- The Washington Times - Monday, February 12, 2001

The London Telegraph recently reported a startling assertion from an Iraqi defector: Saddam Hussein is now in possession of two atomic bombs.Though this appears unlikely, the report contains other credible and disturbing news about Iraq's progress on the road to nuclear weapons.

The defector stated that Gen. Ra'ad Ismail is now involved in the atomic program, heading Iraq's Committee on the Use of Nuclear Weapons. A missile engineer and manager, Gen. Ra'ad is largely unknown outside Iraq, but the U.N. inspectors were well-acquainted with his exceptional abilities. His apparent involvement in the nuclear program sends a strong signal that Iraq's quest for the ultimate weapon just got easier.

Inspectors knew Gen. Ra'ad through many hours of discussions and questioning, during which he always was cautious, though generally straightforward. In personal contact, he was at times shy and even self-effacing. Though a Ba'ath Party member, he carried none of the swagger inspectors so often saw in the higher-ups. His claim to authority was more personal, based on his record of achievement, a man easy to respect. It was not difficult to forget, however, for whom he ultimately worked: In his office, Gen. Ra'ad prominently displays a picture of himself standing with Saddam.

During the long war against Iran from 1980-88, Gen. Ra'ad managed the technical aspects of increasing the ranges of Scud missiles so they could reach Tehran. These modified missiles known as Al-Husseins later struck Israel and Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm. He also developed the chemical and biological warheads for the system, and worked on a further modification that could carry a nuclear warhead. Hence, Gen. Ra'ad is viewed as the "Father of the Al-Hussein" and a hero in his own country.

Under the cease-fire resolution ending Desert Storm, the U.N. banned Iraq from producing missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers. Though Iraq tried to build such systems, the effort did not produce results. For years, Iraq's postwar missile program was beset by personal conflicts, unclear objectives and little progress. By late 1995, however, Gen. Ra'ad asserted himself and, through a series of maneuvers and fortuitous circumstances, triumphed over his rivals. Since then, he has led Iraq's missile research and development efforts.

Gen. Ra'ad's tenure brought visible successes. He focused work on the short-range Al-Samoud missile (effectively, a scaled-down Scud), reorganized facilities and streamlined management. Some two years later, and contrary to U.N. estimates, the Al-Samoud underwent its first flight test. It has since been tested several more times.

More importantly, Ra'ad has laid the foundation for more robust missile work. Given its short range and limited performance, Iraq probably will not deploy the Al-Samoud in great numbers, if at all. Rather, Gen.Ra'ad is cleverly using the system as a test bed and training tool to qualify development approaches and production processes. Under his tutelage, Iraqi engineers and facilities are solving most problems on their own. This newly found technical acumen will prove indispensable in developing longer-range missiles.

In all this work, Gen. Ra'ad has shown an uncanny ability to bring together resources and people to get things done. Despite the authoritarian regime, Baghdad's weapon engineers can be rather prickly, and surprisingly do not always do what they are told. Gen. Ra'ad has consistently been able to overcome these internecine squabbles. He stands as that unique individual that every complex weapon program requires, a learned technician with exceptional managerial and leadership skills who can win the loyalty of his subordinates. He is the Wernher von Braun of Iraq's missile program.

One of my fellow inspectors summarized Gen. Ra'ad's influence when he commented, "Where there is Ra'ad, there is work," a state of affairs not always encountered in Iraq. The sight of Al-Samoud missiles rolling past Saddam at Baghdad's military parade this past Dec. 31 demonstrated my colleague's truism. Gen. Ra'ad has indeed been working.

This brings us to the status of Iraq's nuclear program. Before 1991 and probably after the program was never a model of efficiency. A lack of strong and consistent leadership hindered progress in an effort otherwise rich in personnel, funds and material resources.

It now appears that Baghdad has assigned Gen. Ra'ad to apply his successful management style to the development of nuclear weapons. Perhaps he is designing the missile delivery system and mating the warhead to it, or perhaps he has even greater responsibilities for the development of nuclear weapons, clearly one of Saddam's highest priorities. But regardless of where he fits in the nuclear hierarchy, Gen. Ra'ad almost surely will deal with the problems that have plagued the program. And that means new and serious challenges for the United States and the international community.

Timothy V. McCarthy is a senior analyst at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. From 1994 to 1998, he served on 14 inspections with the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq.

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