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War on Truth  From Warriors to Resisters
Books of the Month

The War on Truth

From Warriors to Resisters

Army of None

Iraq: the Logic of Withdrawal

Go to 'Counter-Dossier II' , comprehensive analysis on claims of Iraq's proscribed weapons, updated March 18

US CLAIMS OF VX NERVE AGENT FALL APART

March 15, 2003

CONTACT: GLEN RANGWALA, gr10009@cam.ac.uk
Lecturer in Politics, Newnham College, Cambridge (UK)
(011) 44 0 122 333 5759

One of the central claims of the US administration about the threat of Iraq's weapons - that of 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent that are unaccounted for - has fallen apart over the past week. [On March 15, CNN makes matters worse by grossly exaggerating the claims, reporting that "[a]s much as 1,000 tons of VX are unaccounted for..." http://www.cnn.com/2003/WORLD/meast/03/15/sprj.irq.vx.report/ ].

Even before Iraq presented a 25-page technical report on the destruction of VX in 1991, UNMOVIC's working paper of 6 March 2003, released on 10 March, describes how the claims are not credible. As UNMOVIC explain, the 1.5 tonnes in question were produced according to a method that ensured that the VX "must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8 weeks)" before it deteriorates.

The claims made by the US of 1.5 tonnes of VX include the White House paper ("What Does Disarmament Look Like?") of January 2003, at p.6; and the State Department's paper ("Iraq's Hidden Weapons: Failing to Disclose and Disarm") of 27 February 2003.

Iraq attempted to produce VX nerve agent using four different methods from 1987 to 1991. These are detailed in UNMOVIC's working paper, (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, pp.79-83). Iraq declared that it produced 2.4 tonnes of VX in production trials from late 1987 to May 1988, but that this material degraded rapidly and was completely destroyed later in 1988. This account has been generally accepted (ibid., pp.79-80).

Iraq also produced 1.5 tonnes according to a second method (which UNMOVIC refer to as "route B") from April 1988 to April 1990. It is this quantity that that the US has referred to as a source of danger from Iraq. However, two factors would indicate that the 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent no longer exist in operational form.

Firstly, Iraq claimed that this quantity of VX was discarded unilaterally by dumping it on the ground. VX degrades rapidly if placed onto concrete. In accordance with Iraq's claim, UNSCOM tested the site at which the VX was reportedly dumped. UNSCOM's January 1999 report states in Appendix II, paragraph 16:

"Traces of one VX-degradation product and a chemical known as a VX-stabilizer were found in the samples taken from the VX dump sites."

However, from this information alone, UNSCOM was not able to make "a quantified assessment"; that is, they were not able to verify that all 1.5 tonnes of the agent had been so destroyed. Since then, it has provided further material from late February 2003 and on 14 March 2003 to substantiate its case, material that is currently being assessed.

Secondly, VX produced according to "route B" degrades rapidly. According to UNMOVIC: "VX produced through route B must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8 weeks), which would probably be satisfactory for wartime requirements." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p. 82)

This conclusion is confirmed by other independent assessments. For example, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) strategic dossier
of September 2002 records the status of VX produced before the Gulf War: "Any VX produced by Iraq before 1991 is likely to have decomposed over the past decade [...]. Any G-agent or V-agent stocks that Iraq concealed from UNSCOM inspections are likely to have deteriorated by now." (pp. 52 and 53).

Iraq also used two further methods to produce VX: route C seems to have been unsuccessful, but route D did result in the production of "high purity VX [..] in laboratory/pilot-scale equipment" (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82). According to UNMOVIC, any VX produced according to route D could have been stabilised, and could remain viable. However, there is no evidence that Iraq did ever produce significant quantities of VX through route D. As UNMOVIC record:

"Based upon the documents provided by Iraq, it is doubtful that any significant quantities of VX were produced using this route before the Gulf war." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82)

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Iraq would have produced VX through route D during the Gulf War due to the more complex process that would have been involved. As UNMOVIC record:

"During times of war, or imminent war, it would make sense for Iraq to produce VX through route B, which involves only about half as many process steps as route D." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82)

In April/May 1998, UNSCOM reported that they had found VX degradation products on missile warheads, indicating that Iraq had stabilised VX sufficiently and had managed to weaponise it (in contrast to the Government of Iraq's own claims). Further tests on the same material from two other laboratories however "found no nerve agent degradation products" (ibid., p.82). The chemical in question "could also originate from other compounds such as precursors or, according to some experts, a detergent" (ibid., p.81).

A more extensive assessment concerning VX is available at: http://grassrootspeace.org/iraqweaponsc.html#cexistv

The above referenced UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003 document is available at the UN as- "Unresolved Disarmament Issues - UNMOVIC Working Document" - and also available for download at : (pdf file) (.rtf file) (doc.file)

See 'Counter-Dossier II' , a comprehensive analysis of "Claims and Evaluations of Iraq's Proscribed Weapons"
at http://grassrootspeace.org/iraqweapons.html

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GLEN RANGWALA'S PREVIOUS WORK ( all materials located on this site except as otherwise noted):

Dr. Rangwala broke the story on the plagiarized British 'Dossier' on Iraq's intelligence infrastructure. The 'Dossier' was presented as a British Intelligence briefing and praised by Colin Powell at the UN. In fact, most of it was copied (typos and all) from an out-dated student paper and magazine articles. See Briefing on Dossier Scandal at http://grassrootspeace.org/britishdossier.html for Dr. Rangwala's briefing on the affair and links to the wide media coverage of that scandal.

He also recently published the complete interview with the late General Hussein Kamel. Newsweek had reported on Kamel's disclosure to UNSCOM in 1995 that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction. The US government had relied on statements by Kamel about the build up of Iraq's weapons program, without noting the rest of his comments, i.e. that the weapons had been destroyed. The world was kept in the dark about the full nature of Kamel's statements until the Newsweek story. US government officials denied Newsweek's account of the interview, which had been kept from public view as a 'sensitive' document by UNSCOM. Dr. Rangwala resolved the dispute by obtaining a copy of the interview and publishing it at http://www.casi.org.uk/info/unscom950822.pdf See Dr. Rangwala's briefing on the UNSCOM interview of Hussein Kamel ( http://grassrootspeace.org/kamel.html ) with links to media reports and commentary.

See also his analysis of the Colin Powell Presentation to the UN on Feb 5. http://grassrootspeace.org/firstresponse.html.

Dr. Rangwala was co-author of the "Counter Dossier" with Alan Simpson, MP. The 'Counter-Dossier' was Labour Against the War's statement in opposition to the Blair government's dossier against Iraq that it presented to the House of Commons on September 24, 2002.

[Dr. Rangwala wrote the substance of the press release concerning VX; Charles Jenks adding the notes on Rangwala's recent work concerning Iraq's proscribed weapons.]

Page created March 15, 2003 by Charlie Jenks