Hitchens on the Iraq-Niger uranium connection

The incomparable Christopher Hitchens today conducts his own analysis  in Slate on the left's accepted truth that GW lied when he said that Saddam had sought to buy uranium in Africa.  The American Thinker covered much of the same ground last October and concluded that the President's statement in the State of the Union address was in fact, accurate and based on sound intelligence.

Hitchens focuses on Iraq's then—Vatican envoy Wissam al—Zahawie, who was also Saddam's senior public envoy for nuclear matters.  Hitchens notes that,

In February 1999, Zahawie left his Vatican office for a few days and paid an official visit to Niger, a country known for absolutely nothing except its vast deposits of uranium ore. It was from Niger that Iraq had originally acquired uranium in 1981, as confirmed in the Duelfer Report.  In order to take the Joseph Wilson view of this Baathist ambassadorial initiative, you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein's long—term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious.

As Hitchens says, Niger is not well—known for much outside of its vast uranium deposits, and as I wrote about previously, there had been a well—established Iraq—Niger uranium trade arrangement in effect for many years:

According to the IAEA, Saddam bought about 151 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1981, and then made an additional purchase of 153 tons in 1982.

Hitchens also talks about Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, who was the head of Iraq's pre—1991 nuclear weapons program, and his statements concerning Iraq—Niger contacts in the ISG final report.  Ja'far's deposition says,

...these negotiations involved no offer of uranium ore but only "cash in exchange for petroleum." West Africa is awash in petroleum, and Niger is poor in cash.  Iraq in 2001 was cash—rich through the oil—for—food racket, but you may if you wish choose to believe that a near—bankrupt African delegation from a uranium—based country traveled across a continent and a half with nothing on its mind but shopping for oil.

I also concluded that it was unlikely that Iraq was talking to Niger about acquiring oil, and that the ISG was deliberately ignoring sound intelligence about an Iraq—Congo connection.  Duelfer and his investigators also continued to depend on Saddam's scientists and cronies to provide the rationale for their conclusions:

So, despite Ja'far's penchant for lying to the ISG about uranium acquisitions, Duelfer's report used one scientist's testimony and an unsigned crude oil contract to conclude that Iraq had not purchased any uranium from Niger for over 20 years.  Even if Ja'far, however unlikely, is telling the truth about the Niger—Iraq connection as no more than innocent diplomatic contacts, the ISG apparently lends no greater credence to the Congo connection, which was based on sound analysis by British intelligence and documentation that the ISG itself had uncovered.

For nearly three years, American Thinker contributors have covered stories on Saddam's WMD and our own intelligence community's war against GW on a regular basis.  We thank Hitchens for keeping these issues front and center.

Doug Hanson  04—11—06

The incomparable Christopher Hitchens today conducts his own analysis  in Slate on the left's accepted truth that GW lied when he said that Saddam had sought to buy uranium in Africa.  The American Thinker covered much of the same ground last October and concluded that the President's statement in the State of the Union address was in fact, accurate and based on sound intelligence.

Hitchens focuses on Iraq's then—Vatican envoy Wissam al—Zahawie, who was also Saddam's senior public envoy for nuclear matters.  Hitchens notes that,

In February 1999, Zahawie left his Vatican office for a few days and paid an official visit to Niger, a country known for absolutely nothing except its vast deposits of uranium ore. It was from Niger that Iraq had originally acquired uranium in 1981, as confirmed in the Duelfer Report.  In order to take the Joseph Wilson view of this Baathist ambassadorial initiative, you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein's long—term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious.

As Hitchens says, Niger is not well—known for much outside of its vast uranium deposits, and as I wrote about previously, there had been a well—established Iraq—Niger uranium trade arrangement in effect for many years:

According to the IAEA, Saddam bought about 151 tons of yellowcake from Niger in 1981, and then made an additional purchase of 153 tons in 1982.

Hitchens also talks about Ja'far Diya' Ja'far, who was the head of Iraq's pre—1991 nuclear weapons program, and his statements concerning Iraq—Niger contacts in the ISG final report.  Ja'far's deposition says,

...these negotiations involved no offer of uranium ore but only "cash in exchange for petroleum." West Africa is awash in petroleum, and Niger is poor in cash.  Iraq in 2001 was cash—rich through the oil—for—food racket, but you may if you wish choose to believe that a near—bankrupt African delegation from a uranium—based country traveled across a continent and a half with nothing on its mind but shopping for oil.

I also concluded that it was unlikely that Iraq was talking to Niger about acquiring oil, and that the ISG was deliberately ignoring sound intelligence about an Iraq—Congo connection.  Duelfer and his investigators also continued to depend on Saddam's scientists and cronies to provide the rationale for their conclusions:

So, despite Ja'far's penchant for lying to the ISG about uranium acquisitions, Duelfer's report used one scientist's testimony and an unsigned crude oil contract to conclude that Iraq had not purchased any uranium from Niger for over 20 years.  Even if Ja'far, however unlikely, is telling the truth about the Niger—Iraq connection as no more than innocent diplomatic contacts, the ISG apparently lends no greater credence to the Congo connection, which was based on sound analysis by British intelligence and documentation that the ISG itself had uncovered.

For nearly three years, American Thinker contributors have covered stories on Saddam's WMD and our own intelligence community's war against GW on a regular basis.  We thank Hitchens for keeping these issues front and center.

Doug Hanson  04—11—06