The Associated Press released a story on June 19, written by Edith Lederer, that was published in many newspapers in the United States, alleging that Iraq was importing weapons despite economic sanctions. I conducted a brief study to find out the genesis of the article.
The local Des Moines Register picked up the AP story from the wire and gave the title: "Iraq evades arms sanctions, U.N. reports say." The story was based upon findings by Gary Mihollin, director of the Washington-based Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. According to the group, Iraq "evaded U.N. sanctions in the 90s importing weapons from companies in Eastern Europe and Russia."
The "UN Reports" cited in the headline were in fact, according to the text of the story, "unpublished" reports released by "U.S. arms-control researchers" who got them from "sources outside the United Nations."
The category of "weapons" provided by companies in the study is never identified; AP writer Edith Lederer, however, makes a reference to Iraq's "nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs."
On June 25 I called Edith Lederer in Washington, D.C. at the AP bureau. The conversation went like this:
Edith: "I can answer one question and give you 15 seconds of my time so hurry."
Jeffrey: "Have you ever seen the unpublished U.N. report that is the subject of the story?"
Jeffrey: "Have you ever read any of the text of this unpublished report that is the focus of your story."
Jeffrey: "Do you think I can get a copy of this report from Gary in Wisconsin?"
Edith: "I doubt there is any chance that could happen .. Gary is a friend."
Jeffrey: So how do we know this report exists?
Edith: You can read the story in Commentary magazine
Jeffrey: "I looked upon the web site and found out the Wisconsin Project's Iraq program is funded in part by the Pentagon. You describe them as a non-profit watchdog group.
Edith: "I have to go now, but you can find the story in the Commentary."
On June 26, I got an e-mail response from the Wisconsin Project on my request for the report. According to Kelly Motz, the "report (she put the words in quotes!) is "actually an article in Commentary magazine."
Commentary, for those who don't know, is published by the American Jewish Committee. The July/August issue includes an article, "Shopping with Saddam Hussein," by Milhollin and Motz. The piece relies upon "confidential" reports before 1998 from "UN inspectors" ostensibly interviewed by the authors but never identified.
If the report was written, it was during the years the U.S. and U.K. acknowledged they had stacked UNSCOM with intelligence officers. A further irony is that the top weapons-inspector at the time of this report, former Marine Scott Ritter, says Iraq is "qualitatively disarmed" and that "there can be no honor in a policy that that leads to the death, through malnutrition and untreated disease, of 5,000 children under the age of 5 every month." (Boston Globe, 3-9-2000)
The AP story describes the Wisconsin Project as a "nonprofit watch-dog group" but fails to include a passage from the organization's web site: "In the year 2000, the Project launched a joint effort with the Pentagon to improve export controls in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe."
The story gets better.
A previous report from the Wisconsin Project alleging Iraq had carried out a successful nuclear test was published in newspapers across the United States on June 10. On June 11, the chief UN arms inspector Hans Blix said there had been no nuclear tests and that "the information is totally wrong." Terry Wallace, professor of Geosciences at the University of Arizona, said there was no reason to believe the story is "anything but a hoax." Reuters distributed this piece that was picked up by a small number of newspapers in the U.S.
Every year UN agencies such as UNICEF and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) release reports providing statistics of the deaths of children in Iraq under economic sanctions but they don't appear in many papers (see the work of Project Censored). Unfortunately, "UN reports" from the Wisconsin Project are deemed legitimate.
Jeffrey J. Weiss <JWeiss@afsc.org> is the Education Director/Central Region for the American Friends Service Committee,
4211 Grand Avenue/Des Moines, IA 50310515-274-4851, ext. 16 or 515-255-2465.