The full story behind the fake "yellow cake" deliveries to Iraq
by Patrick Bahzad
In the weeks and months preceding "Operation Iraqi Freedom", a number of stories made the headlines that seemed to prove the US administration's contention about Iraq. The case for Saddam's WMD programmes was widely publicized and backed by a wealth of information, only to be proven wrong later on and have a dubious light shed on the intelligence work done prior to the invasion. In the full-scale media offensive that was launched to bolster President Bush's claims, two scandals now stand out: the "Curveball" affair, named after the Iraqi informant who was the source for the "mobile bio-labs" lie that Secretary of State Colin Powell presented in his famous speech to the UN Security Council, and the "yellow cake" uranium deliveries from Niger To Iraq, which ultimately led to the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity. The fact of the matter has been narrated since and the "Plamegate", as it has been called, has been analysed extensively by US media. However, the baseline that was told American audiences over the years only reveals one side of the story. Here's an account of the other one …
Why the full story was never disclosed to the American public is a bit of a mystery. Maybe people weren't interested in hearing a truth that showed how gullible they had been. Maybe the media didn't want to hear embarrassing questions about their own failing in the build-up to the Iraq war, or maybe journalists in the US simply lacked credible foreign sources that could have given them an insight into how it all started.
The Presidential briefing of September 2002
From a strictly US point of view, the chain of events began with CIA Director George Tenet briefing the President about some alarming news the Agency had received in September 2002. Aluminium rods on their way to Iraq had been intercepted and diagnosed as possible spare parts for centrifuges used in the enrichment of uranium. Additionally, it appeared that Saddam had attempted to obtain hundreds of tons of uranium ore (called "yellow cake") from the African country of Niger between 1999 and 2001. Both pieces of information taken together made for a worrying scenario: Iraq was trying to restart its nuclear weapons programme.
The information seemed so convincing that even Colin Powell mentioned its contents two days later during a hearing by the Senate's Committee on Foreign Relations. Two weeks later still, Congress passed a resolution authorizing the President to use the US armed forces against Iraq, in order to put a stop to the alleged WMD programmes. The collective hysteria that seemed to have taken hold of D.C. didn't stop there. In December of the same year, the State Department itself – up until then a stronghold of sceptics against the Neo-Con led charge – published a statement listing Niger as a provider of uranium to Iraq. And finally, the cherry on top of it all, in his "State of the Union address” of January 2003, George W. Bush again made reference to the aluminium rods and the "yellow cake" that had been mentioned in the CIA briefing by George Tenet.
The only word against the impeccable case the US administration had built came from the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed el-Baradei. What a claim it was ! It should have hit the Bush administration like a bomb, but instead it made less noise than a dud. Not many observers in the US paid attention to the IAEA director's statements. Anything even vaguely related to the UN had already been discredited in America at the time, with the implicit help of a press and media that were only too willing to pick-up the bread crumbs of fabricated intelligence that had been thrown at them. El-Baradei didn't mince his words: the evidence on which the CIA based its report of September 2002 had been forged.