Guest Column: Down the rabbit hole: Where have Iraq’s biological weapons (BW) gone?

Guest Column: Down the rabbit hole: Where have Iraq’s biological weapons (BW) gone?

By Dr. Chris Holmes

Consider these four possibilities. First, that these weapons were actually all destroyed by the UNSCOM teams before they were kicked out of Iraq in 1998, and that Saddam has never rearmed with them. Much of the early intelligence information about Iraq’s BW came from defectors, like General Hussein al-Kamal, Saddam’s own son-in-law. In 1995, he revealed where BWs were made and where they were stored. The following year, some were destroyed. But Kamal and others raised the suspicion that there were many more to be uncovered.

But why, if he didn’t have them, has Saddam accepted the loss—for the past five years—of billions of dollars in oil revenues due to the UN sanctions imposed under Resolution 687? Why block the inspectors if he had no biological weapons?

The second possibility is that Saddam destroyed his BW just before the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003. But once again, why would he risk his fortune, his political power—his very life—for nonexistent weapons? Why not, if he had destroyed them, call off the dogs of war by permitting inspections again?

A third possibility is that Saddam smuggled his BW out of the country just before Gulf War II. Satellite surveillance showed especially heavy traffic on the main Baghdad-to-Syria highway at that time. Did some of those trucks carry stores of BW and other WMDs on their way to places like Libya, China, North Korea, Iran or Cuba? Or to terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda? In 1998, Saddam reportedly sent some of his BW scientists to Libya to teach them how to develop their own BW program. Which the Libyans did, in an abandoned building in Tripoli. Did they recently get more germs from Saddam?

This scenario, that Saddam’s biological weapons and other WMDs have fallen into the hands of rogue nations or terrorist organizations, is the scariest one of all.

The final possibility—and the one I think most likely—is that these weapons are still in Iraq, but well hidden; U.S. teams searching the country’s arid wastes simply have not discovered them yet. Two bioweapons trailers have been found, as have large cachés of BW protective suits, masks, gloves and boots.

If this is the smoke, the fire must be out there somewhere.

Chris Holmes, M.D., M.S.P.H. is from Escondido, Calif. and is author of two books on bioterrorism. His first book is a novel, The Medusa Strain. His non-fiction analysis on the subject, Spores, Plagues, and History: The Story of Anthrax (to be released September, 2003) is the only book on the history of anthrax. Both books are published by Durban House.

Captain Chris Holmes, MC, USN (Ret.) has been studying the history of medicine for over 35 years. A native of Canada, Chris Holmes received his M.D. from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Medicine and served in the Air Force during Vietnam. After stints in private practice and academia, he became a Navy physician and has studied extensively nuclear, biological and chemical warfare. He led the medical team aboard the USS Tripoli during the 1992 U.S. intervention in Somalia.

Dr. Holmes is a physician, epidemiologist, an authority on disease and bio-warfare past and present, and is arguably the world’s leading authority on the history of anthrax. Dr. Holmes has taught at medical schools, has published many scholarly articles, and is certified in submarine and diving medicine with the U.S. Navy.

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