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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      Complete Iraq timeline

       Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq's ambassador to the Vatican, sets off on a trip to several African countries, including Niger, where he meets with the country's president. [Independent, 8/10/03a; New Yorker, 10/20/03; Sunday Herald, 7/13/03 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. At this time, Niger is “actively seeking economic assistance from the United States.” No one suggests that the trip's motives have anything to do with acquiring uranium. [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Charles O. Cecil, Wissam al-Zahawie] Soon after the September 11 attacks, the Italian intelligence service, SISMI, will provide the US with information it has about the trip and will suggest that the motive behind the visit was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake” (see Fall 2001). [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources, Wissam al-Zahawie]
People and organizations involved: Wissam al-Zahawie

Fall 2001      Complete Iraq timeline

       The Italian intelligence agency, SISMI, provides the CIA with a report on a 1999 trip to Niger made by Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999), Iraq's former ambassador to the Vatican. The report suggests that the trip's mission was to discuss the future purchase of uranium oxide, known as “yellowcake.” According to sources later interviewed by New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the report is “dismissed as amateurish and unsubstantiated” by US intelligence. [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources, Wissam al-Zahawie]
People and organizations involved: Wissam al-Zahawie, SISMI

September 24, 2002      Complete Iraq timeline

       The British government releases an official dossier consisting of multiple allegations that Iraq has and is developing weapons of mass destruction, including a claim that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Africa. It is believed that the claim is based on a 1999 visit to Niger by Iraqi diplomat Wissam al-Zahawie (see February 1999). But according to US intelligence officials, this claim is universally regarded within intelligence circles as unsubstantiated. In fact, prior to the dossier's release, US intelligence warned the British against making this allegation (see Before September 2002). In early February 2003, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency will report that there is no evidence that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see June 12, 2003). Defending Britain's decision to include the claim in the September dossier, a British Foreign Office official will explain to the Independent in August 2003: “Niger has two main exports—uranium and chickens. The Iraqi delegation did not go to Niger for chickens.” But Al-Zahawie disputes this. “My only mission was to meet the President of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq,” he tells the Independent. “The invitation and the situation in Iraq resulting from the genocidal UN sanctions were all we talked about. I had no other instructions, and certainly none concerning the purchase of uranium.... I have been cleared by everyone else, including the US and the United Nations. I am surprised to hear there are still question marks over me in Britain. I am willing to cooperate with anyone who wants to see me and find out more.” [Independent, 8/10/03a; New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: Unnamed US intelligence sources, Wissam al-Zahawie]
People and organizations involved: Wissam al-Zahawie

February 5, 2003      Complete Iraq timeline

       After months of delay, the US State Department provides the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) with the Niger documents (see Late 2001). 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.” [Knight Ridder, 6/13/03; Reuters, 3/26/03; New Yorker, 3/31/03; Reuters, 3/26/03; Globe and Mail, 3/8/03 Sources: Unnamed senior official from the IAEA] Another, dated October 10, 2000, is signed “Alle Elhadj Habibou” —Niger's foreign minister who had not been in office since 1989. [Reuters, 3/26/03; New Yorker, 3/31/03 Sources: Unnamed senior official from the IAEA] The signature of one document is signed by a Niger official who had left his position ten years earlier. [Knight Ridder, 6/13/03] 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: Wissam al-Zahawie]
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: Unnamed senior official from the IAEA]
Yet another letter, purported to be from the president of Niger, refers to his authority under the country's obsolete 1965 constitution. [Reuters, 3/26/03 Sources: Unnamed senior official from the IAEA]
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] The identity of the person or group responsible for creating the forged documents is never uncovered, though quoted sources and knowledgeable observers offer suggestions. According to some unnamed sources, a con artist eager to make money was behind the documents. [Globe and Mail, 3/8/03; Novak, 7/14/03 Sources: Unnamed sources] In a memo to President Bush, an organization of former intelligence officers calling themselves the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity suggest the possibility that “amateur intelligence operatives in the Pentagon basement and/or at 10 Downing Street” were involved in fabricating the forged documents. [Veteran Intelligence Professionals, 3/28/03 Sources: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity] In October 2003, a former high-level intelligence official tells Seymour Hersh that disgruntled former CIA operatives had fabricated the documents themselves in 2002 hoping that when the letters were exposed as fakes the administration's case for war would be discredited. [New Yorker, 10/20/03 Sources: former high-level intelligence official] Several months before hand, Hersh had suggested the possibility that the documents had been the product of a British propaganda program, revealed later as Operation Mass Appeal. [New Yorker, 10/20/03] It is also speculated that Iraqi exiles may have had a hand in the forged letters. [New Yorker, 3/31/03] Still another source suggests to investigative journalist Robert Dreyfuss that the creators of the documents might have been the group of “Israelis close to the Lukid party” who were supplying the Office of Special Plans with intelligence (see September 2002). [The Nation, 7/7/03 Sources: Unnamed former official]
People and organizations involved: Alle Elhadj Habibou, Jacques Bautes, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Mohamed ElBaradei, Wissam al-Zahawie, Tandja Mamadou  Additional Info 

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