Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that the US has secretly moved the yellowcake uranium held under seal since the first Gulf War from Iraq to a Canadian port, as part of a multi-million-dollar sale. The Iraqis have long wanted it gone, and the removal keeps the radioactive material from terrorists — although it doesn’t have much value without a cascade of centrifuges to enrich it, other than a panic factor. Even in the wake of dispatching the last of Saddam’s yellowcake, however, misinformation abounded.
First, let’s start with the AP itself. Proving that it learned nothing over the last five years in terms of research, it gets the Joe Wilson story wrong — again:
Accusations that Saddam had tried to purchase more yellowcake from the African nation of Niger – and an article by a former U.S. ambassador refuting the claims – led to a wide-ranging probe into Washington leaks that reached high into the Bush administration.
Brian Murphy follows a long tradition of getting this story completely wrong at the AP. Niger has four exports: uranium ore, livestock products, cowpeas, and onions. Wilson reported that the Prime Minister had been approached by an Iraqi group interested in secret negotiations for an export deal, and the PM didn’t think that the Iraqis wanted to secretly buy onions. Wilson reported back that Niger believed that the Iraqis had attempted to make a uranium purchase, but had refused their advances. This came out years ago in an investigative report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, a report that the AP’s myriad of reporters still has managed to miss for three years.
Next, a slew of e-mails came yesterday which hailed this as proof that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear-weapons program. It does prove that he had a nuclear program — before the first Gulf War. For those of us who recall the issue of yellowcake in Iraq, this is the same stash that the IAEA had sealed during its inspections immediately after that war. The seals remained on the compound, which means that Saddam never used it again. In fact, that’s why we suspected him of attempting to purchase more from Niger, because he couldn’t get his hands on this yellowcake without triggering a new war.
This doesn’t have anything to do with continuing efforts by Saddam to produce nuclear weapons. After the rejection by Niger, no one has produced any evidence that Saddam got fissile material from anywhere else, although evidence has arisen that he kept his nuclear technology on standby for reinstatement as soon as the sanctions got lifted. He continued to work with chemical and possibly biological weapons for several years, according to captured IIS documents, but the nuclear progam appears to have been shut down effectively.
The real news is that the yellowcake has finally been removed from Iraq, along with the temptation to use it. It now sits in the hands of the Canadians, who will put it to peaceful uses, removing one major security headache from the Maliki government and the US military. We can now help clean up the Tuwaitha area and close another dark chapter from the Saddam Hussein era.