Over the past three months, TIME has interviewed Iraqi weapons scientists, middlemen and former government officials. Saddam's henchmen all make essentially the same claim: that Iraq's once massive unconventional-weapons program was destroyed or dismantled in the 1990s and never rebuilt; that officials destroyed or never kept the documents that would prove it; that the shell games Saddam played with U.N. inspectors were designed to conceal his progress on conventional weapons systems—missiles, air defenses, radar—not biological or chemical programs; and that even Saddam, a sucker for a new gadget or invention or toxin, may not have known what he actually had or, more to the point, didn't have. It would be an irony almost too much to bear to consider that he doomed his country to war because he was intent on protecting weapons systems that didn't exist in the first place...
...The Iraqi dictator was crazy for weapons, fascinated by every new invention—and as a result was easily conned by salesmen and officials offering the latest device. Saddam apparently had high hopes for a bogus product called red mercury, touted as an ingredient for a handheld nuclear device. Large quantities of the gelatinous red liquid were looted from Iraqi stores after the war and are now being offered on the black market.
Saddam's underlings appear to have invented weapons programs and fabricated experiments to keep the funding coming. The Mukhabarat captain says the scamming went all the way to the top of the mic to its director, Huweish, who would appease Saddam with every report, never telling him the truth about failures or production levels and meanwhile siphoning money from projects. "He would tell the President he had invented a new missile for Stealth bombers but hadn't. So Saddam would say, 'Make 20 missiles.' He would make one and put the rest in his pocket," says the captain. Colonel Hussan al-Duri, who spent several years in the 1990s as an air-defense inspector, saw similar cons. "Some projects were just stealing money," he says. A scientist or officer would say he needed $10 million to build a special weapon. "They would produce great reports, but there was never anything behind them."
There's an aphorism somewhere along the lines of "Never assume conspiracy when incompetence will suffice". The newest theory on the disconnect between international intelligence and (apparent) Iraqi reality is that Saddam was delusional, and that his advisors were unwilling to contradict his delusions and were massively corrupt besides. He really did think he had something to hide.
Definitely a desperate and crazed sounding explanation, but we left the tracks of reason a while back ...
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