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Profile: Wissam al-Zahawie


Positions that Wissam al-Zahawie has held:

  • Iraqi ambassador to the Vatican




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Wissam al-Zahawie actively participated in the following events:


February 1999      Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

       Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, sets off on a trip to several African countries as part of an effort to convince African heads of state to visit Iraq. Saddam Hussein hopes that these visits will help break the embargo on flights to Iraq, and undermine the UN sanctions regime. Zahawie's first stop is Niger, where he meets with the country's president, President Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, for one hour. Mainassara promises that he will visit Baghdad the following April (He's assasinated before he has an opportunity to do this). [Sunday Herald, 7/13/2003; Time, 10/2/2003; New Yorker, 10/20/03; Independent, 8/10/03a Sources: Wissam al-Zahawie, Charles O. Cecil] Zahawie's visit is reported in the local newspaper as well as by a French news agency. The US and British governments are also aware of the trip but show no concern. No one suggests that the trip's motives have anything to do with acquiring uranium. At this time, Niger is actively seeking economic assistance from the United States. [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Charles O. Cecil, Wissam al-Zahawie] In early 2002, the Italian military intelligence service, SISMI, will allege in a report (see February 5, 2002) sent to the US that the motive behind the visit was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake” (see October 15, 2001). [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Wissam al-Zahawie, Unnamed US intelligence sources]
People and organizations involved: Ibrahim Bare Mainassara, Wissam al-Zahawie

October 15, 2001      Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

       Italy's military intelligence agency, SISMI, reportedly permits a CIA field agent in Rome to review some papers (It is not clear if these papers are the actual forgeries or a summary of the forgeries put together by SISMI) documenting a deal between Iraq and Niger for the purchase of a large quantity of uranium oxide, known as “yellowcake.” The agent, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a report and sends it to Langley. [New Yorker, 10/20/03; Knight Ridder, 11/4/2005; La Repubblica, 11/11/2005] The report, it is later learned, is based on a collection of mostly forged documents that were put together in Italy (see (Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001)). [New York Times, 10/28/2005 Sources: Robb-Silberman report]
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. [Sources: Report On The US Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq] As blogger Steve Soto will conclude through his careful analysis of the scandal at TheLeftCoaster.Org [TheLeftCoaster [.org], 10/31/2005] none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for these allegations provide actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger, however no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie's trip. It does not mention uranium. Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi's trip, it only states that uranium negotations between the two countries began by at least 1999. [Sources: Forged Niger documents] The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because the letter (July 30, 1999) refers to an alleged event that is described as taking place 11 months later (June 28, 2000). [Sources: Forged Niger documents]
The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace ... on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI's reports, possibly this one, actually includes this error. [TheLeftCoaster [.org], 10/31/2005 Sources: Forged Niger documents]
According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country's obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. [US Department of State, 9/2005; Reuters, 3/26/03 Sources: Forged Niger documents]
The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. [Sources: Forged Niger documents]
This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000) in the SISMI report provided to the CIA. [TheLeftCoaster [.org], 11/2/2005]
Distribution within US intelligence community - After recieving the report from its fied agent in Rome, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. The SSCI will say in its report: “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” [Sources: Report On The US Intelligence Community's Prewar Intelligence Assessments On Iraq] Sources later interviewed by New Yorker's Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts' assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” [New Yorker, 10/20/03] Langley asks for further clarification from Rome [La Repubblica, 11/11/2005] and recieves a response three days later (see October 18, 2001).
People and organizations involved: Saddam Hussein, Nassirou Sabo, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Mamadou Tandja, US Department of Energy, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Wissam al-Zahawie, SISMI

February 5, 2003      Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

       After months of delay, the US State Department provides the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the Niger documents . The State Department includes the following caveat with the documents: “We cannot confirm these reports and have questions regarding some specific claims.” French nuclear scientist Jacques Bautes, head of the UN Iraq Nuclear Verification office, quickly determines they are fakes. [Independent, 7/10/03; The Washington Post, 7/20/03] Several months later, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the IAEA, will describe to reporters the ease with which the documents' authenticity was determined. “These were blatant forgeries. We were able to determine that they were forgeries very quickly.” [Independent, 6/5/03] When Jacques Bautes asks for an explanation from the US, there is no response. “What do you have to say? They had nothing to say,” Baute will later say in an interview with Seymour Hersh. [New Yorker, 3/31/03] There are numerous indications that the documents are forgeries.
Several of the names and titles of officials mentioned in the documents are incorrect. For example, one of the letters is purportedly signed by Niger's President Tandja Mamadou. The signature is said to be an obvious forgery. An unnamed IAEA official will tell Reuters, “It doesn't even look close to the signature of the president. I'm not a (handwriting) expert but when I looked at it my jaw dropped.” [Globe and Mail, 3/8/03; Reuters, 3/26/03; New Yorker, 3/31/03; Knight Ridder, 6/13/03; Reuters, 3/26/03 Sources: Forged Niger documents] Another, dated October 10, 2000, is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou” —Niger's foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. [New Yorker, 3/31/03; Reuters, 3/26/03; Knight Ridder, 6/13/03 Sources: Forged Niger documents] Another letter includes the forged signature and seal of Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican. When Mr. Al-Zahawie is interviewed by the IAEA, he informs the agency that it was standard procedure for all diplomatic notes to be initialed and sealed, while letters were only to be signed—with no seal. He explains that correspondences were never both signed and sealed. [Independent, 8/10/03a Sources: Forged Niger documents]
In addition to problems with signatures and seals, there are other problems as well. One letter is on the wrong letterhead. [Knight Ridder, 6/13/03] The “letterhead was out of date and referred to Niger's ‘Supreme Military Council’ from the pre-1999 era—which would be like calling Russia the Soviet Union,” reports Reuters [Reuters, 3/26/03 Sources: Forged Niger documents]
Yet another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country's obsolete 1966 constitution. [Reuters, 3/26/03 Sources: Forged Niger documents]
Also, in some letters, French words are misspelled and dates do not match the day of the week. [Mercury News, 3/18/03]
The IAEA also points out that the amount of uranium which Iraq is purportedly interested in purchasing is unrealistic. Seymour Hersh, writing for the New Yorker, explains: “The large quantity of uranium involved should have been another warning sign. Niger's ‘yellow cake’ comes from two uranium mines controlled by a French company, with its entire output pre-sold to nuclear power companies in France, Japan, and Spain. ‘Five hundred tons can't be siphoned off without anyone noticing,’ ... [an] IAEA official told me.” [New Yorker, 3/31/03 Sources: Unnamed senior official from the IAEA]
People and organizations involved: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Jacques Bautes, Mohamed ElBaradei, Mamadou Tandja, Wissam al-Zahawie  Additional Info 

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