Buried in the WikiLeaks avalanche of documents related to the war in Iraq are various reports about the discovery of chemical weapons caches inside Iraq—reports which contradict the revisionist narrative about the genesis of the war. Scattered throughout the roughly 392,000 documents illegally published by WikiLeaks are accounts of U.S., coalition and Iraqi forces recovering chemical munitions left behind by Saddam Hussein’s overthrown regime.
While the chemical munitions recovered appeared to be manufactured before the 1991 Gulf War, after which Iraqi forces were required to surrender and destroy their illegal chemical weapons, the leaked documents are a reminder that Saddam Hussein’s regime could not be trusted to fulfill its disarmament obligations and fully cooperate with U.N. weapons inspectors, as the Bush Administration correctly argued before the 2003 war.
Some commentators have downplayed the finding of chemical weapons, saying that these were not the massive quantities for which the Bush Administration claimed it was looking. But these commentators conveniently overlook the fact that the presence of chemical weapons is concrete proof that Saddam’s regime failed to comply with its legal obligations to destroy all weapons of mass destruction, as required by the cease-fire agreement that ended the 1991 Gulf War and more than a dozen subsequent U.N. Security Council resolutions. This additional evidence of Iraqi noncompliance furnishes convincing proof, if any is still needed, that refutes the revisionist narrative that the Bush Administration fought an “illegal” war in Iraq.
The revisionist narrative holds that the failure to find massive quantities of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) after the war discredited the Bush Administration’s decision to go to war in the first place. But in fact, the real rationale for going to war was that Saddam’s regime was not cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors and therefore the United States and its allies were fully justified in undertaking military operations to make sure that Iraq did not have the WMD stockpiles and the programs to build WMD, that the U.N. inspectors previously had confirmed that it had. Iraq already had used prohibited chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980–1988 Iran-Iraq war and against Iraqi Kurds who had rebelled against the regime.
The burden of proof was on Iraq’s non-compliant regime, not on the “coalition of the willing,” which was enforcing U.N. Security Council resolutions. U.N. Security Council Resolution 687, which set the terms of the cease-fire that ended the 1991 war that expelled Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait, required that:
Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of:
- (a) All chemical and biological weapons and all stocks of agents and all related subsystems and components and all research, development, support and manufacturing facilities;
- (b) All ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometres and related major parts, and repair and production facilities;
Not only was Iraq not cooperating with inspectors in destroying its WMD stockpiles and facilities, but it also was found to have missiles that exceeded the 150-kilometer range limits. These are clear violations of the 1991 cease-fire that technically put Iraq back into a state of war with the United States. The Bush Administration was not alone in finding that Iraqi noncompliance on WMD issues merited a military response. The Clinton Administration also cited Iraq’s noncompliance as justification for launching Operation Desert Fox, four days of air strikes against Iraqi targets, in December 1998. Many critics who charge that the Bush Administration conjured up Iraqi WMD as a false justification for war against Iraq conveniently ignore the fact that the Clinton Administration based its military attacks on the same premise.
The WikiLeaks document dump is a disturbing and reckless politically motivated attack that has passed potentially valuable information to hostile forces and increased the risks to U.S., coalition and Iraqi troops and civilians who continue to fight to build a stable democracy in Iraq. The selective morality and self-righteous arrogance of the WikiLeaks crew is breathtaking. But if anything positive comes out of their dangerous and misguided actions, it is a reminder that, contrary to popular wisdom, Iraq did in fact possess illegal chemical weapons that it failed to destroy before the 2003 war.