Saddam Hussein periodically removed guards on the Syrian border and replaced them with his own intelligence agents who supervised the movement of banned materials between the two countries, U.S. investigators have discovered.
The recent discovery by the Bush administration's Iraq Survey Group (ISG) is fueling speculation, but is not proof, that the Iraqi dictator moved prohibited weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into Syria before the March 2003 invasion by a U.S.-led coalition.
Two defense sources told The Washington Times that the ISG has interviewed Iraqis who told of Saddam's system of dispatching his trusted Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) to the border, where they would send border inspectors away.
The shift was followed by the movement of trucks in and out of Syria suspected of carrying materials banned by U.N. sanctions. Once the shipments were made, the agents would leave and the regular border guards would resume their posts.
"If you leave it to border guards, then the border guards could stop the trucks and extract their 10 percent, just like the mob would do," said a Pentagon official who asked not to be named. "Saddam's family was controlling the black market, and it was a good opportunity for them to make money."
Sources said Saddam and his family grew rich from this black market and personally dispatched his dreaded intelligence service to the border to make sure the shipments got through.
The ISG is a 1,400-member team organized by the Pentagon and CIA to hunt for Saddam's suspected stockpiles of WMD, such as chemical and biological agents. So far, the search has failed to find such stockpiles, which were the main reason for President Bush ordering the invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam.
But there is evidence of unusually heavy truck traffic into Syria in the days before the attack, and with it, speculation that some of the trucks contained the banned weapons.
Maybe the trucks were filled only with antiquities taken from Baghdad's museums since the US failed to post enough guards there, even before the liberation.