The Iraqi official who visited the African state in 1999 was Wissam al-Zahawie, who at the time was Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican. It has since emerged that, during the same visit, al-Zahawie also visited three other African countries: Burkina Faso, Benin and Congo-Brazzaville. He has claimed that the sole purpose of these visits was to extend an invitation from Saddam Hussein for their heads of state to visit Baghdad. He said: 'My only mission was to meet the President of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq. The invitation, and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions, were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium.'
Former US diplomat Joseph Wilson, who visited Niger in 2002 on behalf of the CIA to probe a possible uranium link with Iraq, said al-Zahawie's visit was common knowledge.
'It's perfectly reasonable to assume that the Iraqis weren't interested in Niger's millet or sorghum, but it's a real leap of faith to say that, through this visit, Iraq was seeking to purchase significant quantities of uranium from Niger,' Wilson said. 'It's not even circumstantial evidence.'
Al-Zahawie's name also appears as a signatory of documents addressed to Niger diplomats in Rome, confirming a deal whereby Iraq would purchase 500 tons of uranium 'yellow cake' ore. These documents have proved to be forgeries and accepted as fakes by Washington and the IAEA.
-- Source: -- "Butler inquiry targets Niger uranium claim," Antony Barnett, public affairs editor, Sunday June 27, 2004 The Observer