Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has ordered hundreds of his officials to conceal weapons of mass destruction components in their homes to evade the prying eyes of the United Nations inspectors.
According to a stream of intelligence now emerging from inside Iraq, the full extent of the Iraqi leader’s deception operation is now becoming apparent. As the U.N. inspectors knock on the doors of the major military sites in Iraq, suspected of housing chemical and biological weapons and banned missiles, the bulk of the evidence is being secreted away in people’s homes.
The evidence of this latest concealment ploy is judged to be so damning that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are considering making a personal appeal to the Iraqi officials involved to let the inspectors know what is going on.
Intelligence picked up from within Iraq and from electronic intercepts of Iraqi communications has revealed that scientists, civil servants and Baath Party officials have all been ordered to store key components of Saddam’s secret weapons of mass destruction program in their homes.
Iraqi farmers have also been ordered to play their part, according to intelligence sources. One source said that farmers were being told to hide drums of chemicals among stocks of pesticides.
In each case, the scientists, officials and farmers are being warned that they and their families will face severe penalties if they fail to hide these stocks of chemicals and biological materials from prying U.N. inspectors. Computers and laptops containing vital information about the weapons of mass destruction program are also being hidden in people’s homes.
The intelligence sources said that U.N. inspectors were aware of what American and other Western agencies were uncovering. However, it made their job almost impossible because they would have no idea where to start if they had to search individual homes.
The inspectors, however, do have the power under the Security Council resolution to seek interviews with individual officials and scientists suspected of having information about the weapons of mass destruction program.
A senior British official said Blair was considering reminding people in Iraq that they all had the same obligations as their leader to be open with the UN inspectors. It is hoped that at least some of those ordered to hide evidence in their homes might have the courage to come forward.
Apart from the evidence of deception, the latest intelligence has also uncovered a totally different mood in Iraq from the lead-up to the 1991 Gulf War. Then, there was little or no evidence that the people of Iraq were opposed to Saddam. Now, however, there are signs of a growing disaffection. One intelligence source said that at this stage the mood of discontent was only "simmering" because the Iraqi people knew that if "they put their heads above the parapet they and their families would face the consequences."
However, the intelligence material emerging in recent weeks has uncovered a number of startling facts.
First, Saddam has been sufficiently worried about potential internal opposition to his regime to take the extraordinary step of canvassing opinion in all the key cities. Intelligence sources say that Kurds have been used to carry out the survey.
The answers coming back from the quasi-opinion poll have given strong indications that people were looking towards a post-Saddam era and wondering whether it would improve their standard of living. To counter this, Saddam’s regime has begun circulating rumors in Iraq that even if he were to fall from power, there would be no lifting of sanctions.
One intelligence source said the very fact that Saddam had felt it necessary to check the opinions of Iraqi people was one of the most surprising pieces of information to come out of Baghdad in recent weeks. One piece of feedback from the survey was that people were worried that if Saddam were toppled, Iraq would split up as a country. The first sign of possible internal dissent came during the referendum in Iraq last month when Saddam was supposedly given a 100 percent "yes" vote for continuing in office. Baghdad claimed it was also a 100 percent turnout. However, intelligence emerging since then has revealed that only one in three people actually voted.
Second, as a sign of Saddam’s unease over the loyalty of his officials in Baghdad, he has begun handing out cars to everyone to keep them happy. The intelligence sources said senior officials were being given Toyota Avalon luxury sedans and junior officials South Korean-made Kia cars.
Third, Iraqi troops are now being required to go through the equivalent of the British system of positive vetting every three months to test their loyalties to Saddam. Security officials have been ordered to investigate each individual and his family.
Loyalties are thought to be near breaking-point in some of the more far-flung towns and cities, where there is evidence that troops and police are either not being paid or are receiving subsistence salaries.
One piece of intelligence revealed that in the town of Dahuk in northern Iraq, close to the Turkish border, the police had not been paid since September. Iraqi soldiers based at two barracks in Dahuk were also being paid far less than the average wage in Iraq. Fourth, Saddam who is not known to be a very religious person, has ordered his officials to spread rumors that the Americans want to invade Iraq in order to convert everyone to Christianity. He has also written a prayer.
The assessment of all the latest intelligence is that although cracks are now beginning to appear in the support for Saddam, it will have little impact on the Iraqi leader himself. It is believed he will never given up his weapons of mass destruction because they represent the means by which he can keep his people cowed.