The U.S.-Russia agreement to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons is reigniting a controversy over the 2003 covert operation by Russian special operations forces to remove Iraqi weapons — including chemical arms — and move them to Syria and Lebanon prior to the Iraq War.
John A. Shaw, a former Pentagon official who first disclosed the Iraqi-Russian collaboration to The Washington Times, said the agreement brokered by Moscow could resolve unanswered questions about the arms transfers.
“The Russians were the principal — if not the sole — supplier of chemical weapons to both Iraq and Syria,” said Mr. Shaw, a former deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security who tracked Iraqi weapons for the Pentagon.
Mr. Shaw noted that U.N. inspectors who surveyed the site of the Aug. 21 Syrian chemical weapons attack near Damascus found an intact rocket motor inscribed with Cyrillic writing, indicating the delivery system was Russian in origin.
“My people on the ground definitively tracked the Russian movement of Iraqi [chemical weapons] and high explosives to three locations in Syria and two in Lebanon in 2003,” Mr. Shaw told Inside the Ring.
Russian convoys of trucks that carried the arms were photographed by satellites and confirmed by the chief of Ukraine’s intelligence service, who provided the Pentagon with specifics on the special operations units involved and the material they removed, he said.
“Now we have the Russians ostensibly about to certify quantities of weaponry that until a few weeks ago no one admitted existed in Syria, much less that part of it had been moved from Iraq, or that all of it is Russian,” Mr. Shaw said.
News reports from the Middle East, including Syrian defectors, stated in recent days that Syrian forces had begun moving chemical arms stockpiles to Iraq and Lebanon.
“Do we have some more Russian speznaz troops in civilian garb moving them back, or do we have the even more interesting spectacle of Syrian troops ferrying nerve gas over the border into Iraq?” Mr. Shaw asked.
“But the real question is who [the weapons] are going to and their real destination,” he said. “We have made the poacher into the gamekeeper, so expect the usual avalanche of denials, distractions and dissimulation from the Russians.”
A senior Russian government official, presidential aide Sergei Ivanov, told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that the Soviet Union “never supplied warheads with sarin either to Syria or any other country of the world.”
I believe Russian special forces successfully moved poison gas shells out of Iraq, so what confidence should anyone have that the Russians can now be honest brokers in helping collect poison gas shells being used in Syria,” he said.
Mr. Shaw went public in 2004 with dramatic disclosures that Russian special forces moved Saddam Hussein’s high explosives and special weapons out of Iraq in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion.