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Report Finds Hussein Easily Avoided Weapons Sanctions

By Eric Lipton and Scott Shane

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

Enriched with billions of dollars raised by exploiting the United Nations’ oil-for-food program, Saddam Hussein spent heavily on arms imports starting in 1999, finding six governments and private companies from a dozen other nations that were willing to ignore sanctions prohibiting arms sales, the report by the top American arms inspector for Iraq has found.

The purchases, which included components of long-range missiles, spare parts for tanks and night-vision equipment, were not enough to allow Iraq to significantly rebuild its conventional military or create a viable chemical, biological or nuclear weapons program, according to the report by the inspector, Charles A. Duelfer, which was released on Wednesday.

But the relative ease with which Saddam was able to buy weapons--working directly with governments in Syria, Belarus, Yemen, North Korea, the former Yugoslavia and possibly Russia, as well as with private companies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East -- is documented in extraordinary detail, including repeated visits by government officials and arms merchants to Iraq and complicated schemes to disguise illegal shipments to Iraq.

“Prohibited goods and weapons were being shipped into Iraq with virtually no problem,” says the report. “Indeed, Iraq was designing missile systems with the assumption that sanctioned material would be readily available.”

The report suggests that Saddam was justified when, speaking at a gathering of leaders of the Iraqi armed forces in January 2000, he boasted that despite efforts by the United States and the United Nations to isolate Iraq, he would still be able to buy just about whatever he wanted. “We have said with certainly that the embargo will not be lifted by a Security Council resolution, but will corrode by itself,” Saddam said in the speech, a remark that is quoted on the cover of the chapter in Duelfer’s report that details the ineffectiveness of the embargo.

The report is replete with names, dates and documents detailing negotiations over arms purchases and technical advice, which continued until just days before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. One Iraqi memo from 2000 informed military officials in Baghdad that the deputy general manager of the French company Sofema, a military-component marketer, would be visiting and bringing a company catalog so that they can “discuss your needs with him.”

President Bush, speaking to reporters on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday, said the report demonstrated that Iraq had been determined to illegally rebuild its military. “Saddam was systematically gaming the system, using the U.N. oil-for-food program to try to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions,” he said.

While the scope of the inquiry did not extend beyond Iraq, the report raises fundamental questions about the effectiveness of sanctions, a tool the United States has frequently used as a foreign policy tool short of military action. Offered lucrative contracts by the regime of Saddam, both arms suppliers and some government officials seem not to have hesitated to ignore U.N. trade restrictions, going so far as to disguise tank engines as agricultural parts.