'Forgers' of key Iraq war contract named - Sunday Times - Times Online
One of the questions about the run-up to the Iraq war was answered this weekend. Of course you didn't see it in an American paper. A NATO investigation into the Niger uranium documents has found the source, two Employee's (one fairly high level) of the Niger embassay in Italy.
According to Nato sources, the investigation has evidence that Niger’s consul and its ambassador’s personal assistant faked a contract to show Saddam Hussein had bought uranium ore from the impoverished west African country.
According to the sources, an official investigation believes Adam Maiga Zakariaou, the consul, and Laura Montini, the ambassador’s assistant, known as La Signora, forged the papers for money.
They allegedly concocted their scheme as reports reached western intelligence agencies, including MI6, that Saddam Hussein had been trying to buy uranium ore, known as yellowcake, from Niger. The agencies had no evidence he had succeeded. The pair are alleged to have copied a real contract to look like an agreement with Iraq under which Niger would supply Saddam with 500 tons of yellowcake.
In the spring of 2000, she handed him a document relating to a visit to Niger by Wissam al-Zahawie, the Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican. Martino passed it to his French handler.
The French, who were watching for an attempt by Saddam to obtain uranium from Niger, showed great interest and told Martino they wanted more information. Martino asked Montini if she could get a copy of a contract for Niger to supply Iraq with uranium.
“Martino told me that if he was able to obtain a copy of a contract then he would have earned a lot of money from an unspecified ‘intelligence’ organisation,” she told the magistrate.
The lure of the money was apparently too much. “She was [the ambassador’s] trusted personal assistant. The consul Zakariaou . . . needed money. He would help her forge the documents,” the Nato sources claim.
Martino passed the contract to his French handlers, but they spotted it was a fake and refused to pay.
Some time in 2002, however, they obtained another apparently incriminating document, the source said. This was a letter purporting to be from al-Zahawie relating to a visit to Niger in 1999 to discuss the possible supply of uranium. This did not constitute evidence that Niger had agreed to supply yellowcake but it did indicate Saddam was trying to obtain it.
The letter, deemed “credible” by the Butler inquiry into Iraq intelligence, appears to be the evidence that led to Bush’s claim in January 2003 that the British had “learnt that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa”.
The French passed copies to MI6 with caveats to protect their source. The British could tell the CIA Iraq had tried to obtain yellowcake from Niger but not about the actual letter.
n the autumn of 2002, Martino passed the documents allegedly faked by Zakariaou and Montini to an Italian journalist. She then took them to the American embassy and they were passed on to Washington.
After the IAEA had dismissed the forged documents, the Americans disowned all the Iraq-Niger uranium claims.
Christopher Hitchens has more in his latest column on Slate.com titled, "Wowie Zahawie Sorry everyone, but Iraq did go uranium shopping in Niger."
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.)
At a later 1995 U.N. special session on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Zahawie was the Iraqi delegate and spoke heatedly about the urgent need to counterbalance Israel's nuclear capacity. At the time, most democratic countries did not have full diplomatic relations with Saddam's regime, and there were few fully accredited Iraqi ambassadors overseas, Iraq's interests often being represented by the genocidal Islamist government of Sudan (incidentally, yet another example of collusion between "secular" Baathists and the fundamentalists who were sheltering Osama Bin Laden). There was one exception—an Iraqi "window" into the world of open diplomacy—namely the mutual recognition between the Baathist regime and the Vatican. To this very important and sensitive post in Rome, Zahawie was appointed in 1997, holding the job of Saddam's ambassador to the Holy See until 2000. Those who knew him at that time remember a man much given to anti-Jewish tirades, with a standing ticket for Wagner performances at Bayreuth. (Actually, as a fan of Das Rheingold and Götterdämmerung in particular, I find I can live with this. Hitler secretly preferred sickly kitsch like Franz Lehar.)
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.
A NATO investigation has identified two named employees of the Niger Embassy in Rome who, having sold a genuine document about Zahawie to Italian and French intelligence agents, then added a forged paper in the hope of turning a further profit. The real stuff went by one route to Washington, and the fakery, via an Italian journalist and the U.S. Embassy in Rome, by another. The upshot was—follow me closely here—that a phony paper alleging a deal was used to shoot down a genuine document suggesting a connection.
Zahawie's name and IAEA connection were never mentioned by ElBaradei in his report to the United Nations, and his past career has never surfaced in print.
Instead, we are told that Zahawie visited Niger and other West African countries to encourage them to break the embargo on flights to Baghdad, as they had broken the sanctions on Qaddafi's Libya. A bit of a lowly mission, one might think, for one of the Iraqi regime's most senior and specialized envoys.
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.
Interagency feuding has ruined the Bush administration's capacity to make its case in public, and a high-level preference for deniable leaking has further compounded the problem. But please read my first three paragraphs again and tell me if the original story still seems innocuous to you.
I trimmed pretty liberally on the Hitchin's story so go read it yourself for full context. The upshot of this is the BushLied mantra is becomes more worn each day. Every single report finds that there was in fact credible evidence that Saddam was in fact a threat, but we don't hear about it anywhere in our media.
Update: Jacques at Carry on America has links to others blogging about this.
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