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News Feature: Would Saddam Deploy Chemicals?

SOL Special News Feature:

Would Saddam Deploy Chemicals?

By Malcolm Aitken

Utter panic and ugly scenes of death in a Baghdad heavily hit by US aerial bombing. Then, just as US troops have the special republic guard surrounded and move to storm the last citadel, taking out Iraq’s ruling elite, Saddam Hussein detonates a dirty bomb dispersing nerve agents. Whatever the preparedness of US troops, Baghdad’s five million odd residents-those who haven’t fled in terror- are caught up in a nightmare. The ante is upped militarily and the world goes on high alert.

A plausible kind of scenario according to one academic. Scoop consulted several British experts about the ugly spectre of Saddam using chemical weapons against British and US troops if Iraq is attacked. Recent news reports reveal elite Iraqi troops have supposedly received protective anti-chemical suits and nerve agent antidotes. Iraq’s deputy Prime Minister, Tariq Aziz, agreed with this in the Sunday Telegraph, saying it was to protect ‘our people from the other side’. A Ministry of Defence spokesperson told Scoop British troops would be supplied with protective suits and antidotes according to an on-going review of the situation.

Wary of the intense propaganda war raging between Washington and London, and Baghdad, Scoop sought some more objective opinions.


Summary of Blix on chemical and biological weapons: January 28, 2003

Chemical weapons/nerve agents:
The much-publicised discovery of chemical rocket warheads last month still under investigation.
About 6,500 chemical bombs haven’t been accounted for. Iraq declared it dropped 19,500 weapons between 1983 and 1988, but an air force document discovered by inspectors in 1998 said only 13,000 had been dropped during that period. The missing bombs could carry about 1,000 tonnes of chemical agent.
The United Nations monitoring, verification and inspection service (Unmovic) has information that Iraq has worked to improve the purity and stability of its supply of VX gas.

Disturbingly, Iraq’s failed to produce convincing evidence that it has unilaterally destroyed its anthrax stockpiles.
Iraq declared that it had produced 8,500 litres of anthrax and then destroyed it in the summer of 1991, after the first Gulf war. Iraq could produce larger quantities, and some of it still might exist.
Either [the anthrax] should be found and be destroyed under Unmovic supervision or else convincing evidence should be produced to show it was, indeed, destroyed in 1991.


Here are out-takes from what the experts told Scoop.

The experts:

- Nuclear, biological and chemical weapons consultant, Jane's Information Group, Andy Oppenheimer.

- Director of Middle East programme, Royal Institute of International Affairs, London, Dr Rosemary Hollis.

- Iraq expert, University of Warwick, Dr Toby Dodge.

Would Saddam use chemicals against an invading force?

‘Generally, there is a low to medium risk that Saddam Hussein will use chemical weapons against invading troops. I think the military probably don't need to have these [papers supposedly smuggled out of Iraq by an exiled opposition group, which reportedly pointed to Saddam using chemical weapons against invaders] to know that the Iraqis have chemical weapon protection suits, albeit a limited number. Then again, it could be propaganda, but knowing Saddam Hussein's record of using chemical weapons, don't bet on it.'

- Andy Oppenheimer.

‘If you look at why Iraq developed this and how it used it, it’s always been seen as the final guarantor of Saddam Hussein’s power. So when they were deployed against the Kurds and in the Iran-Iraq war it was kind of last instance they were used in. And I would assume now if they were used in any shape or form they would be used in the last kind of move of any invasion. This is where I disagree with other people; I don’t think that he’s going to lob them at troops as they mass in Kuwait. Although that might be strategically an astute thing to do I think, from his point of view they’ve always been the final option.’

‘I would assume that the drugs would not go to the republic guard first and foremost, or the suits, they would just go to the special republic guard, who are the ones charged with WMD capacity.’

‘I think it’s much more likely that what they have they’re keeping as a kind of a sense of uncertainty so that any one marching on Baghdad will have to be in chemical weapons suits, which will be pretty uncomfortable in the middle of summer, and secondly my own hunch is that if it is used it would be strapped to a dirty bomb in downtown Baghdad. This would do a much more damage to ordinary, innocent Iraqis, a few invading Americans…and the regime itself.’

- Dr Dodge


Some of the commonest chemical/nerve agents and their effects

VX - Effects of exposure: Like all nerve agents, VX disrupts the transmission of communications between nerve cells. Symptoms of exposure include increased heart rate and salivating, nausea, and vomiting. A fatal dose causes convulsions, respiratory paralysis, and death within several minutes.
Sarin - Effects of exposure: Lighter doses cause wheezing, salivating, nausea and vomiting. Heavier doses cause urination, defecation, respiratory failure and death.
Mustard Gas - Effects of exposure: Severe skin blistering. Heavy dose can bring on pneumonia and death.
Anthrax - Effects of exposure: If inhaled will cause common cold-like symptoms and then more severe ones such as breathing problems and shock. If congested via contaminated food causes inflammation of the intestinal tract, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting and fever, and then vomiting of blood and severe diarrhoea. May, if left untreated, cause blood poisoning.


‘I think that in the event of war the intention of the Iraqi president will be to use everything he’s got against the Americans and Brits. The issue will be, A, whether they can, with their initial onslaught from the air, the smart weapons that we hear so much about, take the Iraqi regime completely off guard, and baffle and befuddle and immobilise the regime somehow and neutralise the chain of command that has been set up. The other thing it will hinge on is how much the Iraqis intend, when it comes to it or are inclined when it comes to it to carry out his instructions.’

- Dr Hollis

Scoop: Can we be a little more specific. There have been suggestions of mutineering within the special republic guard, which is controlled by Saddam’s family to some extent. Is that the sort of thing you are talking about?

Dr Hollis: Correct.

Does he have the necessary weaponry?

‘I am of the opinion Iraq restarted its chemical weapons programme after the exit of the inspectors in 1998. Also, as backed by the Blix statement this afternoon, old stocks of VX nerve agent and mustard precursor chemicals remain unaccounted for. That is, weapons and or materials that were supposed to have been destroyed last time haven't been, with no evidence or documents to back up their destruction. Or, those not destroyed either from pre-1998, or since 1998, have not been listed in the Iraqi declaration.’

- Andy Oppenheimer

‘[looking at the history, reading the UNSCOM reports and applying sound analysis] then one would assume that Iraq has the rump or tail end of a WMD capacity left and I think that’s basically what Blix said in the Security Council last night. There are large unanswered questions on the chemical and the biological.’

- Dr Dodge

How likely is is that Saddam is simply preparing for a chemical attack by the US/coalition?

‘Not very. The US is not supposed to have any chemical weapons, as signatories of the chemical weapons convention. And even if they did still have them, they certainly wouldn't risk the subsequent damage to their position if they were to use them. These suits are for the protection of Saddam Hussein’s republican guard.

- Andy Oppenheimer

What longer range non-conventional capacity does Saddam have?

‘He doesn’t have any, as far as we can see, accurate delivery systems, certainly not to guide them any great length of space and he’s developed them as a last resort…I think he would use them as a last resort, when all hope had dispersed.

‘If we look at the UNSCOM reports the number of scuds he may or may not have beyond 150km range from six to 50. I think it is on the low side, I think they would be highly inaccurate and not practical at all for WMD deliveries.

‘All this is highly speculative, we are in the midst of a ferocious propaganda war and both sides in the war are happy to issue tonnes of misinformation. ‘

- Dr Dodge

******* ENDS *******

- Malcolm Aitken is a freelance journalist based in London. He can be contacted at

© Scoop Media

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