The two greatest mysteries of the war in Iraq are the disappearance of the country's leaders, headed by Saddam Hussein and his two sons, and the whereabouts of the weapons of mass destruction and the factories that produced them. These weapons, as we all know, were the major justification for going to war.
Among the war's opponents, there may be some who insist that the Iraqis had no unconventional weapons in the first place, but no one can say that Saddam Hussein and his men did not exist. Their disappearance, and the fact that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, show that Saddam must have spent years poring over foolproof escape routes for his top advisers and clever places to hide illicit arms.
The number of leaders captured until now has been negligible. Out of an American list of 55 most wanted men, only eight have been arrested or given themselves up, among them two of Saddam's half-brothers. But we are talking about more than 55 men. We are talking about entire families - wives, children, even grandchildren - dozens of people who have simply vanished, as if the earth had swallowed them up.
This is not something to be shrugged off. Saddam and his sons could resurface suddenly, in the midst of the rioting and violence in Iraq, and create total havoc. An even more frightening scenario is that Iraqi weapons experts have been taken in by Syria, not only to conceal evidence that Damascus conspired with Saddam in this sphere, but to help the Syrians manufacture such weapons in the future.
Strangely, the U.S. administration does not seem overly concerned about the disappearance of the Iraqi leadership. This has given rise to speculation that Washington knows that many of the Iraqi leaders, especially those at the top echelons, were killed in precision bombing attacks - an assumption based on finely detailed satellite images. One such image shows the elegant mansions of Iraqi leaders in a certain neighborhood of Baghdad. In a photograph taken after heavy bombing, all you see are holes in the ground. These buildings, inhabitants and all, were presumably pulverized by direct hits.
Even before the war, I heard from an Iraqi general who defected to the United States that Saddam had a brilliant plan for concealing weapons of mass destruction. One way or another, an American weapons expert told Haaretz that the quantity of chemical and biological agents in Iraq, and the number of missiles in question, is not very large. We do know, for example, that the Iraqis have dismantled al-Hussein missiles and hidden them underground.
Concealment efforts have been so intensive that even old information pertaining to arms manufacture in the past, which is no secret anymore, is hidden in private houses and personal computers. So far, such caches have been discovered in only one private home. This American expert says that not even half the suspected sites have been checked out, and the inspection mission was poorly prepared for.
Nevertheless, there is still a good chance of finding the illegal weapons. This will depend, to a large extent, on solid intelligence and the willingness of Iraqi scientists and others to provide credible information, either to save their skins or turn a profit. In other words, it will take time. A proper search cannot rely on the methods employed by UN inspectors Blix and ElBareidi.
We must not forget, however, that good intelligence depends on the atmosphere in Iraq. If the Americans do not get a grip on Iraq, and people are afraid, they will be less likely to come forward with data that incriminates Saddam and his regime.
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