Tags: Iraq | Weapons | Hunter | Was | Stymied | Albright

Iraq Weapons Hunter Was Stymied By Albright

Thursday, 07 October 2004 12:00 AM

Before officially joining the CIA weapons hunt earlier this year, Duelfer spent more than 8 years hunting WMD at the United Nations, first for the noted Swede Rolf Ekeus, than the flamboyant Aussie Richard Butler.

Butler, known for his repeated clashes with Iraq officials, was eventually forced out of his U.N. job by the French and Russian ambassadors in June 1999.

Duelfer, succeeded Butler in July 1999, and later resigned in March 2000, when Hans Blix was recruited to carry on the secret Iraqi weapons hunt. During Duelfer's tenure at the U.N., it was the Clinton White House who drove Iraqi policy in the Security Council.

In December 1998, Clinton launched Operation Desert Fox against Iraq. The air attacks against suspected WMD factories and storage facilities grabbed headlines, but in the end, never produced hard evidence that any illegal weapons had been destroyed.

It was at that point, the Clinton White House made a critical decision to "shelve" the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM). UNSCOM was created shortly after Operation Desert Storm in 1991 to uncover Saddam Hussein's secret weapons programs. By 1996, UNSCOM had not only uncovered most of Saddam's hidden programs but had privately come to the conclusion that what else may still remain was not of "signifcant" consequence.

Such a report was being prepared by then UNSCOM chief Rolf Ekeus. But Ekeus, under pressure from the Clinton White House, pulled back and never issued the report. The U.S. felt that if such a report had been sent to the Security Council, the pressure to begin lifting the punishing economic sanctions imposed after Iraq invaded Kuwait (August 1990) would markedly increase.

That ran contrary to the Clinton White House policy to "get rid of Saddam Hussein."

It was the same policy that drove the White House to abandon its support of U.N.-Iraq weapons inspector Richard Butler. Butler's aggressive attitude towards Iraq, was too strong for the White House. Butler, like Ekeus, began to suspect that most of Iraq's WMD programs had been "moth-balled."

But under pressure from Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Butler publicly "hedged" any official assessments.

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger was known to be "uncomfortable" with Butler. U.S. diplomats at the U.N. privately referred to the Aussie diplomat as an "unguided" missile. Eventually, the Russians and French, looking to resume business ties with the Iraqis, forced Butler to the sidelines.

Washington was content to just look on.

The only support the State Department gave Butler was a "going away" party at the U.S./U.N. ambassador's residence at the Waldorf Astoria.

With Butler gone, Clinton and Albright decided to push the Iraq weapons issue to the back-burner. Presidential elections were only a year off, and the White House did not want Iraq to emerge as a major campaign issue.

Duelfer, Butler's deputy, was on loan from the State Department. A veteran of the department of political/military affairs, Duelfer, unlike Butler, could be counted on the maintain a low profile and keep Iraq out of the news. He also had a State Department pension to protect.

From July 1999 through March 2000, Duelfer and his U.N. team were essentially put in cold storage by the Clinton administration. Most U.S. intelligence to UNSCOM stopped. No more satellite surveillance, no more USAF U-2 spy flights over Iraq.

Duelfer and company were relegated to their U.N. offices and spent almost the following year analyzing and re-analyzing materials obtained from year's past.

The situation prompted Duelfer to confess to this reporter hat "UNSCOM was imploding" and that the U.N.'s weapons hunt "was no longer on Washington's radar scope."

Duelfer, like his U.N. predecessors, could also find no convincing proof that Saddam had resurrected his secret WMD programs.

In short, the White House decided the "Iraq" problem was to be put on "indefinite hold." Duelfer, growing increasingly frustrated by the White House's moves, eventually turned over the reins to veteran Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, in March 2000.

Blix also became frustrated by the White House's Iraq policy, but then came the 2000 elections and the attacks of 9/11.

"That changed everything," Blix once confided.

What it did not change was one important fact: Saddam no longer had any significant WMD and hadn't for almost 10 years. A fact known to senior officials of the Clinton White House but never publicly acknowledged.

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Before officially joining the CIA weapons hunt earlier this year, Duelfer spent more than 8 years hunting WMD at the United Nations, first for the noted Swede Rolf Ekeus, than the flamboyant Aussie Richard Butler. Butler, known for his repeated clashes with Iraq...
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Thursday, 07 October 2004 12:00 AM
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