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Biology 103
2002 Second Paper
On Serendip

Iraq's Biological Weapons

Kate Amlin

As the government's desire to attack Iraq becomes more of a frightening reality each day, many questions remain unanswered. Is Iraq really a "threat"? Does Iraq really have weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)? More specifically, does Iraq have biological weapons (BWs)? Should the United States be worried about an attack by Iraqi biological weapons? The answers in the status quo are rather murky, but there is concrete evidence that Iraq used to have a WMD arsenal. After Iraq invaded Kuwait and the Gulf War ensued, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 687, insuring Iraq's full co-operation with UN weapons inspectors to guarantee that all of Iraq's WMDs would be destroyed (1). This resolution never included military enforcement (2); instead it was contingent on economic sanctions. From 1991- 1998, UN inspectors scoured the country for WMDs to destroy. Although UNSCOM (the UN weapons inspection team) maintains that they demolished almost all of Iraq's WMDs, even the inspectors have admitted that Iraq was covertly hiding a large supply of BWs (1). The UN found that Iraq had horrendously large amounts of ricin, a biological weapon derived from castor beans that is deadly and has no antidote (3). Iraq was also found to be in possession of a multitude of ballistic missiles fitted with carrying devices to disperse chemical and biological weapons (CBWs) (4). U.S. officials thwarted the Iraqis in their attempt to smuggle 34 U.S. military helicopters transformed to include weapons systems that would deliver CBWs (3). Even the Iraqis themselves admitted that their country was fostering an active biological weapons program after Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamil, defected to Jordan in 1995 (3). Kamil had been in charge of Iraq's WMD program and acknowledged that Iraq had been hiding many of its biological agents from UNSCOM, including a whopping 2,265 gallons of anthrax (3). The UN weapons inspectors were kicked out of Iraq in 1998 (5). At that time, the Western world believed that UNSCOM had successfully destroyed the vast majority of Iraq's supply of weapons of mass destruction. But many things could have happened in the course of the following four years.

Many political scientists assert that Saddam does not have WMDs, and in particular biological weapons, and that George W. Bush is simply looking for a reason to invade the country. Stephan Zunes, chair of the Peace and Justice program at the University of San Francisco, eloquently illustrated this point in an article for the think tank, Foreign Policy in Focus: "Despite speculation-particularly by those who seek an excuse to invade Iraq-of possible ongoing Iraqi efforts to procure weapons of mass destruction, no one has been able to put forward clear evidence that the Iraqis are actually doing so, though they have certainly done so in the past. The dilemma the international community has faced since inspectors withdrew from Iraq in late 1998 is that no one knows what, if anything, the Iraqis are currently doing" (1). The strength of the Iraqi military has been severely mitigated since the early 1990s due to casualties during the Gulf War and the effects of years of economic sanctions (14). In the status quo, the military is probably too weak to produce any WMDs. Even if Iraq has retained stockpiles of BWs, they would most likely be useless. If the Iraqis tried to disperse biological weapons with the SCUD missile technology that they had during the Gulf War, 90 percent of the biological agents would be destroyed when the bomb detonated (4),and with such a feeble military new technology would be difficult to manufacture. Iraq would have an extremely difficult time dispersing anything from their residual BW arsenal, as Stephen Zunes explains: "[T]here are serious questions as to whether the alleged biological agents could be dispersed successfully in a manner that could harm troops or a civilian population, given the rather complicated technology required. For example, a vial of biological weapons on the tip of a missile would almost certainly either be destroyed on impact or dispersed harmlessly. To become lethal, highly concentrated amounts of anthrax spores must be inhaled and then left untreated by antibiotics until the infection is too far advanced. Similarly, the prevailing winds would have to be calculated, no rain could fall, the spray nozzles could not clog, the population would need to be unvaccinated, and everyone would need to stay around the area targeted for attack" (1). To be effective, biological weapons must be scattered under perfect conditions, conditions that would be extremely hard for the Iraqis to replicate (4). Western nations also fear that Iraq will give BW to terrorists, although this scenario is highly unlikely even if Iraq does have a stockpile of biological weapons. Iraq has no incentive to give WMD to terrorists, since the international community would severely punish them for such an action, and probably have not for over ten years (6). Although some think otherwise, Iraq never claims to target the United States when it does sponsor acts of terrorism (7). The allegations that Iraq is harboring members of Al Quaeda are false since all such members have been found in Kurdish areas, spheres that are beyond Iraqi control (7). One of the most convincing arguments as to why Iraq does not have BW capabilities is that Iraq has recently agreed to give new UN weapons inspectors unobstructed access to all weapons facilities and some presidential palaces in order to prove that Iraq does not have weapons of mass destruction (8). Since no western powers have been allowed in Iraq to collect evidence in the last four years, there is simply no credible proof (2) that Iraq either has biological weapons or intends to use them for nefarious purposes.

Conversely, empirical confirmations leads some to believe that Iraq has maintained a supply of weapons of mass destruction (4). Especially since "[t]he inspectors withdrew entirely from Iraq in 1998, and Hussein has refused to let them back in, giving his regime four years to find a better hiding place for his weapons" (5). Since UNSCOM never accounted for 100 percent of Iraq's biological weapons and Iraq covertly added to its stockpile while the inspectors were in the country, it is intuitive to assume that Iraq has added to its arsenal over the last few years (5). Since 1998, Iraq has purchased dual-use substances under the guise of purported civilian purposes, which could be used to produce biological weapons (9). BWs are easy to hide and do not take much space to make (1). Additionally, "one of the most frightening things about BWs production is the mobility of operations" (1). Therefore, Saddam could have easily hidden and increased a biological weapons arsenal over the last four years. Also, Saddam could use profits obtained from smuggling oil during the last few years to increase his production of WMDs, in order to compensate for his weakened military program (10). The possibility that Iraq has retained BWs is particularly terrifying due to the horrendous amount of destruction that biological weapons cause. Laura Mylroie, research associate of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Philadelphia PA, gives a particularly grim assessment: "Since Kamil's defection, Iraq has acknowledged producing 2,265 gallons of anthrax. Anthrax is extraordinarily lethal. Inhalation of just one-ninth of a millionth of a gram is fatal in most instances. Iraq's stockpile could kill 'billions' of people if properly disseminated and dispersed.[5] Anthrax, unlike some other biological agents, has an extremely long shelf life. Although Baghdad claims to have destroyed its anthrax stockpile, it can produce no documents to support that assertion, while UNSCOM interviews of Iraqi personnel allegedly involved in the purported destruction produced contradictory accounts. Thus, no reasonable person credits the claim" (3). President Bush asserts that Iraq has developed weapons systems capable of carrying and dispersing CBWs (7). Although his claim is unsubstantiated, multiple foreign policy think tanks have found evidence that proves Bush's fear. Iraq definitely has a fleet of SCUD ballistic missiles that could be fitted with chemical and biological agents. These SCUDs can carry a 500-kg load of chemical or biological agents that can be dispersed over an area of 650-km (4). Even more frightening is the possibility that Iraq has turned some or all of ITS 78 Czech L-29 trainer airplanes into unmanned weapons carriers. These planes, which are controlled remotely, could be used to deliver extremely large quantities of biological agents over extremely long distances (4). The UN found that Iraq had indeed re-wired the L-29s for this purpose, Great Britain discovered a large number of L-29s that had been turned into carrier systems for BWs during Operation Desert Fox, and the CIA reported that Iraq tested the L-29s for their effectiveness during the year 2000 (4). President Bush also worries that Iraq is actively selling weapons of mass destruction to terrorists (9). Iraq has sponsored both the Palestine Liberation Front and Mujahedin-E Khalq, two terrorist groups that are anti-Israel (9). Bush also worries that Iraq is in cohorts with Al Queada, and that they will combine to increase the potency of an attack against the United States (7). All in all, Iraq probably did retain some of its biological weapon capability. According to President George W. Bush: "UN inspectors believe Iraq has produced two to four times the amount of biological agents it declared and has failed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weapons. Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons" (11).

Although neither conclusion can be fully substantiated, the empirical evidence and feasibility of a BW program indicate that Iraq probably does have a biological weapons program. However, invading Iraq is definitely not the most desirable way to destroy Saddam's WMD capabilities. No country wants to blindly trust Saddam's claim that Iraq does not have any weapons of mass destruction. But weapons inspections and the continuation of economic sanctions would be a feasible way to control Iraq's WMD program (7). Specifically, Saddam would have great difficulty hiding weapons if he does indeed give weapons inspectors unhindered access to his county (12), as he has said he will during the last month.

With out absolute concrete evidence to document Iraq's WMD possession (1) attacking Iraq cannot be justified. Even if Iraq does have weapons, they are almost impossible to disperse (4) and, most importantly, Saddam will not use them. The Gulf War proves that Saddam is rational and will not weapons of mass destruction against the West (13). Saddam did not use WMDs during the Gulf War because he was deterred by the threat of U.S. nuclear weapons (6). There is no reason to assume that Saddam would act differently a decade later. Saddam knows that if he used WMD that it will be the end of his regime - and ultimately his life, because the Western world (particularly the United States) will annihilate him (1). Therefore, although Iraq probably does have BWs, and weapons of mass destruction in general, war with Iraq cannot be justified at this time since Iraq would not and probably could not use any weapons of mass destruction.



1) "The Case Against a War with Iraq", Stephen Zunes. Foreign Policy in Focus, AN U.S. Foreign Policy Think Tank. October 2002

2) "Bush's United Nations Speech Unconvincing" Stephen Zunes. Foreign Policy in Focus, AN U.S. Foreign Policy Think Tank. September 13, 2002

3) "Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction and the 1997 Gulf Crisis", Laura Mylroie. Meria, The Middle East Review of International Affairs. V.1, #4, December 1997

4) "Defending Against Iraqi Missiles", Staff Writer. A Strategic Comment from the International Institute for Strategic Studies. V.8, #8, October 2002

5) "Iraq's Had Time to Really Hide its Weapons Sites", John Parachini. RAND, an U.S. Think Tank, originally appeared in Newsday, September 19, 2002

6) "President Bush's Case For Attack On Iraq is Weak", Ivan Eland. The CATO Institute a Libertarian Think Tank. October 7, 2002

7) "President Bush Fails to Make His Case" Stephen Zunes. Foreign Policy in Focus, AN U.S. Foreign Policy Think Tank. October 8, 2002

8) "Iraq: 'No Blocks to Inspections", Staff Writer. CNN, 0ctober 12, 2002

9) "Axis of Evil: Threat Or Chimera?", Charled Pena. The CATO Institute, a Libertarian Think Tank, Summer 2002

10) "Iraq: The Case for Invasion", Interview of Kenneth Pollack. The Washington Post. October 22, 2002

11) "President Bush's Address to the United Nations", George W. Bush. CNN, September 12, 2002

12) "Get Ready for a Nasty War in Iraq", Daniel Byman. RAND, originally published in The International Herald Tribune, March 11, 2002.

13) "Why Attack Iraq?", Ivan Eland. The CATO Institute, a Libertarian Think Tank, September 10, 2002

14) "Top Ten Reasons Why Not to 'Do' Iraq", Ivan Eland. The CATO Institute, a Libertarian Think Tank, August 19, 2002

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