In the period from 1996 to the withdrawal of United Nations inspectors in December 1998, the JIC continued to assess that, because of the inherent uncertainties, Iraq might retain variously “a small number”,“a handful” or “some” ballistic missiles. While UNSCOM concluded in 1997 that all but two Scud missiles acquired by Iraq from the Soviet Union had been accounted for, this did not cover some other indigenously produced missiles which Iraq claimed to have destroyed. We have observed in this context remarks attributed to Ambassador Ekeus (Executive Chairman of UNSCOM, 1991–1997) that a number of Iraqi missiles, put variously in the range 6–25, remained unaccounted for. We have also noted information from one intelligence source in 1998 suggesting that Iraq retained sufficient complete missiles and components to allow it to assemble up to 16 missiles in total.
The JIC’s final assessment before the withdrawal of United Nations inspectors in December 1998 was that:
We cannot rule out the possibility that Saddam retains a handful of missiles . . . these could be available for use within a matter of weeks or perhaps even days. Provided it still has key components - and that is unclear - Iraq could within a few months build,with little risk of detection,missiles capable of hitting I srael and key targets in Saudi Arabia. If it needs to make or acquire the components,prod uction of such missiles could begin within a year . . .
[JIC, 24 September 1998]
We conclude that the impression left by JIC assessments in the mind of readers at the time of departure of the United Nations inspectors will have been of concern about the ability of Iraq to regenerate a small number of ballistic missiles, either through bringing back into use missiles that had been hidden or by re-assembling missiles from hidden components.
From our analysis of JIC assessments in this period, we are left with four strong impressions. First, of effective - but not demonstrably complete - work carried out by the IAEA and UNSCOM to supervise the dismantlement of Iraq’s nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programmes, together with those missile programmes prohibited under United Nations Security Council Resolution 687. Secondly, of a progressive reduction in JIC estimates of Iraq’s indigenous capabilities in the period to 1994/95. Thirdly, however, of growing suspicions and concerns underlying JIC assessments between 1995 and 1998 of Iraq’s chemical, biological and ballistic missile capabilities, which were exacerbated and reinforced by Iraqi prevarication, concealment and deception. We detect signs that this context led to the JIC making its estimates of Iraqi capabilities on an over-cautious or worst case basis (not always declared as such).
Our fourth impression is of differences in the quality of the assessments carried out by the JIC. We have been impressed by intelligence assessments on Iraq’s nuclear capabilities. They were generally thorough; drew fully on both open and secret material; brought together human and technical intelligence; offered a view where appropriate on the