Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Syrian Connection?

The Iraq Survey Group's final report is out, and it finds no evidence that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction made their way to Syria before the U.S. invasion in 2003.

While the survey group released its preliminary report months ago, the version released yesterday was designed to tie up a few loose ends, including the Syria question.

But the report doesn't completely rule out a Syria connection. As the panel notes, "investigators were unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials" in the months before the war began.

It should be noted that the ISG's report, while volumnious, is based on limited data. Of the 300 former regime officials on the coalition blacklist, only 105 have been detained; almost 200 remain at large, including many with reported ties to Saddam's chemical, biological and nuclear programs. Some of those officials are now residing in Syria (a rather interesting coincidence), where they remain out of reach.

Kenneth Timmerman, one of the best investigative reporters in the business, has a different take on the WMD issue. In the most recent issue of Insight magazine, he notes that the search for WMD was more successful than many believe, producing firm evidence that Saddam retained an active interest in chemical and biological weapons, and potential delivery platforms.

Timmerman also asks a fundamental question: did U.S. investigators have false expectations during the search? After a decade of dodging UN inspectors and sanctions, Saddam may have used simple, legal, and effective measures to hide his programs, stockpiling large quantities of precursor chemicals at known WMD research centers. That would have allowed Saddam to quickly resurrect his programs after sanctions ended.

The ISG report is being accepted as the Gospel Truth in the intelligence community; the official party line is that there were no WMD in Iraq. But a lot of spooks--current and former--aren't quite ready to close the WMD book just yet. We won't have the final answer until we capture more of the suspects on the black list, and get regime change in Damascus. After than happens, we may see the issue in a slightly different light.

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