Friday, April 14, 2006

Saddam's Secrets :: Melanie Phillips's Diary

Melanie Phillips's Diary

In London yesterday, I met General Georges Sada. An Iraqi Christian, he was Air Vice Marshal in Saddam’s Iraq and, despite being an Assyrian and not a member of the Ba’ath party, was by his own account a close adviser to Saddam and was very much at the heart of the action during Saddam’s regime. Somehow he survived and became, among other things, the President of the National Presbyterian Church in Baghdad and head of the Iraqi branch of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, whose headquarters are based at Coventry Cathedral and whose bishop bestowed upon him the Prize for International Peace and Reconciliation.

Last year, an American Christian organisation that raises funds for needy Iraqi children invited Sada to a conference. At that conference, he raised eyebrows when he announced that he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that Saddam had hidden his weapons of mass destruction in 2002-3 by transporting them to Syria. He was persuaded to set down his account in a book, Saddam’s Secrets, which was published in America earlier this year by a small Christian publisher, Integrity. This is what Sada says in his book about Saddam’s WMD.

The UN inspectors found and destroyed thousands of tons of weapons in Saddam’s Iraq.

But I can assure you, they didn’t find everything. Because of his rapid rebuilding capabilities, Saddam managed to hide many of these weapons, along with the raw materials for building weapons of mass destruction. During the times when these weapons were not actually in production – mainly because of the threat posed by the United Nations inspectors – Saddam gave orders that the scientists who had been working on these programmes were to keep their plans, diagrams, formulas, raw materials and everything else in highly secure underground vaults so that they could continue their work the minute they were no longer being observed...

If Saddam ever suspected that there was any chance the inspectors would find something, he would have everything destroyed. But even then, nothing was really destroyed: the scientists had the knowledge and the budget, and when the time was right they would simply begin again. This was even true in the nuclear weapons programme. Even though we had not yet developed actual nuclear warheads, we were working on them. We had some components, and Saddam had developed sources in Europe, Asia and America who were willing to supply whatever we needed.

As Sada says, prior to the Iraq war no-one in Europe or America ever doubted that Saddam possessed WMD. So what happened to it?

...there is a tremendous volume of intelligence on these matters and mountains of anecdotal evidence. These are issues the Americans would likely have pursued diplomatically. But if they did, they have not wanted to make any of that information known to the media or the public. I am in quite a different situation, however, as a former general officer who not only saw these weapons but witnessed them being used on orders from the air force commanders and the president of the country.

Furthermore, I know the names of some of those who were involved in smuggling WMDs out of Iraq in 2002 and 2003. I know the names of officers of the front company, SES, who received the weapons from Saddam. I know how and when they were transported and shipped out of Iraq. And I know how many aircraft were actually used and what types of planes they were, as well as a number of other facts of this nature...

Everyone in the international arms community knew that Saddam had them and that he was spending like a sailor to buy more…The point is that when Saddam finally grasped the fact that it was just a matter of time until Iraq would be invaded by American and coalition forces, he knew he would have to take special measures to destroy, hide or at least disguise his stashes of biological and chemical weapons, along with the laboratories, equipment and plans associated with nuclear weapons development...

Saddam had ordered our weapons teams to hide the WMDs in places no military commander or United Nations weapons inspector would expect to find them. So they hid them in schools, private homes, banks, business offices and even on trucks that were kept constantly moving back and forth from one end of the country to the other. And then fate stepped in...

On June 4 2002, a three-mile long dam collapsed in Syria, causing a disaster over 40 square miles. When Syria asked for help from Jordan and Iraq, Saddam seized his opportunity.

For him, the disaster in Syria was a gift, and there, posing as shipments of supplies and equipment sent from Iraq to aid the relief effort, were Iraq’s WMDs. Weapons and equipment were transferred both by land and by air. The only aircraft available at the time were one Boeing 747 jumbo jet and a group of Boeing 727s. But this turned out to be the perfect solution to Saddam’s problem. Who would suspect commercial airliners of carrying deadly toxins and contraband technology out of the country? So the planes were quickly reconfigured...

Eventually there were fifty-six sorties. He [Saddam] arranged for most of these shipments to be taken to Syria and handed over to ordnance specialists there who promised to hold everything for as long as necessary. Subsequently I spoke at length to a former civilian airline captain who had detailed information about those flights. At the time he held an important position at Iraqi airways, which is the commercial airline in Baghdad...

In addition to the shipments that went by air, there were also truckloads of weapons, chemicals and other supplies that were taken into Syria at that time. These weren’t government vehicles or military equipment but large cargo trucks and eighteen-wheelers made to look like ordinary commercial operators...
In April 2004, a group of al Qaeda terrorists was caught in Jordan with 20 tons of Sarin gas. When Sada heard of this, he says, his blood ran cold. There was only one place which was capable of producing 20 tons of Sarin: Saddam’s Iraq. To his horror, he says, he realised at that moment that Saddam’s WMD had got into the hands of al Qaeda.

Earlier this year, Sada was interrogated about his claims by the American House Intelligence committee, to whom he gave the names of the Iraqi pilots. Subsequently, he says, the Committee went to Iraq and spoke to the pilots. The result, he says, is that a major American investigative and diplomatic effort is now under way to finally locate the missing WMD.

But in Britain, I say, people now firmly believe that there were no WMD and that we were taken to war on a lie. Sada looks utterly flabbergasted. ‘How can they possibly think that?’ he asks in bewilderment and anger, and puts his head in his hands.

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