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This is an examination of the puzzle pieces of the Iraq-Niger uranium story.

My conclusion is that all known intelligence reports appear to be traced back to 4 separate pieces of intelligence plus the forged documents. All of these disintegrate upon close inspection and do not point to any Iraq-Niger uranium link.

The "several" sources the British claim to have appear to be only two, one of which appears linked to the forged documents and thus debunked already. The second is likely to be one of the four discussed and debunked in what follows.

Update [2004-7-21 14:59:15 by dr z]: The section on intel piece (1) was updated adding a paragraph about IAEA's own investigation of the Feb 1999 visit by al-Zahawie; their conclusion: no uranium link. Also updated was the section on intel piece (2) to clarify Niger PM's statements. There have been other minor updates since this was first posted.

There are three reports of interest: The forged documents have been discussed here already. There is a general consensus that the Italian reporting and followup and the French reports all came from the same set of forged documents. It seems that one of the UK two sources is also traced back to these forgeries.

Apart from the forgeries, there are 4 separate pieces of intelligence:

(1) Algerian businessman Baraka story
(2) A [..] businessman Niger PM story
(3) West African businessman story Naval report
(4) Somali businessman fax story

These are all described in the US Senate report:

1. Algerian businessman Baraka story:

"Several analysts interviewed by Committee staff also pointed out that information in the second intelligence report matched [...] reporting from 1999 which showed that an Algerian businessman, Baraka, was arranging a trip for the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawi, to visit Niger and other African countries in early February 1999.

There was a trip in Feb 1999 by the Iraqi Ambassador to the Vatican, Wissam al-Zahawie, to four countries, in the order visited, Niger, Burkina Faso, Benin and Congo-Brazzaville. In al-Zahawie's own words, before Raymond Whitaker of the Independent in August 2003:
"My only mission was to meet the President of Niger and invite him to visit Iraq. 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."

And from another article by the same author, reprinted at
"The Iraqi diplomat says he assumed the invitations were aimed at breaking the embargo on high-level contacts with Iraq, which was being squeezed hard by UN sanctions. A Middle East analyst pointed out that Baghdad organised a trade fair in 1999 in an attempt to break sanctions, and was keen to get as many foreign leaders as possible to attend."

There was also a separate investigation into this by the IAEA, concluding that the meeting had nothing to do with uranium. The IAEA's points were summarized on pp.123-125 of the Butler report. In part it states:

"The Iraqi response [to IAEA's inquiry about the Feb 1999 trip] [...] explained that, on 8 February 1999, Mr. Wissam Al Zahawie, Iraq’s then Ambassador to the Holy See, as part of a trip to four African countries, visited Niger as an envoy of the then President of Iraq to Mr. Ibrahim Bare, the then President of Niger, in order to deliver an official invitation for a visit to Iraq, planned for 20 to 30 April 1999. (N.B. Mr. Bare passed away on 9 April 1999.)

According to the Iraqi information, no such presidential visit from Niger to Iraq took place before 2003. The Iraqi authorities provided the IAEA with excerpts from Mr. Al Zahawie’s travel report to Niger. These excerpts support the above explanation by the Ambassador regarding the purpose of his visit to Niger and do not contain any references to discussions about uranium supply from Niger.

In order to further clarify the matter, the IAEA interviewed Mr. Al Zahawie on 12 February 2003. The information provided by the Ambassador about details about his 1999 trip to Africa also supported the information obtained previously by the Agency on this visit. The demeanour of the Ambassador and the general tone of the interview did not suggest that he was under particular pressure to hide or fabricate information."

The president of Niger was the only one of the four heads of the visited states to accept the invitation and was going to visit Iraq in April, but he was assassinated shortly after the meeting.

Does (1) support Iraq-Niger uranium link?
Baraka, if he exists, is irrelevant, and this Feb 1999 visit had nothing to do with uranium.

There is a consensus that the trip was for the stated purpose, and noone has argued otherwise based on the trip itself. The Italians have argued that uranium might have been the purpose based on the now discredited forgeries. The British persist in considering it, historically in conjunction with their other source, except that it now appears their other source is traced back to the forgeries. It appears that this Feb 1999 visit is their first source.

2. A [..] businessman - Niger PM story:

"[Niger's Prime Minister] Mayaki said, however, that in June 1999, [...] businessman, approached him and insisted that Mayaki meet with an Iraqi delegation to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between Niger and Iraq. The intelligence report said that Mayaki interpreted "expanding commercial relations" to mean that the delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales. The intelligence report also said that "although the meeting took place, Mayaki let the matter drop due to the UN sanctions on Iraq.""

What does this refer to? Please bear with me. There was a meeting, but in July 1999, not in June 1999. It was in Algiers, Algeria, not in Niger. The Nigerian PM Mayaki did not meet an Iraqi delegation or a trade mission, but met with the then Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf (known post-2001 as the Iraqi Information minister, a.k.a. "Comical Ali" or "Baghdad Bob").

There was a summit of the Organization of African Unity in Algiers from Jul 12 to Jul 14, 1999. Niger's PM Mayaki was there as Niger was a member, along with 52 other African country-members; the Secretary General of the UN was also attending. This was the 35th Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity.

Iraqi's FM was there as an observer. He did not only meet with the Niger's PM. He also met with the Secretary General
in the afternoon of July 13, as well as, for example, with the FM of Egypt on July 10 or 11, as can be seen from this cached page

The meeting did not discuss uranium or trade. The allegations that Mayaki thought that the [wrong month] meeting [in the wrong place] would be about uranium come from the CIA analyst's notes/interpretations from what Joe Wilson told him that a businessman told Mayaki the meeting could be about - something never directly verified since the subject of uranium or trade never came up at the actual july meeting. Mayaki himself denied this story or any uranium link.

Of course, by the time Mayaki heard it, it had already morphed into an alleged Iraqi [trade] mission in Niger in Jun 1999 which explains why he addresses it in detail from that angle.

It appears Mayaki has not yet been asked about the meeting in July 1999 at the African Unity summit. That meeting likely occured, and even Mayaki's doubts might have really existed, but they were planted by the "businessman" and never got verified directly in the course of the actual meeting since the meeting did not broach the subject of uranium or trade at all.

So this was, at best, a second hand reporting (Wilson talking to Mayaki directly, who recalls what the businessman told him (and we know how reliable some African businessmen are - see (1), (3) and (4)), and at worst a fourth or greater hand re-telling if Wilson was told by someone other than Mayaki about all this and the CIA's analyst[s] added their own interpretation or hunches to it. This simply never got verified directly with the Iraqis, nor did the subject come up at the July meeting in Algiers at the OAU.

The businessman in question, if he exists, appears to have been from Niger. Or at least this is how I read Wilson's account in the transcript of his recent interview with Blitzer:
where he refers to that individual as a "constituent" [of Niger's Mayaki]. In any case, the meeting took place, in Algiers, and uranium was not discussed.

Does (2) support Iraq-Niger uranium link?
The meeting was in mid-July 1999, not in June 1999 as the intelligence report states. It was not in Niger, but in Algiers as part of an international summit. It was not an Iraqi trade mission, but a meeting of Niger's PM with Iraq's FM at an international summit. This was not a special or unusual or unique meeting in the sense that the Iraqi FM certainly met during the same summit with officials from other countries such as Egypt's FM, as well as with UN's secretary-general. And, finally, uranium was not discussed at all.

The Butler report appears to understand how this is not a credible piece of intel to pursue, which is why it makes a careful note that it is not the source or intel they rely on before it discards it from further consideration:

On p. 122 Butler says in the footnote:
"This [i.e. Feb 1999 Wissam al-Zahawie visit which appears to be their source/intel number one] visit was separate from the Iraqi-Nigerien discussions, in the margins of the mid-1999 Organisation of African Unity meeting in Algiers, attested to by Ambassador Wilson in his book "The Politics of Truth""

However, note how Butler facilitates the contunued life of the supposed [trade mission in Niger] Jun 1999 meeting link and does not help debunk it - he does not state explicitly that this was a July 1999 meeting which would cast immediate doubt on the veracity of this piece of intel, opting instead for the obfuscatory "mid-1999" wording.

(3) West African businessman story Naval report:

"On November 25, 2002, The Naval [...] issued a very brief report Alleged Storage of Uranium Destined for Iraq [...] that a large quantity of uranium from Niger was being stored in a warehouse in Cotonou, Benin. The uranium was reportedly sold to Iraq by Niger's President. The report provided the name and telephone numbers for the individual, a West African businessman, who was responsible for coordinating the alleged uranium transaction and indicated that he was willing to provide information about the transaction [...] The DHS told Committee staff that because the DHS examined the warehouse on December 17, 2002 and saw only what appeared to be bales of cotton in the warehouse, they did not see a reason to contact the businessman"

This one's easy. The Defense Humint Service checked the story out and found cotton balls. End of story.

Does (3) support Iraq-Niger uranium link?

See above.

(4) Somali businessman fax story

"..a fax from late 2001 found in the possession of a Somali businessman [..] described arrangements for shipping unidentified commodities in an amount that appeared similar to the amount in the Iraq-Niger yellowcake deal. The fax, however, did not mention uranium, Iraq, or Niger."

The fax did not mention Iraq, uranium, or Niger. Somebody was shipping something from an African country. For example, bananas to Finland, from Egypt. The amount appeared similar to the amount from the forged documents - is that really a good thing?

Does (4) support Iraq-Niger uranium link?

Shipping bananas to Finland from Egypt is slightly different from shipping uranium to Iraq from Niger. Enough said.

British sources

Josh Marshall in this article  discusses the British sources and concludes, based on their Sep 2003 Parliamentary Committee report that the Brits have two sources, and one, the "documentary" one, has already been discredited as stemming from the forged documents.

The second one appears to be the (1) intel above which, without anything else to go on, really flutters in the wind and is irrelevant to any Iraq-Niger uranium link. Or perhaps their source is the debunked (3) or (4) or some other even weaker piece of intel (but not (2), it seems).


All known intelligence reports/sources appear to be traced back to 4 separate pieces of intelligence plus the forged documents. All of these are debunked and fail to point to any Iraq-Niger uranium link.

The "several" sources the British claim to have appear to be only two, one of which appears linked to the forged documents and thus debunked already. The second is likely to be (1), debunked above, or perhaps the debunked (3) or (4) or some other even weaker piece of intel, but apparently not (2).

Originally posted to dr z on Tue Jul 20, 2004 at 10:34 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  tip jar (4.00)
    If you are so inclined..


  •  Great work but.... (none)
    I lay out what I think they have in my diary here.  I think you are right about one of these pieces of info.  But I'm not sure if one of the pieces that you have is or is not the same as the unsolicited offer made to sell yellowcake to Iraq mentioned on page 3 of this pdf from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.  I think that offer is the other main piece of info the Brits have.  And I am 99.999999% sure that if the Brits had anything credible they would have revealed it long ago.  Whatever they know is something we probably already dismissed because it doesn't prove anything.

    The ...Bushies... don't make policies to deal with problems. ...It's all about how can we spin what's happening out there to do what we want to do. Krugman

    by mikepridmore on Tue Jul 20, 2004 at 10:52:49 PM PDT

    •  actually... (none)
      the other British source should not be the unsolicited offer made to sell yellowcake to Iraq, because if that were the case the Brits could not justify using the phrase "Iraq sought to" [purchase uranium from Africa].
  •  OK but... (none)
    ...this would be even weaker as a piece of evidence (the unsolicited supposed offer to Iraq that Iraq did not respond to), so if that's the case I would be happy to be wrong on that count..


  •  No nuc weapons program (none)
    Didn't the IAEA report say in 1998 (and other reports) that Saddam didn't have a nuc weapons program.  Even if he was trying to start one up, why risk getting uranium if you can't use it.

    Just the Bushies trying to validate a war (with real deaths) with fake reasoning....

  •  Nice post, a couple of other points (none)
    US intelligence saw the British evidence and deemed it not credible.

    From Joe Wilson's response to the SSCI, courtesy of

    On Oct. 2, 2002, the Deputy DCI [director of central intelligence] testified before the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence]. Sen. Jon Kyl asked the Deputy DCI whether he had read the British White Paper and whether he disagreed with anything in the report. The Deputy DCI testified that "the one thing where I think they stretched a little bit beyond where we would stretch is on the points about Iraq seeking uranium from various African locations." (page 54)....

        On Oct. 5, 2002, the ADDI [associate deputy director for intelligence] said an Iraqi nuclear analyst - he could not remember who - raised concerns about the sourcing and some of the facts of the Niger reporting, specifically that the control of the mines in Niger would have made it very difficult to get yellowcake to Iraq. (page 55)

        Based on the analyst's comments, the ADDI faxed a memo to the deputy national security advisor that said, "Remove the sentence because the amount is in dispute and it is debatable whether it can be acquired from this source. We told Congress that the Brits have exaggerated this issue. Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory." (page 56)

         On Oct. 6, 2002, the CIA sent a second fax to the White House that said, "More on why we recommend removing the sentence about procuring uranium oxide from Africa: Three points (1) The evidence is weak. One of the two mines cited by the source as the location of the uranium oxide is flooded. The other mine cited by the source is under the control of the French authorities. (2) The procurement is not particularly significant to Iraq's nuclear ambitions because the Iraqis already have a large stock of uranium oxide in their inventory. And (3) we have shared points one and two with Congress, telling them that the Africa story is overblown and telling them this is one of the two issues where we differed with the British." (page 56)

    In addition, the whole Niger thing is a red herring. Iraq already had 550 tons of yellow cake uranium. Yellowcake is not bomb material until it is refined. Iraq did not have the ability to refine the yellowcake nor is there any evidence that they were attampting to acquire the centrifuge technology.

    ...Finally, the Iraqis already have 550 metric tons of uranium oxide in their inventory." (page 56)...

        On Oct. 4, 2002, the NIO for Strategic and Nuclear Programs testified that "there is some information on attempts ... there's a question about those attempts because of the control of the material in those countries ... For us it's more the concern that they [Iraq] have uranium in-country now." (page 54)

    •  Thanks... (none)
      for your comments and additional information. I have already addressed the fact that Iraq already had some 550 metric tons of the stuff in this diary which also includes references from the US Senate Intelligence report to back it up.

      I am also aware that the US thought the British intel is not reliable. My focus in this article, however, was to get down to the primary four pieces of intel and show how they all fall apart when examined.

      It is these four, or, rather, mostly (1) and [especially] (2) from above, that the media has been misinterpreting and sloppily reporting on, based on them stripped of key context and/or with key facts altered or even fabricated. That's simply inexcusable - they should be called on this and hit hard with the relevant facts which I hope this article supplies and summarizes conveniently in one place.


      •  Totally agree (none)
        and appreciate your work on this. But beware of the trap. My post is a reminder that this is an effort to lose the real issues in the detail. Namely, the effort to acquire more uranium was of little or no value to Iraq, Bush knew it was unlikely Iraq was even trying, and yet he used intelligence he had no reason to believe was valid to make arguably his strongest case for war.
  •  Good post... but (none)
    You forgot about the Congo claim in the Butler report. Where Congo offered Iraq uranium, but Iraq declined to pursue it.

    I also have a diary explaining why the entire construct of the Uranium claims are bogus and what may really be behind the Plame outing. Iraq had no need to seek black-market uranium at all. I thad 550 metric tons of the stuff IN COUNTRY.


    Mitch Gore

    No one will change America for you. You must work to make it happen.

    by Lestatdelc on Wed Jul 21, 2004 at 11:28:28 AM PDT

    •  I didn't really.. (none)
      consider the alleged non-solicited uranium deal offered to Iraq, but it being the Brits' other source would not justify using the phrase [Iraq] "sought to" [obtain uranium  from Africa] whereas the Butler report claims/implies that whatever they had can justify using such a wording. In any case, it is even more remote/weaker than the intel pieces I did examine..

      Thanks for your comments, and for you diary linked above.


      •  No prob (none)
        Just thought it was worth pointing out that the entirety of the British claims are predicate don "second sources" apart from the dizzying permutations form the forged documents, their foreign sourced summaries of the same forged documents, etc.

        The Congo claim being one that the Butler report cites as confirming the other claims because it is "another source".


        Mitch Gore

        No one will change America for you. You must work to make it happen.

        by Lestatdelc on Wed Jul 21, 2004 at 02:26:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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