Skip to comments.Saddam's Man in Niger (Christopher Hitchens)
Posted on 09/15/2006 10:03:34 PM PDT by jdm
LET US CREDIT the Senate Intelligence Committee with almost getting the name right. On pages 25-26 of its latest report appears the following:
The head of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program, Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, stated that after 1998, Iraq had two contacts with Niger and neither was regarding uranium. In 1999, Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See, Wissam Zahawie, traveled to Niger to invite the President of Niger to visit Iraq and, in 2001, a Nigerien minister visited Iraq to discuss purchasing petroleum. The ISG [Iraq Survey Group] recovered a draft contract between Niger and Iraq supporting the purchase of crude oil by Niger in exchange for cash.
And, on page 54 we read, under the heading "Conclusions":
Iraq had two contacts with Niger after 1998, but neither involved the purchase of uranium. The purpose of a visit to Niger by the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, was to invite the president of Niger to visit Iraq. The other visit involved discussions of a Nigerien oil purchase from Iraq.
Since the report does not trouble to supply any reasoning from the evidence to its conclusions, we are left to infer that there is nothing odd about Saddam Hussein's envoy (to the Vatican) paying a visit to Niger, and nothing unusual about Niger's desire to buy ("for cash") crude oil from a country under international sanctions that is much less close and convenient a source of oil than, say, its neighbors Nigeria and Algeria.
It takes only a very little work to find that neither of these assumptions is a safe one. To begin with, we do not owe the information about Wissam al-Zahawie's visit to Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, and we have no good reason to think that "the head of Iraq's pre-1991 nuclear weapons program" would in any case have special knowledge about Saddam Hussein's diplomacy in 1999. (Unless of course that diplomacy had something to do with nuclear matters.) The name of Zahawie was the original red flag that alerted British intelligence to the possibility of untoward Iraqi activity in West Africa, and thus precipitated the tip-off to Washington that ignited the dispute over evidence that still preoccupies us. At no stage does the committee's report give even a hint of what the nature of this concern might have been, so I shall begin by filling in that huge blank.
Ambassador Rolf Ekeus is quite possibly the world's most distinguished international civil servant when it comes to questions of disarmament and nonproliferation. A founder of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and a former ambassador of Sweden to the United Nations and to the United States, he has made the subject a lifelong specialty. Appointed by the U.N. to head the UNSCOM inspection team after the end of the first Gulf war, he is credited with uncovering, identifying, and destroying more covert Iraqi weaponry than had been taken out by the war itself.
So widely recognized was the quality of his performance that, when inspections were proposed again in 2000, even Kofi Annan proposed renominating him for the task. (The appointment of Ekeus was overruled by France and Russia, who insisted on Hans Blix.) I might add that the experience also introduced Ekeus to what might be called the underside of Iraqi tactics on WMD: He was once offered a straight bribe of $2.5 million, to his face, by Saddam's deputy Tariq Aziz, and he took part in the debriefing of the Kamel brothers--Saddam's in-laws--when they defected from Iraq in 1995 with conclusive evidence of a state-run concealment program for WMD facilities. Ekeus remembers being met by Zahawie when he first arrived in Baghdad to begin Iraq's post-1991 disarmament, and being told by him that, having met in the past as diplomats, they were now enemies.
"When I first heard that it was Zahawie who had been to Niger," he told me, "I thought well, then, that's it. Conclusive." I asked him if he would put his reasons in writing, and here they are:
One of my colleagues remembers Zahawie as Iraq's delegate to the IAEA General Conference during the years 1982-84. One item on the agenda was the diplomatic and political fall-out of Israel's destruction of the Osirak reactor (a centerpiece of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions). . . . He was the under-secretary of the foreign ministry selected by Baghdad to represent Iraq on the most sensitive issue, the question of Iraq's nuclear weapons ambitions. His participation as leader of the Iraqi delegation to the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference merely confirms his standing as Iraq's top negotiator on nuclear weapons issues.In other words, Zahawie was no ordinary diplomat, and his background was well known to those who study these things. (In a correspondence with Zahawie elicited by what I wrote about him in Slate, he has confirmed to me his participation in those nuclear-related conferences.)
It may have occurred to you to ask--as the committee resolutely does not ask itself--why it was that such a man was posted to the Holy See, and why Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the Vatican was sent to a small West African country in February 1999. Well, in that year every other Iraqi embassy in Western Europe was closed, or downgraded to "interest section" level, and the Holy See was the only exception. As Ekeus added to me in his letter: "A resident ambassador in Rome was ideally placed to undertake discreet and sensitive missions, especially as he was fully plugged into the intricacies of nuclear weapons diplomacy."
How does Wissam al-Zahawie himself answer the question: What is a diplomat so senior--with or without nuclear experience--doing on a mission to a country to which he is not accredited? He has given two answers. On the nuclear issue, he stated to Hassan Fattah, then of Time magazine and now of the New York Times, that he did not know that Niger produced for export the only thing that it does produce for export, namely uranium "yellowcake." This claim I think we can safely describe as risibly untrue. Trying another tack, he now says that the purpose of his trip was to persuade Niger's president to break the U.N. embargo on official flights to Baghdad, and to pay a personal visit there. This only raises the same question in a different form. Why send Iraq's only fully accredited European ambassador such a long way on such a mission? And what were Saddam Hussein and the Nigerien president supposed to discuss if such a visit were to come off? The price of goats? Finally, it's worth noting that even the announced purpose of the visit was to circumvent U.N. sanctions, if only on a small matter.
Then there is the question of timing. In February 1999, when Zahawie's visit took place, Saddam Hussein had only just expelled the U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraqi soil, and had in consequence suffered a December 1998 bombing from the Clinton administration. Iraq has yellowcake of its own but had bought extra supplies from Niger as early as 1981: It might have seemed a propitious moment to resume contact with West Africa. And this in turn raises the question: Was Niger willing to entertain offers from Iraq, or from anyone else, for what was and is its only valuable commodity?
According to Mark Huband, the national security correspondent of the Financial Times, in an important front-page article he wrote on June 28, 2004, the consensus among European intelligence services was that Niger was attempting to deal in yellowcake with anyone it could find, from North Korea to Iran. According to documents recovered from Saddam Hussein's office, the president of Niger proposed himself for a visit to Iraq in June 1997 (thus incidentally proving that plans for such trips can be made without sending a Vatican-based ambassador several thousand miles from his base). And according to a new book entitled Shopping For Bombs, by the BBC's security correspondent Gordon Corera, another visitor to Niger in that very month of February 1999 was A.Q. Khan, whose black market in nuclear materials was then unknown outside a very small circle in his home country of Pakistan. According to a diary of the journey kept by Khan's associate Abu Bakr Siddiqui and obtained by Corera, "Niger has big uranium deposits." The next year, A.Q. Khan was back in Niger's capital. So we can say with some assurance that Niger's authorities (so briefly and so leniently investigated by Joseph Wilson) seem to have given at least the impression of being open for business. The notion that Niger was eager to pay "cash" for Iraqi oil is thus made even more dubious. Iraq had plenty of cash, as well as plenty of oil. Niger is cash-poor to say the very least. What currency, or medium of exchange, did it really have to offer in return?
Since the war in Iraq began, two independent British inquiries have firmly reiterated that the original intelligence concerning Niger was sound, and has withstood careful scrutiny. (The Senate Intelligence Committee does not even refer in a footnote to the findings of these inquiries.) The waters here have been slightly muddied by the production of a crudely forged document dated July 6, 2000, purporting to show Zahawie's seal on an actual agreement for the transfer of uranium. This easily discredited fabrication has allowed many people to dismiss the whole case. But such argument is purely anachronistic: The story of Zahawie's visit was known, and had been passed on by London to Washington, well before the bogus document was circulated. And it was never alleged in George W. Bush's famous 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had actually inked a deal, only that it had "sought" to do so. If the forgery was intended as disinformation, it is one of the more successful such efforts on record. If it was done chiefly for money, as the London Sunday Times has reported of two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome, it has had much the same effect.
To summarize: The Senate report gives two versions of Zahawie's name without ever once mentioning his significant background. It takes at face value his absurd claim about the supposedly innocent motive for his out-of-the-way trip. It accepts similarly bland assurances made by the government of Niger. It is unaware of the appearance of A.Q. Khan in the narrative. It does not canvass the views of our allies, or of tried-and-tested experts like Ambassador Ekeus. It offers little evidence and no argument in support of its conclusions. It is a minor disgrace, but a disgrace nevertheless.
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.
Think the Demo minority will understand they have been 'exposed'?
Leave it to Hitchens to tear apart that Senate Intelligence Committee report..
I betcha he can find more..much more.
Please FReepmail me if you want on or off my miscellaneous ping list.
Hitchens is an good writer and an ally in the WOT. Otherwise he can go piddle up a rope. I'll have to admit I haven't paid much attention to him since he did a hatchet job on W for the Beeb 3 or 4 years ago (or ever for that matter; I first became aware of him trashing Thatcher).
I think he was for the Clinton Impeachment too. He couldn't stand Algore too.
Just to refresh memories
Re: "break the U.N. embargo on official flights to Baghdad"
France and Russia had no problem with it. They couldn't take up the cause? IIRC they did...why then ask Niger?
They are too busy running around reading parts that they want the public to hear .. instead letting the public read the report for themselves
And many in the media are happy to go along with it
We don't have time for this. I mean Ann Nicole's son keels over due to a bad batch of meth, college football players accept gifts from pro scouts, we don't know who killed JonBenet, Natalie Holloway is still dead, a slutty teacher gets a news conference, some pro baseball players and pro bicycle riders MAY have taken steroids, you could put Pink and a Hampshire hog in identical party dresses and the hog would look better......
Gotta keep our eyes on the important things!
Bump for reading tomorrow...
Thanks for the post and pings.
Ping...and thank you!
Prior to the Internet and FR, all of this stuff would have been hidden, forever, from most people. It is therefore incumbent upon us, we who are on FR and get to learn all kinds of facts, still kept hidden from most, by the MSM, to make certain that we get this stuff out to as many people as each of us know.
Will this important story ever gain the status it deserves? Hitchens has been talking about it for awhile now, and even the conservative the Washington Times still hasn't noticed. I noticed yet another "no Iraqi yellowcake from Niger" story in yesterday's paper.
It seems that everything controversial that is going
on now can be traced back to the Rockefeller memo.
Yes, it can, but sadly, America no longer hands/shoots/uses the electric chair for traitors.
Via the MSM? No, it'll NEVER see the light of day.
It will see some light .. I just emailed it out
For a Trotskyite Hitchens gets it right quite often.
I think we are in a death struggle in this country and it is the enemy within that is the most dangerous. If this country and government were really united we would have had our troops home a year ago and the "insurgency" in Iraq would have been a non issue. Insurgencies only grow when they see they can wait out the opposition. With the actions of McCain and company our problems are truly bipartisan now. Our enemies know that by January of next year they stand a very real chance of our defacto surrender.
LOL....I mailed it out to! :-)
And McQueeg is NOT going to win the '08 GOP presidential primary.
A nickname for the BBC.
How about ALL of the Senators on the Senate Intelligence Committee ? Where the h*** are the Republicans now, and how did they produce such a shoddy, ill-conceived report? Mr. Hitchens is clearly smarter than any of these morons, but it makes no sense that with all their hearings, and all their bluster, the Senators on that Committee couldn't come up with something plausible. They are truly a disgraceful bunch. Pathetic.
This is excellent. The amazing Christopher Hitchens at his very best.
I'm late finding this thread, and only did because I "searched" to see if the following was already posted. It's a 9-11-06 radio interview with Christopher Hitchens.
Nice addition to your thread.
"Bush lied" bump
These guys think ahead. They're worried what the islamofascists think about them. Just in case they, the Islamist, do take over, the Senators would want to keep their offices. That kind of thing.
Makes you wonder about Vietnam, the Kennedys, Truman and Korea, FDR and the New Deal....
Thanks for the ping Howlin.
Exactly! And how could such a report be considered complete without considering millions of captured Iraqi documents? The Repubs got bamboozled by the Dems.
make certain that we get this stuff out to as many people as each of us know.
Ping - It's not as if we haven't seen this information before, but Hitchens does a good job of making it brief and readable.
Its eavesdropping work brought to light a hotline between Niger Ambassador Adamou Chekou (today advisor to Niger President Tandja Mamadou) and Iraqi diplomats in Rome, specifically with Wissam al-Zahawiah [aka Zahawi], Iraqi Ambassador to the Holy See.Holy See? As in Vatican? Where Vincent Cannistraro is the security advisor? Hmmm...
----- Source [via http://nuralcubicle.blogspot.com/2005_07_01_nuralcubicle_archive.html]
...150 posted on 11/01/2005 2:17:39 PM PST by ravingnutter | To 145
ANOTHER MUST READ:
How Bad Is the Senate Intelligence Report? .....Very bad.
by Stephen F. Hayes
The person whose response I most wanted is Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has claimed to discover that Saddam was guiltless on the charge of seeking uranium from Niger, and has further claimed to be the object, along with his CIA wife, of a campaign of government persecution. On Keith Olbermann's show on April 10, Wilson was asked about my article and about Zahawie. He replied that Zahawie:
is a man that I know from my time as acting ambassador in Baghdad during the first Gulf War. ... He was ambassador to the Vatican, and he made a trip in 1999 to several West and Central African countries for the express purpose of inviting chiefs of state to violate the ban on travel to Iraq. He has said repeatedly to the press, he's now in retirement, and also to the International Atomic Energy Agency, to their satisfaction, that uranium was not on his agenda.
In other words (I am prepared to keep on repeating this until at least one cow comes home), Joseph Wilson went to Niger in 2002 to investigate whether or not the country had renewed its uranium-based relationship with Iraq, spent a few days (by his own account) sipping mint tea with officials of that country who were (by his wife's account) already friendly to him, and came back with the news that all was above-board. Again to repeat myself, this must mean either that A) he did not know that Zahawie had come calling or B) that he did know but didn't think it worth mentioning that one of Saddam's point men on nukes had been in town. --------------- Christopher Hitchen's article in Slate, http://www.slate.com/id/2140058/
1984 : (IRAQI DIPLOMAT ZAHAWI TRIES TO BLOCK ISRAELI PRESIDENT FROM SPEAKING AT THE UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY) In 1984, he tried to block Israeli President Chaim Herzog from speaking to the General Assembly. "Wissam Zahawie of Iraq objected on the ground that, according to United Nations resolutions, Israel's claim that Jerusalem was its capital was 'null and void,'" reported The New York Times.-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
1995 : (UN CONFERENCE ON EXTENDING THE NPT : IRAQI DIPLOMAT AL ZAHAWI COMMENTS) At a 1995 UN conference on extending the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Zahawie (sometimes spelled "Zahawi") argued that unless Israel was stripped of nuclear weapons, other states would need to engage in "a secret or public" arms race to "restore a certain balance."-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
APRIL 24, 1995 : (UN CONFERENCE ON EXTENDING THE NPT : IRAQI DIPLOMAT AL ZAHAWI COMMENTS) In an official UN summary of the April 24, 1995, session of this [UN] conference [on extending the NPT]provided to me by the United Nations LibraryZahawie sometimes referred to Israel as the "entity." "In that entity," the summary cites him as saying, "there was a powerful opposition party which was expected to win the forthcoming elections and which was urging that not a single inch of the occupied territories should be surrendered, and was ready, in its fanaticism, to go to any lengths, whatever the cost. It was not hard to see what that party would do with its nuclear bomb."
"[B]y exempting one State [Israel] from applying the provisions of the Treaty while expecting others to respect it forever," the UN summary cites Zahawie as saying, "there would inevitably be attempts to restore a certain balance. That meant an arms race, whether secret or public"
"Efforts must therefore be made either to establish equity and equilibrium," the UN summary reports Zahawie as saying, "orpreferablyto attain the ultimate goal sought by all mankind, namely the complete and permanent elimination of the nuclear threat."
Citing what he characterized as belligerent statements by various U.S. leaders of the Cold War era, Zahawie argued that the U.S. refrained from using nuclear weapons only out of fear of Soviet retaliation. "Apparently, the military and civilian leaders of the United States were very attached to the idea of atomic bombing designed to destroy a city or an entire country, since their experience of Hiroshima and Nagasaki," the UN summary reports him saying.
"If there had been any equilibrium at the beginning," it cites him as saying, "the world would not have experienced the atrocities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki."
Zahawie's belligerence did not go unnoticed at the time. "Iraq's delegate at the conference, Wissam Al-Zahawi," reported Agence France Presse, "warned that if the international community allowed Israel to remain outside the NPT it would lead to 'inevitable attempts' to reestablish 'some kind of equilibrium' in the region, followed by a 'secret or open' arms race."-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
NOVEMBER 12, 1997 : (ZAHAWI LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE) In a letter published on Nov. 12, 1997, in the International Herald Tribune, Zahawie, identified as Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, was more direct. "Iraq has shown that there are Arabs who refuse to bow to American bullying," he wrote. "It has challenged a Zionist-American diktat by trying to achieve the forbidden strategic balance that would enable Arabs to resist Israeli aggression."-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
FEBRUARY 10, 1998 : (ZAHAWI LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE : ZAHAWI COMPLAINS ABOUT ARTICLES WRITTEN BY BOTH WILLIAM SAFIRE AND ALSO BY THOMAS FRIEDMAN THAT ADVOCATED USING FORCE TO DISARM SADDAM HUSSEIN'S IRAQ REGIME) In a letter published in the International Herald Tribune on Feb. 10, 1998, he objected to columns by William Safire and Thomas Friedman that advocated the use of force to disarm Saddam. "The present rabid braying and warmongering will surely serve to stiffen Iraqis' resolve, to increase their hatred of their American tormentors and to rally people around their president," he wrote.-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
DECEMBER 30, 1999 : (ZAHAWI LETTER TO THE INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE COMPLAINS ABOUT THE RESUMPTION OF UN SANCTIONS)On December 30, 1999, 10 months after his trade mission to Niger, the International Herald Tribune published a letter from Zahawie objecting to resumption of UN weapons inspections. "It should come as no surprise that Iraq should resist the return of the so-called inspectors who were relaying to the United States and Britain the information they need to choose the targets for their systematic bombing of Iraq," Zahawie wrote.-------Iraqi Nuke Hawk Went to Niger
APRIL 2000 : (FRENCH PRIEST FATHR BENJAMIN ORGANIZES 'HUMANITARIAN' FLIGHT TO IRAQ IN ViOLATION OF SANCTIONS)
SEPTEMBER 16, 2001 : (FRENCH PRIEST FATHER BENJAMIN CLAIMS TO HAVE BEEN TIPPED OFF ABOUT 9/11 ATTACKS ON THE USA AT A WEDDING IN TODI, ITALI ON SEPT 7, 2001) ------http://www.zenit.org/english/visualizza.phtml?sid=9943