“Rolf Ekeus came round to my apartment one day and showed me the name of the Iraqi diplomat who had visited the little West African country of Niger: a statelet famous only for its production of yellowcake uranium. The name was Wissam Zahawi. He was the brother of my louche gay part-Kurdish friend, the by-now late Mazen. He was also, or had been at the time of his trip to Niger, Saddam Hussein's ambassador to the Vatican. I expressed incomprehension. What was an envoy to the Holy See doing in Niger? Obviously he was not taking a vacation. Rolf then explained two things to me. The first was that Wissam Zahawi had, when Rolf was at the United Nations, been one of Saddam Hussein's chief envoys for discussions on nuclear matters (this at a time when the Iraqis had functioning reactors). The second was that, during the period of sanctions that followed the Kuwait war, no Western European country had full diplomatic relations with Baghdad. TheVatican was the sole exception, so it was sent a very senior Iraqi envoy to act as a listening post. And this man, a specialist in nuclear matters, had made a discreet side trip to Niger. This was to suggest exactly what most right-thinking people were convinced was not
the case: namely that British intelligence was on to something when it said that Saddam had not ceased seeking nuclear materials in Africa.
I published a few columns on this, drawing at one point an angry email from Ambassador Zahawi that very satisfyingly blustered and bluffed on what he'd really been up to. I also received—this is what sometimes makes journalism worthwhile—a letter from a BBC correspondent named Gordon Correa who had been writing a book about A.Q. Khan. This was the Pakistani proprietor of the nuclear black market that had supplied fissile material to Libya, North Korea, very probably to Syria, and was open for business with any member of the 'rogue states' club. (Saddam's people, we already knew for sure, had been meeting North Korean missile salesmen in Damascus until just before the invasion, when Kim Jong Il's mercenary bargainers took fright and went home.) It turned out, said the highly interested Mr. Correa, that his man Khan had also
been in Niger, and at about the same time that Zahawi had. The likelihood of the senior Iraqi diplomat in Europe and the senior Pakistani nuclear black-marketeer both choosing an off-season holiday in chic
little uranium-rich Niger… well, you have to admit that it makes an affecting picture. But you must be ready to credit something as ridiculous as that if your touching belief is that Saddam Hussein was already 'contained,' and that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were acting on panic reports, fabricated in turn by self-interested provocateurs.”
Hitch-22: A Memoir