December 16, 2007


Why Iran Didn't Cross the Nuclear Weapon Road: Saddam Hussein's nuclear program, not Western pressure, may have been the deciding factor (Dilip Hiro, 12/11/07, YaleGlobal)

In February 1988, Iraq attacked Tehran and other cities with its boosted Scud missiles, called Al Hussein, with a range of 370 miles. Its poison-gas attack on its own Kurdish citizens of Halabja in March alarmed Tehran’s residents. They feared a similar fate. A third of the capital’s population fled to the countryside.

This seems to have given impetus to Iran’s leaders to pursue its atom-bomb project with added vigor and urgency.

What appears to have given further impetus to the Iranian enterprise was the discovery by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, made in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War between Iraq and the US-led coalition, that Iraq had a fairly advanced, clandestine nuclear-arms program.

When the IAEA and other international inspectors noticed discrepancy between what WMD materials they found and destroyed, and what the official documents showed to be in Iraq’s inventories at the start, Saddam claimed that he had ordered the destruction of some WMD materials himself. The documentation got lost in the mayhem, caused by the uprisings in Iraq in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, he explained.

The purpose of Saddam’s cat-and-mouse game with international inspectors was to make the leaders of the neighboring states feel that he possessed WMDs or could produce them at short notice, and thus gain their respect out of fear. Indeed, he said as much in his interviews with the US intelligence agents during his three-year incarceration. Saddam was particularly keen to foster such an assessment among the ruling mullahs of Iran, whom he detested for being ethnic Persian and Shiite.

The mystique of Saddam having a clandestine WMD was so strong that even his generals believed it. On the eve of the Anglo-American invasion in March 2003, however, he admitted to them that he had nothing of the sort. So, many of his generals failed to turn up for their jobs once the invasion got going. They knew that without chemical weapons and without air cover, they had no chance of resisting the invading forces.

Saddam’s overthrow in April was not enough to reassure Iran’s leaders to abandon their nuclear-arms option. What made the critical difference was the statement by David Kay, leader of the US-led Iraq Survey Group. At the end of an investigation costing $300 million, he said on October 2, 2003, "We have not yet found stocks of [non-conventional] weapons." Earlier, the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Force too had discovered nothing.

This reassured Iran’s leaders, including Hassan Rouhani, its chief nuclear negotiator with foreign governments and international agencies.

On October 21, 2003, Rouhani held several hours of talks with the visiting foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany. At the end, Iran agreed, “Voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency” and to resolve satisfactorily all the IAEA’s remaining questions.

The American tilt towards, even if in an understandable fit of pique following the hostage crisis, was disastrous for all concerned. Leaving Saddam in power in '91 was at least as big a mistake. Fortunately, W set things to rights and if he doesn't establish a new, more amicable, relationship with post-Ahmedinejad Iran, his successor will. It really just depends on when the Iranians remove Mahmoud and whether from above or from below.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 16, 2007 5:33 PM

Anytime they want to drop "Death to America!" "Death to the Great Satan!" I'm willing to talk. Before that?

Then "Death to you first, buddy. And pronto."

Posted by: Mikey at December 16, 2007 7:16 PM

We didn't tilt toward Iraq in the I/I war. We just put our thumb on the scale so that they could beat each other to a pulp. Even someone who thinks that Iran could be our best buddy if they just, you know, gave up the core of their governing ideology, must think that anything that weakens that ideology is a good thing.

Posted by: Ibid at December 16, 2007 7:31 PM

Their ideology is ours. They just need to rejigger a few institutions--reducing the Guardians day to day role while retaining an ultimate veto power.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2007 9:28 PM

Kermit Roosevelt and the Vincennes didn't chant--that's true.

Posted by: oj at December 16, 2007 9:31 PM


So, do you think we intentionally shot down an airliner?

Posted by: ghostcat at December 16, 2007 9:48 PM

OJ thinks the Shi'a are incapable of gang-banging. He (rightly) tags the corrupt Sunni oligarch gangsters as such, but something deep in his soul keeps him from tagging the murderous Shi'a (except for little Napoleons like Mahmoud).

Maybe he had an Iranian girlfriend in college.

Regardless, there won't be much improvement if Rafsanjani or even Khatami is the next President of Iran (absent some sort of rapproachment with the US). $200-300 million a year will still flow to Hezbollah, the rhetoric against the Jews will continue, and the boot in the face of the average Iranian citizen will remain. Unless the mullahs allow money to flow towards economic development instead of the giant mosques and the terror accounts, it won't matter who is President.

For a better government and a better society, Iran needs a much clearer Republic, not a slightly adjusted Council. If the governing philosophy is always bouncing between the tension of the most radical Islamic views and the next most radical Islamic views, the people will always be sheep (to be herder, shorn, or slaughtered).

Posted by: jim hamlen at December 17, 2007 12:39 AM

What does it matter whether it was intentional in fact when that's how we sold it to Iran. It did make them behave ever since.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2007 8:40 AM

Incapable? Quite capable, which is why the alliance will be so lethal.

Posted by: oj at December 17, 2007 8:42 AM