Curveball's lies – and the consequences

Details of what the Iraqi defector said about WMD, and how it was used by Germany and the United States

The lies

Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabi, the defector who convinced the US that Iraq had a secret biological weapons programme, falsely claimed that:

• He worked on a team that assembled germ-production units on trucks at Djerf al-Nadaf, a seed purification plant 10 miles south-east of Baghdad. He claimed these mobile biochemical laboratories were hidden in a two-storey building that could be driven into from both sides. This claim confirmed CIA suspicions that the reason they could not find WMD was because they were being moved from place to place to evade inspectors.

• An accident at Djerf al-Nadaf in 1998 killed 12 bio-warfare technicians.

• There were plans to build mobile biochemical factories at six sites across Iraq, from Numaniya, in the south, to Tikrit, in the north.

• When UN weapons inspectors were in Iraq, the production of the biological weapons agent always began at midnight on Thursdays because Iraq thought the inspectors would not work on the Muslim holy day, which ran from Thursday night to Friday night.

The consequences

The BND passed on this information to the CIA. The caveats attached to the information are disputed, but somehow Curveball's testimony made its way into Colin Powell's speech to the United Nations on 5 February 2003, in which the then US secretary of state made the case for invading Iraq. Powell now describes that day as a painful "blot" on his career. He told the UN he had "first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails". These mobile laboratories, said Powell, were "easily moved and are designed to evade detection by inspectors. In a matter of months, they can produce a quantity of biological poison equal to the entire amount that Iraq claimed to have produced in the years prior to the Gulf war."

The source for this claim, said Powell, was "an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents." This source was Curveball.

Two months later, the invasion began. Since then, according to Iraq Body Count, at least 100,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict.


Helen Pidd and Martin Chulov

The GuardianTramp

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