The question as to whether or not Iraq actually used chemical weapon-loaded Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War is still an open one. Further to this, there still remain outstanding questions about the claims that Iraq possessed illegally-retained Scud Missiles in the period prior to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. There is no complete record to draw upon and no one organisation has ever been seen to have compiled an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis.
- A review by a former member of the Dhahran Scud Watchers Club
On January 9th 1991 United States President George Herbert Walker Bush sent a letter by the hand of James A. Baker, his Secretary of State, to Saddam Hussein, the President of the Republic of Iraq.
Mr. Baker in turn handed the letter to Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Foreign Minister, at a six-hour meeting to discuss possible Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait before the expiration of the U.N. deadline, then just five days away, as called for by U.N. Resolution 678. This resolution, dated November 29th 1990, demanded that Iraq complied fully with resolution 660  and subsequent resolutions 661, 662, 664, 665, 666, 667, 669, 670, 674 and 677, with full regard to Iraq withdrawing immediately and unconditionally from Kuwait.
Mr. Aziz read this letter, and considering it to be threatening, refused to accept the missive. As part of the letter, President Bush had written:
"Let me explain that the United States will not tolerate the use of chemical or biological weapons, nor the destruction of the oil wells and installations in Kuwait. Furthermore, you will be held directly responsible for any act of terrorism against any member of the coalition. If you order any such reckless act, the American people will ask me for the hardest reprisal and you, as well as your country will pay a terrible price. I am writing this letter not to threaten you, but to notify you I am doing this without the least sense of ease because the American people is not at odds with the Iraqi people."
Before this meeting, in a televised interview, Mr. Aziz had said that he was carrying proposals and ideas, but that he was not going to disclose their content (beforehand). He reiterated that forcing Iraq to withdraw meant the outbreak of a long and sanguine war.
After the failure of these talks, President Bush met with his senior aids, and then asked Congress to issue a decision supporting the use of "all means necessary" for forcing Iraq to withdraw its forces from Kuwait. On January 12th 1991 the House of Representatives authorised the use of force by 250 votes to 183, the Senate by 52 votes to 47. The start of this war was already inevitable, allegedly James Baker had already written a draft statement rejecting Iraq's position before the January 9th meeting in Geneva. Tariq Aziz was to tell Baker at the meeting that: "Perhaps it will just come down to fate."
The United Nations Coalition forces Commander in Chief, Central Command (CINC), General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, wrote home: "For whatever purpose God has, we will soon be at war."
An international force of approximately three-quarters of a million men and women was mustered, and as the result of the implementation of United Nations Resolutions, took all necessary action to remove the Iraqi occupying forces from the nation state of Kuwait during the months of January and February of 1991. Their mission was designed to disrupt all activities of Iraq's Ba'athist leadership, and military-force infra-structure, and to set forth intent upon their dual goals of regaining Kuwait, and re-establishing the sovereign rights of the previous Kuwaiti government. Much of the force that had previously been built up against the perceived threat from the Soviet Bloc through the 40 years of the Cold War was now turned towards the turbulent Middle-Eastern oil-field lands, and made available to the wider authority of the United Nations.
The Gulf War of 1991 signalled a new era in modern warfare. The armed forces of the Republic of Iraq, although the strongest military power in the Gulf region, were faced with overwhelming state-of-the-art weaponry and killing-systems. This was to be the first high-technology war, stealthy, computer-driven, fast and furious. The potential of the forces which were sent to the region dwarfed anything that had ever been put into one theatre, anywhere on the planet, in all of the history of mankind. Iraq was relatively powerless in the face of this sophisticated hard and soft-ware.
From the beginning, Saddam Hussein expected that which did not transpire for another 38 days and nights. He had prepared for a ground battle of almost biblical proportion. At stake was Iraq's newly gained province, its access to the waters of the Arabian Gulf, and Kuwait's huge oil reserves. Saddam had expected the forces of the Coalition to charge headlong into his prepared and ready forces, and for those forces to be held in check by his own. He knew that the Western World could not tolerate the losses he had hoped to inflict. This conflict was not to be the first, nor the last Gulf War.
Iraq and Iran had been fighting over territory along their common border for most of the 1980's. Chemical weapons had been used by Iraq against Kurdish separatists, and as a weapon of last resort in the face of fanatical Iranian territorial gain/regain.
Human Rights Watch/Middle East have documented over 60 instances of villages being attacked with mustard gas, nerve gas, or a combination of the two. Nearly all of these events took place in Iraqi Kurdistan, the most notable of these being at the town of Halabja, where on March 16th 1988 at least 3200 people died of alleged chemical poisoning. Scud missiles were used by both sides during this conflict, targeting each others capital cities, Baghdad in Iraq, and Tehran in Iran.
From the outset of this second recent Gulf conflict, everyone had realised that this war had the potential to becoming one with a chemical or even a biological warfare element. This was a major concern for Coalition commanders. Iraq was known to have the capacity to produce such weapons, and to have used many of them extensively in the recent war against Iran. On the other hand, the Americans had 66 dash 1.
This is the document that prepares to bring into play that nation's global air-power. It had been tried and tested many times before, over Nazi Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. It was brought in 'to play' again, during those first few hours of January 17th 1991. It came, that day, in the form of one hundred cruise missiles. One thousand missions. And over 2000 tons of bombs. In the following weeks, some 88,500 tons of ordnance was dropped on targets in Iraq and Kuwait. This represented some 220,000 individual items of potential mass destruction. Some 6,250 tons of these were precision guided munitions. In total, 109,876 U.S. flown missions were launched during the six-week war.
Iraq had no way to stop this onslaught. The first targets were radar installations, shortly followed by all command, control and communication (C3) networks. Most of the Iraqi Air Force was grounded. Iraq's only hope was to try to break the Coalition. To drag Israel into the war. To widen the war. To turn it into a Zionist war, against the pan-Arab nation. The only way to do this was with 'modified' SCUD missiles.
Iraq began launching Al-Hussein modified Scud missiles on the second day of the war. The first targets were in Israel. Six missiles fell on Tel Aviv and two on Haifa by an early Israeli count. First reports spoke of chemical weapons being detected in the wreckage, but this was quickly retracted and dismissed as erroneous readings from a Scud fuel tank. At about that same time, roughly 3:30 AM on the morning of January 18th 1991, the alarm was sounded at Dhahran, in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Space based detection systems had detected the fiery plume of a Scud launch from inside Iraq, and relayed this information to a centre located in the U.S. Cheyenne Mountain. This was then instantly sent to the Pentagon, and back to Central Command in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Dhahran's air-base was the largest such facility in the Eastern Province. It had been built up in response to Saudi Arabia's vulnerability to attacks by the participants of the 1980-88 Gulf War, against its shipping and oil installations. It was to become the main hub of the U.S. airlift operations in support of twin operations 'Desert Shield' and 'Desert Storm'. The Royal Saudi Air Force also operated its own McDonnell Douglas F-15C and Panavia Tornado ADV and IDS aircraft from the base, and these were joined by more Tornado aircraft belonging to the British Royal Air Force, and F-15 Eagles from the United States Air Force.
Batteries of Patriot air defence missiles were instantly on maximum alert. It was their job to shoot down any incoming threats. There were six of these batteries deployed in and around the Eastern Province, Alpha and Bravo were on two opposite sides of Dhahran air-base, Charlie was on the nearby island state of Bahrain, Delta was at Dammam port, Echo was at King Fahd Airport, and Foxtrot was at Al-Jubail. Each battery controlled five launchers, each with four missiles tubes. The operators in Alpha battery's operations van reportedly detected an incoming Scud on their radar scopes at 4:28 A.M. that morning. The Patriot missile was accelerating past Mach 1 as it left its launch canister. Some seconds later explosions were heard in the night sky. The myth of the Patriot missile's invincibility had however been born. With in a few hours of this, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf publicly proclaimed that an Iraqi missile had been: "...destroyed by a United States Army Patriot." No wreckage was ever recovered from this encounter. The Patriot crew was credited with this first Scud kill, but curiously, this claim was then reversed a year later.
During and after the build-up of the Coalition Forces gathered to carry out the main objective of United Nations Resolutions, authorizing 'all necessary means' to liberate the sovereign state of Kuwait, the forces of the Republic of Iraq launched perhaps 102 of their modified Scud missiles at those Coalition forces then based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and at the state of Israel. These Iraqi Scud missiles were a 'vexing problem' for the Coalition Force commanders from the very beginning. General Schwarzkopf's biography 'In the Eye of the Storm' by Roger Cohen and Claudio Gatti, states:
'In April 1990, just three months before Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, the respected Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. War College published a ninety-five-page report on Iraq, calling it 'a formidable power' and 'the most powerful state in the Gulf'.'
'The report added that Saddam was 'capable of, and, doctrinally attuned to, employment of chemical weapons by all available means'.'
'It speculated that he might fire 'large quantities of SCUD variants, with conventional and possibly chemical warheads with moderate accuracy'.'
'U.S. Intelligence had reported that the relatively complicated technology needed to add the chemical warheads to the missiles, had not been mastered by Saddam.'
According to the above biography: "Schwarzkopf was in fact never seriously worried that the SCUDs might be fitted with chemical warheads."
Brad Friedman writing in the Huffington Post (HuffPo - October 27th 2005 -- Eyes Only and Lies Only...Let's Make Sure the Story Is Told...) says "let's not forget how it all began". Like William M. Arkin writing in his Washington Post blog the previous week (WaPo - October 19th 2005 -- Origins of the Iraq Mistake), he singularly fails to determine and understand the nature of the true beginning of the Iraq WMD mistake.
It is the considered opinion of SCUDWATCH that it is highly likely Iraqi President Saddam Hussein DID order the launch of chemical weapon loaded Al Hussein Scud missiles against Coalition Forces based in Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War. SCUDWATCH is also of the opinion that this fact was and has been buried for years, probably at least 30, perhaps for ever. The vast majority of then-classified U.S. Nuclear, Chemical and Biological incident desk log records which were generated at that time of the Gulf Conflict were destroyed when they were 'inadvertently' placed in a designated shredding and destruction area during a period of office reorganisation.
Throughout the long debate about the existence of the mysterious and unacknowledged 'Gulf War Syndrome' this aspect of the chemical warfare agent exposure issue was never even properly discussed, far less seriously examined and officially investigated.
SCUDWATCH believes that the chemical attacks began on the night of January 20th/21st 1991, after Saddam Hussein had stated in an address on Baghdad Radio on January 20th that: "In the coming period, the response of Iraq will be on a larger scale" and: "The weight and effect of our ready missile force has not yet been applied in full."
On January 23rd 1991 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell conducted a press conference where he showed a chart claiming to indicate Iraqi radar activity. In fact it now seems highly likely that he was trying to telegraph a message to Saddam Hussein suggesting in essence: 'if you knock it off some of your activity so will we'. Allegedly, and according to one of the best accounts of the 1991 Gulf War, General Powell had a little printed aphorism on his desk at that press meeting, which went very much along the lines of 'you never know what you can get away with unless you try'.
These events may well have been the true origin of the most-recent and presently continuing Iraq 'mistake'.
U.S. President George Herbert Walker Bush had signed National Security Directive 54 on January 15th 1991. Paragraph 10 stated:
"Should Iraq resort to using chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons, or be found supporting terrorist acts against the U.S. or coalition partners anywhere in the world, or destroy Kuwait's oil fields, it shall become an explicit objective of the United States to replace the current leadership of Iraq. I also want to preserve the option of authorizing additional punitive actions against Iraq."
With regard to the 'missing' and 'unaccounted for' WMD debate which has continued to be a major political issue on both sides of the Atlantic since 2002, in reality there were unanswered UNSCOM questions about approximately nine Scud missiles, not just two or perhaps three as discussed by the CIA-led Iraq Survey Group in their Final Report (also known as the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD) issued on September 30th 2004. There were also, by Iraqi admission, nine missing chemical 'special' warheads which were not mentioned in the ISG Final Report, and other claims elsewhere of up to 10 missing Scud missile engines.
Iraq had previously made a declaration that it had used 93 of these Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf conflict, a figure referred to by UNSCOM in its analysis of unaccounted for weapons, and also contained in the H.M. Government's September 24th 2002 dossier 'Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction - The Assessment of the British Government'.
In its July 2000 document, 'A review of UK Forces Chemical Warfare Agent Alerts during the 1991 Gulf Conflict', the U.K. Ministry of Defence stated that Iraq had launched 72 Scud missiles in January 1991, and 30 more during the following month. This account therefore suggests a total of 102 missiles as having been launched by Iraq during the period of the United Nations mandated Coalition operations to liberate Iraqi occupied Kuwait.
UNSCOM documents reveal that Iraq accounted for 817 of its 819 Soviet supplied Scud missiles, but that other questions still remained about a further 7 indigenously produced "training" missiles. The declared unilateral destruction/consumption of these missiles was never proven, and further questions arose concerning the equipping of Iraq's newly-formed Brigade-sized Unit 223, which was charged with responsibility for Iraq's operational missile assets.
Further to this, at the Special Commission's Technical Evaluation Meeting on proscribed missile warheads held in Baghdad on February 1st-6th 1998, Iraq admitted that it could not account for nine "special" warheads, other examples of which had been found by UNSCOM to contain either the nerve agent sarin, or one component of the Iraqi binary chemical warfare compound.
Also revealed by this meeting was the claimed fact that all similar Iraqi warheads, irrespective of fill, had been painted the same way so as to create indeterminacy, and that: "This led the missile force not to think that there are Iraqi special warheads."
One of the last actions of Richard Butler, as Executive Chairman of the United Nations Special Commission, was in November 1998 to send a letter to Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, requesting that documents concerning the creation and armament of Missile Unit 223 be handed over to the Acting Director of the Baghdad Monitoring and Verification Centre. These documents were not subsequently forthcoming, and UNSCOM pulled its staff out of Iraq less than a month later.
George J. Tenet, the then Director of U.S. Central Intelligence, made comment on the numbers of these Scud missiles in a statement made on August 11th 2003: "The intelligence community's assessment on the possibility of Iraq having a few covert Scuds has been consistent since at least 1995."
These were the supposedly hidden-away remnant leftovers from the once quite large Iraqi Scud missile programme declared illegal by United Nations Resolution 687.
The Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (the WMD Commission), in their report to the American President published on March 31st 2005, stated:
"And although the NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) did not assess accurately the status of Iraq's Scud missile force, we are not especially troubled by this inaccuracy in light of the NIE's clear statement that this assessment was based merely on accounting discrepancies."
The U.K. Government Foreign Affairs Committee report 'The Decision to go to War in Iraq' specifically recommended that the Government, in its response to the report, set out whether it still considers the (now generally discredited) H.M. Government September dossier to be accurate in what it stated about Iraq's ballistic missile programmes generally, and with regard to the retained al-Hussein Scud missiles in particular "in the light of subsequent events", which is now generally taken to mean the inability of the Iraq Survey Group to find such weapons extant in Iraq.
In response to this, on behalf of the Government, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Rt Hon Jack Straw, replied simply that: "We have seen nothing to disprove any of the points in the dossier."
The idea that Iraq had actually used chemical weapons during the 1991 Persian Gulf conflict is one which has never been permitted much currency. The British Ministry of Defence's position on this issue has always been that:
"There is no confirmed evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Iraq during the Gulf conflict."
Perhaps part of the full reasoning as to why Saddam Hussein could not declare the actual disposition of all of his supposedly retained proscribed weaponry was because he felt threatened by indictment for illegal chemical weapons war crimes invoking the 1925 Geneva poison gas Protocol should he be forced to admit to such acts.
As it was, no-one else was making these charges, and a stalemate situation developed to continue for well over a decade. The 'additional punitive actions' were to take the form of twelve years of hard sanctions, and the establishment of the exclusive northern and southern no-fly zones.
It was Iraq's 1991 use of Scud missiles against Saudi Arabia and Israel which directly led to the first reading of the U.S. CBW sanctions-leading Omnibus Export Amendments Act of 1991, and to the formation of the United Nations weapons inspection regimes of UNSCOM and then later UNMOVIC, both situations to practically arise from the very first instance of missile launch.
The twelve years of sanctions were used to punish Iraq for its weapons usage and for its continually perceived defiance of a long series of United Nations resolutions which in part requiring a full and frank disclosure of all aspects of its earlier (and also possibly continued) weapons of mass destruction programmes.
The full scale, significance, and wider latent effects of these earlier military actions may not yet have been completely recognised, either on a personal or on a national or international level. These missile events may later come to be seen to have played a significant role in the global reasoning behind the execution of a series of serious international consequences which included a long series of unresolved United Nations Resolutions, UN mandated NBC weapons inspections, and a comprehensive twelve year sanctions policy against Iraq. Events culminated in March 2003 with the use of invasive force to remove Iraq's entire leadership and ruling party from power.