March 15, 2003

Lecturer in Politics, Newnham College, Cambridge (UK)
(011) 44 0 122 333 5759

One of the central claims of the US administration about the threat of
Iraq's weapons - that of 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent that are unaccounted
for - has fallen apart over the past week.

Even before Iraq presented a 25-page technical report on the destruction of
VX in 1991, UNMOVIC's working paper of 6 March 2003, released on 10 March,
describes how the claims are not credible. As UNMOVIC explain, the 1.5
tonnes in question were produced according to a method that ensured that
the VX "must be used relatively quickly after production (about 1 to 8
weeks)" before it deteriorates.

The claims made by the US of 1.5 tonnes of VX include the White House paper
("What Does Disarmament Look Like?") of January 2003, at p.6; and the State
Department's paper ("Iraq's Hidden Weapons: Failing to Disclose and
Disarm") of 27 February 2003.

Iraq attempted to produce VX nerve agent using four different methods from
1987 to 1991. These are detailed in UNMOVIC's working paper, (UNMOVIC, 6
March 2003, pp.79-83). Iraq declared that it produced 2.4 tonnes of VX in
production trials from late 1987 to May 1988, but that this material
degraded rapidly and was completely destroyed later in 1988. This account
has been generally accepted (ibid., pp.79-80).

Iraq also produced 1.5 tonnes according to a second method (which UNMOVIC
refer to as "route B") from April 1988 to April 1990. It is this quantity
that that the US has referred to as a source of danger from Iraq. However,
two factors would indicate that the 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent no longer
exist in operational form.

Firstly, Iraq claimed that this quantity of VX was discarded unilaterally by
dumping it on the ground. VX degrades rapidly if placed onto concrete. In
accordance with Iraq's claim, UNSCOM tested the site at which the VX was
reportedly dumped. UNSCOM's January 1999 report states in Appendix II,
paragraph 16:

"Traces of one VX-degradation product and a chemical known as a
VX-stabilizer were found in the samples taken from the VX dump sites."

However, from this information alone, UNSCOM was not able to make "a
quantified assessment"; that is, they were not able to verify that all 1.5
tonnes of the agent had been so destroyed. Since then, it has provided
further material from late February 2003 and on 14 March 2003 to
substantiate its case, material that is currently being assessed.

Secondly, VX produced according to "route B" degrades rapidly. According to
UNMOVIC: "VX produced through route B must be used relatively quickly after
production (about 1 to 8 weeks), which would probably be satisfactory for
wartime requirements." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p. 82)

This conclusion is confirmed by other independent assessments. For example,
the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) strategic dossier
of September 2002 records the status of VX produced before the Gulf War:
"Any VX produced by Iraq before 1991 is likely to have decomposed over the
past decade [...]. Any G-agent or V-agent stocks that Iraq concealed from
UNSCOM inspections are likely to have deteriorated by now." (pp. 52 and

Iraq also used two further methods to produce VX: route C seems to have
been unsuccessful, but route D did result in the production of "high purity
VX [..] in laboratory/pilot-scale equipment" (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82).
According to UNMOVIC, any VX produced according to route D could have been
stabilised, and could remain viable. However, there is no evidence that Iraq
did ever produce significant quantities of VX through route D. As UNMOVIC

"Based upon the documents provided by Iraq, it is doubtful that any
significant quantities of VX were produced using this route before the Gulf
war." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82)

Furthermore, it seems unlikely that Iraq would have produced VX through
route D during the Gulf War due to the more complex process that would have
been involved. As UNMOVIC record:

"During times of war, or imminent war, it would make sense for Iraq to
produce VX through route B, which involves only about half as many process
steps as route D." (UNMOVIC, 6 March 2003, p.82)

In April/May 1998, UNSCOM reported that they had found VX degradation
products on missile warheads, indicating that Iraq had stabilised VX
sufficiently and had managed to weaponise it (in contrast to the Government
of Iraq's own claims). Further tests on the same material from two other
laboratories however "found no nerve agent degradation products" (ibid.,
p.82). The chemical in question "could also originate from other compounds
such as precursors or, according to some experts, a detergent" (ibid.,

A more extensive assessment concerning VX is available at:

See a comprehensive analysis of  "Claims and Evaluations of Iraq's
Proscribed Weapons" at
("Counter-Dossier II"}


Dr. Rangwala broke the story on the plagiarized British 'Dossier' on Iraq's
intelligence infrastructure.  The 'Dossier' was presented as a British
Intelligence briefing and praised by Colin Powell at the UN.  In fact, most
of it was copied (typos and all) from an out-dated student paper and
magazine articles. See
for Dr. Rangwala's briefing on the affair and links to the wide media
coverage of that scandal.

He also recently published the complete interview with the late General
Hussein Kamel.  Newsweek had reported on Kamel's disclosure to UNSCOM in
1995 that Iraq had destroyed its weapons of mass destruction.  The US
government had relied on statements by Kamel about the build up of Iraq's
weapons program, without noting the rest of his comments, i.e. that the
weapons had been destroyed.  The world was kept in the dark about the full
nature of Kamel's statements until the Newsweek story.  US government
officials denied Newsweek's account of the interview, which had been kept
from public view as a 'sensitive' document by UNSCOM.  Dr. Rangwala resolved
the dispute by obtaining a copy of the interview and publishing it at
Dr. Rangwala's briefing on the affair and links to media reports and
commentary is available at

See also Dr. Rangwala's analysis of the Colin Powell presentation to the UN
on Feb 5.

Dr. Rangwala was co-author of the "Counter-Dossier" with Alan Simpson, MP.
The 'Counter-Dossier' was Labour Against the War's statement in opposition
to the Blair government's dossier against Iraq that it presented to the
House of Commons on September 24, 2002.

Charles Jenks
Traprock Peace Center -

[Dr. Rangwala wrote the substance of the press release concerning VX;
Charles Jenks adding the notes on Rangwala's recent work concerning Iraq's
proscribed weapons.]