Life has tragically imitated art in Iraq.
Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana and John le Carre’s copy, The Tailor of Panama, have come true in
The Taxi Driver of Baghdad.

When the United States was desperately scratching around for excuses to invade Iraq, it
presented as fact that Saddam had mobile biological warfare factories. It’s not
surprising that the factories were never found – it turns out that they were
the concoctions of a Baghdad taxi driver who sold the story for passports and tickets out of Iraq.

This story has been steadily emerging but
was nicely wrapped up by Joby Warrick in The Washington Post over the weekend along with a new development: senior CIA officials suspected
the source was about as reliable as Geoffrey Rush’s tailor and put a red pencil
through the mobile factories story – but the Bush Administration put it back
in.

The informant’s code name was, aptly,
Curveball. Writes Warrick:

But in the fall of 2002, Curveball was living the life
of an important spy. A Baghdad
native whose real name has never been released, he was residing in a safe house
in Germany,
where he had requested asylum three years earlier. In return for immigration
permits for himself and his family, the Iraqi supplied Germany’s
foreign intelligence service with what appeared to be a rare insider’s account
of one of President Saddam Hussein’s long-rumoured WMD programs.

Curveball described himself as a chemical engineer who
had worked inside an unusual kind of laboratory, one that was built on a
trailer bed and produced weapons for germ warfare. He furnished detailed,
technically complex descriptions of mobile labs and even described an
industrial accident that he said killed a dozen people.

The German intelligence agency BND faithfully passed
Curveball’s stories to the Americans. Over time, the informant generated more
than 100 intelligence reports on secret Iraqi weapons programs – the only such
reports from an informant claiming to have visited and worked in mobile labs.
Other informants, also later discredited, had claimed indirect knowledge of
mobile labs.

Not bad for a taxi driver suspected of
being mentally unstable. I wonder if he sketched parts of a Hoover vacuum
cleaner to keep his West German handlers happy?

Peter Fray

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