The Magazine

Saddam's Man in Niger

What was the Iraqi regime's nuclear expert doing in Africa?

Sep 25, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 02 • By CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS
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Since the war in Iraq began, two independent British inquiries have firmly reiterated that the original intelligence concerning Niger was sound, and has withstood careful scrutiny. (The Senate Intelligence Committee does not even refer in a footnote to the findings of these inquiries.) The waters here have been slightly muddied by the production of a crudely forged document dated July 6, 2000, purporting to show Zahawie's seal on an actual agreement for the transfer of uranium. This easily discredited fabrication has allowed many people to dismiss the whole case. But such argument is purely anachronistic: The story of Zahawie's visit was known, and had been passed on by London to Washington, well before the bogus document was circulated. And it was never alleged in George W. Bush's famous 2003 State of the Union address that Iraq had actually inked a deal, only that it had "sought" to do so. If the forgery was intended as disinformation, it is one of the more successful such efforts on record. If it was done chiefly for money, as the London Sunday Times has reported of two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome, it has had much the same effect.

To summarize: The Senate report gives two versions of Zahawie's name without ever once mentioning his significant background. It takes at face value his absurd claim about the supposedly innocent motive for his out-of-the-way trip. It accepts similarly bland assurances made by the government of Niger. It is unaware of the appearance of A.Q. Khan in the narrative. It does not canvass the views of our allies, or of tried-and-tested experts like Ambassador Ekeus. It offers little evidence and no argument in support of its conclusions. It is a minor disgrace, but a disgrace nevertheless.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.