WAR IN IRAQ: US military officials question Saadi




By Mark Huband, Security correspondent, in London

Financial Times, 14 April 2003

US military officials are interrogating General Amer Hammoudi al-Saadi, the highest-ranking Iraqi official to have surrendered and the former head of Iraq’s chemical weapons programme. Gen Saadi gave himself up to US forces in Baghdad on Saturday.

Weapons experts and intelligence officials are uncertain how valuable Gen Saadi will be, despite his prominent role in the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme.

“If he chooses to be honest he could tell a lot,” a security official said yesterday, “but there’s still a lot of work to do on the ground before we can start to look for the evidence in a consistent way.”

In an interview with the German television channel ZDF, which filmed his surrender, Gen Saadi repeated claims he made in February when he dismissed evidence of a WMD programme presented to the UN Security Council by Colin Powell, US secretary of state.

Following Mr Powell’s presentation of alleged intercepted telephone conversations between two Iraqi army officers, which was said to reveal Iraqi efforts to conceal aspects of its WMD programme, Gen Saadi said: “Any third-rate intelligence outfit could produce it,” adding that the recordings were “simply manufactured evidence, simply not true at all”.

Intelligence officials say that the launch of a methodical inspection process is unlikely to start until the military defeat of all elements of the Iraqi army is near-total.

Although US and UK forces have occupied much of the territory in which Iraq was alleged to have secretly developed WMD programmes, no substantial evidence has yet been found.

Gen Saadi is closely associated with a period of rebuilding the country’s military capacity. Following the 1991 Gulf war he was appointed technical assistant to President Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamil al-Majid, a key figure in the WMD programme.

Gen Saadi then became minister of industry and minerals, and was responsible for announcing in January 1992 that Iraq had repaired and tooled up more than 200 factory buildings associated with various military production lines.

Five months later he announced that “more than 50 establishments” of the former Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialisation (Mimi) had been put back into commission, using equipment taken out of the weapons plants and hidden before the 1991 war.

The following year he said that Iraq had rebuilt the war-damaged Al Qaim industrial complex, which had been used to extract uranium from phosphate ore and for manufacture of chemical weapons precursors.


© Copyright The Financial Times Ltd 2008.