Was it too early for an “Interim Progress Report” from the group searching for WMDs in Iraq? The statement made yesterday by David Kay, the director of the Iraq Survey Group, comes after three months on the job. I don’t know whether he was required to make this report, but it might seem that three months is a long time to be searching a small country like Iraq and that surely we now have a pretty good idea of what is there. I just finished reading the statement and the truth is quite otherwise. Overall, the report is notable for its extreme caution. While admitting that no stocks of illegal weapons have been found, it concludes that we can’t say yet whether or not such weapons exist now or existed before the war; what we do know for sure is that there is plenty of evidence that Saddam intended to maintain a WMD program.
What is really interesting, though, are the problems in the search for WMD. First off, if your idea of what they are looking for is something big and distinctive, like a Soviet missile, a Wal-Mart store, or even a locomotive engine, you have the wrong idea. What Kay is looking for is small, the kind of thing that can be hidden in a scientist’s back yard or concealed in spaces “not much larger than a two car garage.” The things we are looking for, Kay says, are “difficult to near impossible to identify with normal search procedures.” It is going to take a lot longer than three months to get to the bottom here.
Besides that, Kay reveals that the Bathists went to great lengths to disperse and conceal their weapons programs. Indeed, his team has already “discovered dozens of WMD-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment” that Iraq successfully concealed from UN inspectors in 2002. Dozens! And then, leading up to, during, and even after the war, there is evidence of a systematic plan to destroy material and records relating to weapons programs. Again, Kay’s team has been able to examine only 10 of the 130 known Iraqi “Ammunition Storage Points, many of which exceed 50 square miles in size”. In other words, only 7% of the most obvious known sites have even been examined. Still again, the report suggests that some of the Iraqi scientists who might be willing to cooperate with the search team are holding back for fear of exposing themselves to war crimes prosecutions. And finally, as American inspectors go about their business the remnants of Saddam’s regime are shooting at them. In September alone, they were attacked three times, most recently on the 24th, when their Baghdad headquarters came under mortar attack. For all these reasons, I’d say that the “Interim Report” is more like a “Very Preliminary Report”. It is possible, even probable that Saddam destroyed or moved the most incriminating evidence, but there is an awful lot more work to be done before we can conclude that Iraq had no illicit weapons.