Iraq has no N-weapons, claims expatriate scientist

 

Dr Imad Khadduri, now living in Canada, tells Michael Jansen howeconomic decline put an end to the careers of Iraq's experts after 1991

Iraq has no nuclear weapons and no means to deliver nuclear weapons. This is the assessment of a former senior Iraqi nuclear scientist, Dr Imad Khadduri.

"Iraq is in no position today to produce a nuclear device or deliver it and has not been able to engage in nuclear research since the end of the 1991 war," he told The Irish Times.

He said accusations that Iraq might manufacture a large, "dirty" bomb deliverable by aircraft or missile were in the realm of science fiction. Iraq had neither the reactors nor the neutron generators needed to produce such a weapon," he said.

Dr Khadduri, who obtained an MSc in physics from the University of Michigan and a PhD in nuclear reaction technology from Birmingham University, was involved in Iraq's nuclear programme from 1968 until the end of 1998, when he and his family left for Canada.

During three decades of service he prospected for uranium ore in Iraq, helped to develop its nuclear facilities, served as procurement officer for the programme and maintained its records.

He dismissed allegations that Baghdad could, in the foreseeable future, produce a nuclear device.

"Its nuclear weapons programme was derailed in 1991, and the whole cadre of nuclear scientists and engineers was diverted to the reconstruction of damaged electricity power stations, oil refineries and telephone exchanges," he said.

As information specialist he visited each scientist who was engaged in the rehabilitation effort. "None of these enterprises engaged in projects or work related to the continuation of the nuclear weapons programme," he said.

Dr Khadduri decided to speak out to counter the "misinformation campaign" mounted by the US and British governments which, he said, had relied on sources with little credibility.

One such source is the sole Iraqi nuclear expert to defect to the US, Dr Khidhir Hamza, author of a book entitled Saddam's Bombmaker who has testified before Congress and made high-profile appearances on television.

Dr Khadduri said that while Dr Hamza was involved in theoretical work at the nuclear research centre during the 1970s and 1980s, he had "an aversion" to scientific experimentation and shunned any responsibilities which would have made him, in any sense, a bombmaker.

Historically, he said, the US had initiated Iraq's nuclear programme in 1956 by dispatching to Baghdad the "Atom for Peace library" which, during the Eisenhower administration, was supplied to many world governments and used by at least two, India and Pakistan, as the starting point for bomb-making.

Following the July 1958 removal of the Iraqi monarchy, "the small reactor, which was part of the package and on its way to Iraq, was diverted to Iran," Dr Khadduri said.

While still pursuing the Atoms for Peace vision without military intent, Baghdad had turned to the Soviet Union and bought a two-megawatt research reactor which went critical in 1966-67.

Dr Khadduri joined the Iraqi Atomic Energy Centre a year later. The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] sent many consultants and researchers to assist in early work at the centre. During 1975 France provided Iraq with a light-water reactor, Osirak, which was specifically designed to be unsuitable for the production of plutonium for a bomb, he said.

Meanwhile, Iraqi scientists were, said Dr Khadduri, "dabbling with rudimentary research on fission bombs." In 1976 he prospected for uranium ore "using a novel technique" which came up with positive results. The bombing by Israel of Osirak in June 1981 prompted Iraq to take the decision to go ahead with weaponisation.

During 1987, the last year of the Iraq-Iran war, Baghdad stepped up its efforts in a crash programme under the president's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel.

By 1991, Dr Khadduri, said Iraq had many complexes supporting the nuclear weaponisation programme: the original research centre at Tawaitha near Baghdad, a fertiliser-cum-uranium ore extracting plant at Akashat in the west, a uranium ore processing plant near Mosul in the north, facilities at Tarmiah and Sharqat which housed separators similar to those used to develop the first US bomb, and the new centre for the design and assembly of bombs at al-Atheer.

There were also major electrical and mechanical installations near Baghdad. Had Iraq had enough enriched uranium al-Atheer would have been the key installation, but the separators were a long way from delivering, Dr Khadduri said.

His assessment is supported by the IAEA which reported that "there were no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons" or that "it had produced more than a few grams of weapons-grade nuclear material" or "otherwise clandestinely acquired weapons-usable material."

Dr Khadduri said: "Most, but not all, of these complexes were destroyed by US bombers during the 1991 war. In particular, al-Atheer survived and was discovered and dismantled by the first UN inspectorate. Subsequent allegations that Iraq had set up a clandestine programme were untrue, he asserted.

The careers of Iraq's scientists and engineers came to an end after 1991 when they fell victim to the inflation and gradual economic degradation created by the punitive sanctions regime.

During the waning years of the 1990s, Iraq's nuclear scientists did their utmost to produce a comprehensive report for the IAEA, their final task, Dr Khadduri said.

Today Iraq's scientists were "gripped by poverty . . . Their former determination and drive have been crushed by economic realities . . . Their skills atrophy from lack of activity in their fields," Dr Khadduri said.

Most remain in Iraq. "The number of senior scientists who managed to leave, by hook or by crook, number no more than the fingers of your two hands." He was one of the lucky ones. He decided to leave by 1998. He did not defect, he insisted, he emigrated.