It was from Niger that Iraq had originally acquired uranium in 1981, as confirmed in the Duelfer Report. In order to take the Joseph Wilson view of this Baathist ambassadorial initiative, you have to be able to believe that Saddam Hussein’s long-term main man on nuclear issues was in Niger to talk about something other than the obvious.
I think Mr. Hitchens needs to re-read
Given the structure of the consortiums that operated the mines, it would be exceedingly difficult for Niger to transfer uranium to Iraq. Niger’s uranium business consists of two mines, Somair and Cominak, which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.
The question shouldn’t be, Did Saddam want atomic weapons?. Of course he did. I’m sure he wanted Stealth Bombers, Cyberdyne T-800 Terminator Cyborgs and a Death Star too. But he was in no position to acquire any of those weapons. Second, Wilson’s mission was to determine whether the memorandum claiming there was a bill of sale between Niger and Iraq for yellowcake was true. And it was neither true nor likely. So if Mr Hitchens wants us all to admit that Saddam wanted atomic weapons, I’m willing to concede that point. I’m sure there is a long list of despots that same point can be made about.