FEBRUARY 1999 : (NIGER : IRAQ'S FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE VATICAN AL-ZAHAWIE VISITS NIAMEY, NIGER'S CAPITOL, WHILE ON A TOUR OF WEST AFRICAN NATIONS, TO INVITE PRESIDENT MAINASSARA TO BAGHDAD) a February 1999 visit to Niamey, Niger's capital, by Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican. [He later claimed that his] trip had nothing to do with uranium. He was touring four West African nations, he said, and came here to invite Niger's then-President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara to Baghdad. Mainassara was assassinated two months later, and al-Zahawie could not be reached for comment about their talks. - "A look at the U.S.-British claims that Iraq tried to acquire uranium in Africa," AP, SEPT 21, 2003
From a previous post by Fedora:
In 1999, French intelligence had begun investigating the security of uranium supplies in Niger, where uranium production was controlled by a consortium led by the French mining company COGEMA, a division of the French state-owned nuclear energy firm AREVA. At that time, Italian businessman Rocco Martino provided French intelligence with genuine documents revealing that Iraq was planning to expand trade with Niger. French intelligence took an interest in the documents and asked Martino to provide more information. In 2000 he used a contact in the Niger embassy in Rome to provide French intelligence with documents purporting that Iraq had purchased uranium from Niger. These documents were later exposed as forgeries;
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Since it is now also known that French intelligence was trying to push Martinos forgeries on US and British intelligence, as simultaneously the Democratic National Committee was planning to discredit President Bushs Iraq policy by accusing his administration of manufacturing evidence against Husseins regime, heightened suspicion is cast on Wilsons use of the Niger investigation to discredit the Bush administrations case for war.
Based on this bootleg FT excerpt, Libya had 2,600 tons of yellowcake from Niger, even though the COGEMA records and controls in which Joe Wilson put such faith showed only 1,500 tons had been shipped from Niger to Libya.
Here is the missing piece of the puzzle they were looking for:
Iraq and four other countries were attempting to purchase uranium from Niger as far back as 1999, European intelligence officials told the Financial Times. The unidentified sources told the newspaper illicit sales were being negotiated at least three years before last year's U.S.-led invasion.
They said between 1999 and 2001, uranium smugglers planned to sell the ore or refined ore called yellow cake, to Iran, Libya, China, North Korea and Iraq.
An official said meetings between Niger officials and would-be buyers from the five countries were held in several European countries. Intelligence officers were convinced that the uranium would be smuggled from abandoned mines in Niger, circumventing official export controls.
European intelligence officers have now revealed that three years before the fake documents became public, human and electronic intelligence sources from a number of countries picked up repeated discussion of an illicit trade in uranium from Niger. One of the customers discussed by the traders was Iraq.
Information gathered in 1999-2001 suggested that the uranium sold illicitly would be extracted from mines in Niger that had been abandoned as uneconomic by the two French-owned mining companies-Cominak and Somair, both of which are owned by the mining giant Cogema-operating in Niger.
"Mines can be abandoned by Cogema when they become unproductive. This doesn't mean that people near the mines can't keep on extracting," a senior European counter-proliferation official said.