On Niger

Hearing so much criticism of the war in Iraq lately, I have begun to wonder whether people think (at this point) that the United States and Great Britain would have been justified to invade Iraq even if Iraq had tried to purchase uranium from Niger, as Bush alleged in his State of the Union address in 2003.

It would seem that Iraq did make such an attempt, as noted on Slate (and the Deulfer report):

In the late 1980s, the Iraqi representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency—Iraq’s senior public envoy for nuclear matters, in effect—was a man named Wissam al-Zahawie. After the Kuwait war in 1991, when Rolf Ekeus arrived in Baghdad to begin the inspection and disarmament work of UNSCOM, he was greeted by Zahawie, who told him in a bitter manner that “now that you have come to take away our assets,” the two men could no longer be friends. (They had known each other in earlier incarnations at the United Nations in New York.) . . .

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. Italian intelligence (which first noticed the Zahawie trip from Rome) found it difficult to take this view and alerted French intelligence (which has better contacts in West Africa and a stronger interest in nuclear questions). In due time, the French tipped off the British, who in their cousinly way conveyed the suggestive information to Washington. As everyone now knows, the disclosure appeared in watered-down and secondhand form in the president’s State of the Union address in January 2003. . . .

The Duelfer Report also cites “a second contact between Iraq and Niger,” which occurred in 2001, when a Niger minister visited Baghdad “to request assistance in obtaining petroleum products to alleviate Niger’s economic problems.” According to the deposition of Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far (the head of Iraq’s pre-1991 nuclear weapons program), 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.

Does the Niger connection matter?

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3 thoughts on “On Niger

  1. Iraq did not buy uranium. That much was clear before the invasion. We also knew that Iraq had not been able to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program. Therefore the Iraq invasion remains a war of choice. It’s engineers are responsible for the failures and shortcomings of their enterprise.

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