Saddam Sent WMD to Syria, Former General Alleges
That's one of several dramatic claims made in the book by former Iraqi General Georges Sada: "Saddam's Secrets: How an Iraqi General Defied and Survived Saddam Hussein." Since the launch of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Sada has served as the spokesman for Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and continues to serve as national security advisor. He is the former vice marshal of the Iraqi Air Force. Sada was interviewed at the headquarters of Cybercast News Service on Jan. 30.
Sada contends that Saddam took advantage of a June 4, 2002, irrigation dam collapse in Zeyzoun, Syria, to ship the weapons under cover of an aid project to the flooded region.
"[Saddam] said 'Okay, Iraq is going to do an air bridge to help Syria," Sada recounted. Two commercial jets, a 747 and 727, were converted to cargo jets, in order to carry raw materials and equipment related to WMD projects, Sada said. The passenger seats, galleys, toilets and storage compartments were removed and new flooring was installed, he claimed. Hundreds of tons of chemicals were reportedly included in the cargo shipments.
"They used to do two sorties a day," said Sada. "Fifty-six sorties were done between Baghdad and Damascus."
Sada said he obtained the information from two Iraq Airways captains who were reportedly flying the sorties. "They came immediately and they told me," said Sada.
This is not the first time that the possibility of a transfer of WMDs from Iraq to Syria has been raised. Two years ago, U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, (R-Kan), chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence acknowledged that "there is some concern that shipments of WMD went to Syria." No details were forthcoming. The claims have also been made by the U.S.-based Reform Party of Syria.
Sada told Cybercast News Service that he has not been debriefed by U.S. officials regarding his allegations that Saddam smuggled WMDs to Syria. He anticipates, now that his book has been released, that he will be meeting with U.S. officials regarding the information.
U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, plans to meet with Sada to discuss the allegations. "The chairman has read General Sada's book and talked to Retired Col. (David) Eberly," said Jamal Ware, communications director for the committee. "He will meet with General Sada to hear first-hand him laying out the case that this transferal may have happened."
There is "no doubt" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, according to Eberly. He adds that Sada's book is "evidence" of that. Eberly's F-15E jet was shot down on Jan. 19, 1991, the third day of the first Persian Gulf War. He credits Sada with saving his life after the Iraqi general refused an order from one of Saddam's sons to execute Eberly and 23 other pilots who had been taken as prisoners of war.
"Qusay (Hussein) had ordered [Sada] to execute all the pilots," Eberly said. "But Georges wouldn't do it. He argued that the rights accorded to prisoners under the Geneva Convention were inviolable." Eberly said Sada was arrested on Jan. 25, 1991, by the Iraqi Republican Guard and held prisoner. Sada said Saddam eventually changed his mind about the executions, probably because he realized the killings would galvanize world opinion against him.
Hoekstra believes details on pre-war Iraq are "cloudy" and that more should be done to gain a "clearer sense of what was happening in pre-war Iraq," Ware said. "A lot of people reached deterministic conclusions, but there is evidence that still needs to be checked before final conclusions [are made] on WMD and Saddam Hussein's connections to terrorists."
Hoekstra is pushing for the declassification of select documents and debriefing of relevant officials from Saddam Hussein's regime. "All these things are critical elements," said Ware.
David Kay, who as head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), led the CIA's hunt for WMD in Iraq until December 2003, made headlines in January 2004 when he asserted that pre-war intelligence on Iraq's WMD had been "almost all wrong." Kay added that he himself had previously believed there were WMD in Iraq, and that intelligence from various countries like Germany and France indicated the same thing.
In October 2004 Kay told National Public Radio (NPR) that "There is no evidence of any transfer of weapons material to Syria, and certainly not of weapons, in the lead-up to the Gulf War, although that's an area that will always have some ambiguity because the Syrians, to say the least, have not been cooperative in running down any leads in Syria.
"The bulk of the evidence really points to -- that things did go to Syria, but they weren't weapons of mass destruction or weapons material," Kay added. He said there is "no evidence" that Iraq ever produced any large amounts of chemical nerve agents after 1991. "In fact, all the evidence is just the opposite," he told NPR.
Kay was succeeded by Charles Duelfer, whose 1,500-page October 2004 report on WMD bore many similarities.
"There were no WMD stockpiles; my conclusion, Charles Duelfer's conclusion," Kay said. He and Duelfer asserted that Saddam's regime maintained a vague intention to resume WMD production at some point and for that reason had attempted to hold on to "intellectual capital" related to the programs.
Those conclusions were made in spite of the congressional testimony in 2002 from Iraqi nuclear scientist Khidhir Hamza, who suggested Iraq might have a nuclear weapon by 2005. Hamza defected to the U.S. from Iraq in 1994.
Richard Butler, former head of the United Nations weapons inspection team in Iraq, gave similar testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "What there is now is evidence that Saddam has reinvigorated his nuclear weapons program," Butler said. He also reported that Iraq had an extensive chemical weapons program and had tested various ways to deliver biological weapons.
After hearing the testimony from Hamza and Butler, Sen. Joseph Biden, (D-Del.), head of the Foreign Relations panel, commented that "one thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power."
Approximately a month later, Hamza was accused by former employer David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, of deliberately distorting his credentials and making inaccurate statements on nuclear programs. The accusation was echoed by five other Iraqi nuclear scientists, both pro-war and anti-war.
In a now-famous speech just three months after Hamza's testimony, President Bush asserted that "if the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little larger than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year."
A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll conducted the weekend of Jan 20 indicates that 53 per cent of Americans say Bush and his administration misled the public about Iraq's WMD program as a justification for the invasion of Iraq in 2003.