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Iraq: Interview -- U.S. Group Reveals Evidence Of Iraq-Eastern Europe Arms Smuggling

  • Charles Recknagel

An independent U.S. foundation for research into arms-control issues has published new evidence that Baghdad sought to procure -- and, in some cases, procured -- banned weapons material from Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia in the early and mid-1990s. Researchers at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control obtained the evidence from previously unpublished reports by inspectors with the former UN Special Commission for Iraq (UNSCOM). RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel this week interviewed one of the researchers, Kelly Motz, about the findings, which were published on 19 June in the U.S. monthly "Commentary."

Prague, 20 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Our correspondent interviewed Kelly Motz, co-author of the article entitled "Shopping with Saddam Hussein," which appears in the current July-August issue of "Commentary" magazine. She spoke from Washington, D.C., where the Wisconsin Project -- which is supported by the University of Wisconsin -- is located.

RFE/RL: Why is the information in your article credible?

Motz: "These materials are convincing because they are the actual reports written up by inspectors as they were leaving Iraq after each set of inspections. They are the working notes which were used to formulate UN reports that were made public. One reason these reports weren't made public at the time that they were written is because the inspectors really needed to protect both companies and countries in order to gain their cooperation. UNSCOM [the former UN Special Commission for Iraq] did a lot of its work getting help, for example, from companies in Germany which came forward and said, 'We sold Iraq this, that and the other good,' and that would enable the inspectors to know what they were looking for on the other end. If they were embarrassing companies and pointing fingers at the time, that would have curtailed that cooperation. So, there was a real reason [at that time] not to put this information forward."

RFE/RL: How did you get these reports?

Motz: "UNMOVIC [that is, the successor UN arms inspection group] took over all of UNSCOM's documents and its databases and some of its personnel when it came on line [was established -- in late 1999]. We just gained access to these through private means. They are not in general [in the] public domain."

RFE/RL: What kind of activities did firms in the countries you mention -- Romania, Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia -- engage in with Iraq?

Motz: "We are seeing everything from just some basic negotiations that probably didn't go anywhere once the firms figured out what was trying to be purchased, all the way up to -- we have contracts that were actually implemented and goods that were found in Iraq by the inspectors. We have contracts for missile engine components, for guidance components for missiles. We actually found some high-end machine tools that are useful for making nuclear weapons, military goods such as [conventional] helicopters and aircraft which were clearly embargoed."

RFE/RL: What was the most dramatic example of a transaction which could have directly helped Iraq in its nuclear weapons program?

Motz: "There was one case in which a Romanian firm agreed to supply one hundred complete missile engines, and we don't know whether that deal went through or not. But that would have definitely helped Iraq to upgrade its Scud-type missiles, to have all those engines to work with."

RFE/RL: What other evidence do you have of material that could helped Baghdad's nuclear weapons program?

Motz: "The only nuclear examples we have, really, are machine tools that would be used to help build weapons -- no actual [nuclear] components. We have a lot more evidence of missile components such as regulators, which would control the thrust of an engine. They made a lot more missile purchases and military purchases that we have been able to actually track down than nuclear [purchases]. That may in part be also [due to] our source. Our source, UNSCOM, reports they were responsible for chemical, biological [weapons] and missiles. They were not responsible for nuclear inspections."

RFE/RL: Can you describe Iraq's system for smuggling these goods into the country?

Motz: "A lot of these went through areas where there just weren't monitors at the time. For example, there has been an arrangement with Jordan almost since the start that Jordan can purchase at reduced rate Iraqi oil, not through the UN oil-for-food program. It has not really been official but countries have turned their heads because Jordan really has no other source of oil.

"Well, what the down side to this is that this oil really forms slush funds that Saddam can then use to buy his way out of the box in which we [the U.S.] like to say we have contained him. He is using petrodollars to rebuild his weapons sites. So, for example, a middleman in Jordan would place an order with some supplier in one of these countries and could use these slush funds to pay for the purchase which would then be shipped overland from Jordan through this middleman into Iraq. And there really weren't too many border controls. Some trucks were getting stopped but there is just an overwhelming amount of truck traffic that goes across that border. The oil-for-food trucks were all very willing to stop because without that signature [from inspectors] they could not get paid. So they stopped voluntarily once they were inside Iraq, but the border controls in Jordan have not been active for a few years."

RFE/RL: You say that the "smart" sanctions proposals now being discussed at the UN might not be able to eliminate the smuggling and bring all of Baghdad's oil income under the UN's control. Why?

Motz: "The goal is the correct goal, to really choke off the smuggling at the borders. Unfortunately, there are two problems. One, what is before the UN right now is more negotiating [of] what would be on a list of controlled items, and they have put off to some unspecified future date discussions with the front-line states to try to cut off smuggling. It's really not part of the resolution before the UN at all. That's one problem. The second is just a matter of political will, capital, and maybe even financial incentives that would be required to really put pressure on the states that are around Iraq to choke off the routes into Iraq as well as the companies in other countries that are willing to supply Iraq. It's possible, but it would take a lot more willpower than we have demonstrated recently."

RFE/RL: What incentives do neighboring countries have to cooperate, and to not cooperate, with smart sanctions?

Motz: "They are making a lot of money through smuggling routes and they are also making a lot of money through the legitimate oil-for-food routes. And Iraq has threatened all of them with taking its business elsewhere if they were to cooperate with smart sanctions, and I think that is a valid threat. These countries would need to be given an incentive, perhaps a financial incentive, some -- perhaps -- [a] promise of protection. There has been talk of using the [UN-Iraq] escrow account to finance purchases because there is a real threat that they will lose this trade with Iraq and for some of the smaller countries that is a significant portion of their economy."

RFE/RL: What was your intention in making your findings public now?

Motz: "We are trying to give a wake-up call and these instances show that [Iraq's] arms procurement network is alive and well and it was working well despite sanctions and even when inspectors were on the ground. So, one has to wonder what has happened in the two and a half years since they left."

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