The Last Round: Who cares?

If we believe some sources, there is little doubt amidst the American Intelligence people as to a next terrorist attack. The controversy is not about whether it is going to happen or not, but about when and where! It goes without saying that with such a little material we are not progressing at all. For what is the use of warning people of an imminent catastrophe if we cannot give them a clue about efficiently protecting themselves? If the warning was just a justification of the ongoing bombing of Afghanistan, with a little effort the administration may certainly find better. And if it is just to make any failure of the intelligence and security people more “acceptable” – in pretending that we knew it! – it is rather going to be a poor excuse, in case another terrorist attack happens really.

Senator Richard C. Shelby for instance, from the Senate intelligence committee, warned the reporters as early as October 4: ” we have to believe there will be another attempt by a terrorist group to hit us again”! Which looks like a preventive political bet rather than a foreseeing intelligence data based on an accurate information. This is just the kind of talk that is presently widespread in the American media, concerning so many issues related to the terrorist topic. People are speculating and making a lot of assumptions, for the facts are still hard to guess and predict.

Ultimately, there is nothing new in all that talk. And the politicians who had to deal with varied aspects of the Security problem in relation with the international order – some analysts would opt for the word: disorder! – know it very well. Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking on the NBC program “Meet the press” in the last days of September, said: ” There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists”. So, this is just the way to outline the problem. But it could be done in other words. We can for instance have the same topic overlooked from Tehran, or Baghdad, or Riyadh, which are just at the opposite side – and not only geographical.

Thus, for Mr. Hashemi Rafsanjani, chief adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, the United States is paying the price for supplying anthrax to Iraq, which fought a bitter war with the Islamic Republic in the 1980s.

“They knew anthrax was not a conventional weapon of war, but they supplied it to Iraq”, he said on Oct.26: ” Now anthrax, which they themselves sent to this region, is back to haunt them”!

But Rafsanjani would certainly have avoided to be confused though he was able to read the New Scientist’s report on the question published just two days prior to his declaration. Under the headline ” Anthrax bacteria likely to be US military strain”, the report read:

The bacteria used for the anthrax attacks in the US is either the strain the US itself used to make anthrax weapons in the 1960s, or close to it. It is not a strain that Iraq, or the former Soviet Union, mass-produced for weapons.

The same viewpoint has been, by the way, emphasized by a story run on Oct. 25- a day before Rafsanjani’s revengeful declaration- by The New York Post, which has served as a target-address for the anthrax senders. ” Some investigators believe the same person may have written both sets of letters”, reports Murray Weiss, who mentions then- the prevailing feeling that ” the anthrax does not point to an international terrorist group”, but could be “manufactured here”!

But that was hardly going to be the end of the story. And Iraq is most likely to remain a suspect, not only because the truth cannot be established on behalf of a single version – were it Einstein himself who wrote the report for New Scientist! – but also because there is not an agreement between the scientists themselves on a clear and sound explanation. Let us be simple: if such an explanation exists, would the US government hesitate a second to make it worldwide spread? At a time when Mr. Bush is so keen upon broadening his anti terrorist coalition, any sound evidence concerning the Sep 11 attacks and the anthrax terror would be much welcome and very helpful, to be sure. But the point is that we are still trampling with foggy assumptions.

The trail leading to the American ultra-right-wing groups as possible suspects has been lately outdone by the discovery of the anthrax cases in Pakistan. We know that the FBI was – perhaps is still – investigating about the attempts – successful or not, we don’t know – made by some of those groups to get the deadly bacteria from several US- based laboratories before it surfaced in Florida. But if the anthrax “does not point to an international terrorist group” as it has been believed, why should it appear also in Pakistan?

The Pakistani case shows, if need be, that no trail should be dismissed as unlikely before the terrorists are known and arrested. Besides, it corroborates the assumption that Usama bin Laden may be in possession of chemical and biological weapons. Anyway, it is not hard for him to get them, for if we believe some sources, he bought some samples of anthrax by mail from shady laboratories in Eastern Europe and Asia for as little as $ 10,000. The confession of a former follower- Ahmad Ibrahim al-Najjar- at a recent trial of more than 100 members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, unveiled these facts. According to al-Najjar, “factories in the Czech Republic and elsewhere in Eastern Europe supplied deadly bacteria, including salmonella, by mail without checking the identities of the purchasers as long as bin Laden agents paid $ 7,500 up front.” Bin Laden’s group was able to get the anthrax germ from another factory in Southeast Asia, which supplied it to the Indonesian -based Islamic Moro front.

Unfortunately, this is not the end of the investigation. The question that remains unanswered is: how can we check up the veracity of this testimony?

The Iraqi trail is actually another headache, maybe the most important for the American investigators who are not willing to believe that Baghdad has entirely destroyed its stocks of chemical and biological weapons. The Israelis made even a duty out of plunging their poisoned dagger into the chest of a dying camel! The Jerusalem Post wrote on Nov. 1: ” at least two pieces of evidence point to Iraq as the source of the anthrax”. The first is a ” chemical additive” found in the powder that is identical to what is known about Iraqi anthrax! What is that “additive”? -No answer! The second indication is that ” Iraqi anthrax can generally be treated and cured after it has taken effect”! That is great! But…the Israeli writer has not invented the lukewarm water! Obviously he forgot that some victims are already dead! Furthermore, he added that Rafi Eitan – who is a professional intelligence officer who had retired after the Jonathan Pollard affair- told him: ” we already knew in the seventies (…) that Saddam was developing anthrax as a biological weapon”! And he believed him! (: Uri Dan: Saddam’s death labs).

Unfortunately for them, there are people who cannot allow such lies to have a long life. For example, the Federation of American Scientists who published a detailed report about the Iraqi Biological weapons program.

According to this report, anthrax could not be found in Iraq before March 1988.

On that date, a new site for biological weapons production was selected at a location now known as Al Hakam. The project was given the designator “324”. The design philosophy for the Al Hakam plant was taken from the chemical weapons research and production facility at Al Muthanna: the buildings were to be well separated, research areas were segregated from production areas and the architectural features of Muthanna buildings copied where appropriate.

At Al Hakam, production of botulinum toxin for weapons purposes began in April 1989, and anthrax in May 1989.

Initially, much of the fermentation capacity for anthrax was used for the production of anthrax simulator for weapons field trials. Production of anthrax itself, it is claimed, began in earnest in 1990. In total, about 6,000 liters of concentrated botulinum toxin and 8,425 litters of anthrax were produced at Al Hakam during 1990. After 2 August 1990, the date of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, Iraq’s biological weapons program was drastically intensified. The emphasis was shifted to production and later to weaponization of produced biological warfare agents.

So, if these are the facts as recorded by the F.A.S. how the Israelis were able since the seventies to know about anthrax production in Iraq?

Anyhow, the real headache is not about whether Iraq was producing anthrax or not. Everybody knows it was since the Iraqi themselves declared the production of 8500 liters of concentrated anthrax, according to the F.A.S. report. (6,500 liters were even filled into munitions: bombs and Al Hussein warheads, etc.) The question is about the current capabilities of Iraq. And here the same report makes an unequivocal statement:

” Iraq has medical, veterinary, and university facilities where biotechnical research and development can be carried out. Some of these facilities likely are staffed by former members of Iraqi biological warfare program. Much of the laboratory equipment is dual-use and could be used for biological agent development. Iraq has the equipment, raw materials, and know-how for bulk production of biological agents for weaponization and the means of delivering the agents. With the equipment Iraq is known to possess, 350 liters of weapons-grade anthrax could be produced each week, according to Iraq’s own production figures”.

That is why Iraq is still a main suspect in the American eyes. And it is unlikely that the situation changes even if there is not much evidence concerning its involvement in the terrorist attacks against the United States.

In her well-searched essay about ” The World Trade Center Bomb”, Laurie Mylroie says: ” In February 1993, Saddam ordered his agents to try to topple New York’s tallest tower onto its twin, and if, in January 1995, Iraq sponsored an effort to destroy eleven US airplanes in the Far East, then Saddam has not been quiescent”!

All right! But how did she know that? Believe it or not, she gathered it from the Iraqi press!

She says that ” in the fall of 1994, Baghdad’s official press, in essence, threatened that Saddam might use his remaining unconventional agents, biological and chemical, for terrorism in America, or on missiles delivered against his enemies in the region if and when he became fed up with sanctions”. (: The National Interest, winter 1995/96).

That means that Saddam got obsessed with the twin towers since that time and ended by bringing them down! This assumption is a “fitted carpet” for Mylroie’s thesis about the Iraqi revenge to which she dedicated a book.

Needless to say that by these troublesome times such speculations may get a favorable wind.

That is why it is not unlikely that after being done with the Taliban job, the American war-machine turns to facing Saddam… for the last round! Maybe it would not be done on the grounds of some sound evidence about the Iraqi involvement in the terrorist operations. The Americans do not need evidence however to prove that the Iraqi government is their enemy. But if they strike again, it is because neither they are ready to forgive the Iraqi regime and to turn off the page, nor they can afford to have it staying anymore in that hot region. Anyway, they say, who cares if we drop one more time our bombs on Baghdad?

Really! Who cares?

Hichem Karoui is a writer and journalist living in Paris, France.

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