence.
However "the defectors tale raises questions about whether the WMD [weapons of mass destruction] stockpiles attributed to Iraq still exist" Newsweek reported.
Kamel, Saddams son-in-law, defected to Jordan with his wife and family in 1995. His sensational departure, in a convoy of black Mercedes, was received as evidence that Saddams regime was soon to fall.
He was shot to death after he returned to Iraq six months later in the hope of leniency from Saddam, along with his brother, also married to one of Saddams daughters. If nothing else, the report sheds new light on one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the regime and its leader.
Kamels value as an informant, however, was huge; for ten years he had run Iraqs nuclear, chemical, biological and missile weapons programmes, as well as Iraqi efforts to keep the weapons secret.
Kamel talked to both the then UN chief inspector, Rolf Ekeus, and agents from the CIA and MI6 in Jordan. Among other revelations, he provided the first report that Iraq was developing mobile biological weapons factories - a subject on which Colin Powell, the US Secretary of State, dwelt long and hard in his recent damning presentation to the UN Security Council.
But Kamels story that Iraq had indeed - as it has long claimed - destroyed chemical and biological stocks back in 1991 was never reported.
While UN inspection teams have been trying to investigate what weapons Iraq may have built since the Gulf war, the mystery of what happened to older munitions remains vital.
Iraqs chief liaison officer to the UN inspection teams, General Hossam Amin, said yesterday that Iraq had begun to dig trenches in the areas it claims the weapons were destroyed.
A UN team was due in Baghdad on 2 March to examine the sites and carry out soil tests, he said. Gen Amin also said Iraq had made no decision on a UN order that it destroy its Al Samoud 2 missile programme. But "we are serious about solving this", he said.
In his 27 January report to the UN Security Council, Hans Blix, the chief UN arms inspector, bolstered the case for war when he accused Iraq of co-operating on process, but not substance.
Early in his report, Mr Blix noted that "one of three important questions before us today is how much might remain undeclared and intact from before 1991; and, possibly, thereafter".
The second question, he said, was what if anything was illegally produced or procured after 1998, when inspectors left the country, and the third was how the production of weapons of mass destruction could be prevented in the future. Mr Blix singled out the issue of 6,500 chemical bombs that were unaccounted for, containing in total up to 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents.
The missing bombs date back to before 1991, with Iraq claiming they were used in the Iran-Iraq war, which ended in 1988.
Mr Blix also raised questions over about 8,500 litres of anthrax, which Iraq "states it unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991. Iraq has provided little evidence for this production and no convincing evidence for its destruction," he said.
Iraq also has claimed that a small quantity of the deadly poison VX, which it produced, was unilaterally destroyed in the summer of 1991.
When Mr Blix returned to the UN with his much more favourable report on 14 February, he noted that Iraq had provided a list of 83 people involved in the unilateral destruction of chemicals, which "appears useful". Newsweek said it had obtained the notes of Kamels debriefing by the UN team, and that he told the same story to MI6 and the CIA.
But his revelations were hushed up for two reasons, the magazine said. Saddam did not know how much Kamel had revealed, and inspectors hoped to call his bluff; in addition, there was no corroborating evidence that the weapons were destroyed.
Kamel did not give Iraq a clean bill of health. He said the stocks were destroyed to hide the programmes, rather than end them, with Iraq secretly holding on to blueprints, computer disks, and other engineering details, in order to resume productions after inspections ended.
Kamels defection in August 1995 was an international sensation. He drove out of Iraq in a convoy of black Mercedes with his wife, Raghad, his brother, Saddam, sister-in-law, Rina, and several of Saddam Husseins grandchildren. A family feud with Uday Hussein, Saddams son, was blamed.
The Iraqi government, badly rattled, immediately admitted for the first time to having a biological weapons programme - though it stuck to the story that the weapons were destroyed.
Kamel told the inspectors about Iraqs attempt to develop a home-grown missile, Project 1728, and of the secret committee, set up by Saddam himself, expressly to keep secrets from the inspectors.
Spurned by the Iraqi opposition, and complaining that the Western officials sent to talk to him were too junior, he made the bizarre decision to return to Iraq. The two brothers were forced to divorce their wives and were killed in a gun battle with the presidential guard soon after.
The UN ceasefire resolution that ended the Gulf war on 3 April, 1991, laid down the ground rules for the work now continuing today.
It called for the destruction, removal or rendering harmless of all chemical and biological weapons, and all stocks of agents and components. The same rules applied for ballistic missiles with a range greater than 93 miles.
The UN inspection teams strategy in Iraq, said one expert, is "all about accounting. It has always been to try and force the Iraqis to account, and documentarily prove, all their claims and positions".
Gen Amin yesterday told journalists that Iraq was studying a letter from Mr Blix ordering destruction of all Al Samoud 2 missiles, warheads, fuel, engines and other components. Iraq has declared 76 Al Samouds, but the UN estimates it has up to 120.
Timetable for action
28 FEBRUARY: Hans Blix, the UNs chief weapons inspector, is due to submit a written report to the Security Council.
1 MARCH: Deadline for Saddam to start destroying the illegal al-Samoud missiles.
3 MARCH: The US 101st Airborne Division due to arrive in the Gulf, bringing its heavy equipment.
11 MARCH: OPEC, the Arab-dominated group of oil price fixers, meets in Vienna.
14 MARCH: The French-proposed deadline for Saddam to comply with all UN demands. This is also the "crunch date" understood to be favoured by Mr Blair.