- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2002

LONDON Iraq could be "only months away" from producing nuclear weapons if it could lay hands on the necessary enriched uranium or plutonium, according to an authoritative report from a major defense-research organization.

The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies also said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has stockpiled biological and chemical weapons, including thousands of gallons of anthrax and hundreds of tons of sarin nerve gas and VX nerve agent and that he could produce much more.

The IISS study, citing what its analysts described as a "nuclear wild card" but not detailing how it compiled the information, comes in the wake of a weekend summit in which President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair appeared to firm up their plans to topple Saddam.

Mr. Blair has said he will release the government's own dossier on Iraqi weapons within days; in the meantime he is expected to use the defense institute's findings to bolster his tough stance on Iraq in the face of growing domestic opposition.

John Chipman, author of the IISS report, said at a news conference that if Saddam were "able to obtain fissile material [uranium or plutonium] from abroad steal it or buy it in some way we certainly believe he has the ability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly, in a matter of months."

He said Baghdad also has a "small force" of 400-mile-range al Hussein ballistic missiles that could target Israel, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and Turkey. Other defense analysts suggest he has about a dozen of the missiles.

Once Iraqi scientists acquire the necessary radioactive material, Mr. Chipman said, it "would take a little bit of time" to assemble it into a "physics package" to arm a warhead on a ballistic missile.

Until then, he said, Iraq "would have to deliver them from a plane or through some other terrorist [route]."

The IISS report said Iraq produced highly enriched uranium or separated plutonium at its own factories until 1991, but that this capability was destroyed during the Gulf war a conclusion that British and U.S. leaders are likely to seize upon in defense of their new plans to obliterate Baghdad's production line for weapons of mass destruction.

Despite the Gulf war, Mr. Chipman said, "Iraq salvaged its most vital nuclear assets knowledge and personnel."

He suspects the country also has designed, produced and tested key components for a small number of nuclear weapons "minus the essential fissile material."

In their report, IISS analysts said Iraq has stockpiled large quantities of anthrax, nerve gases such as VX and sarin, as well as mustard gas, much of it left over from pre-1991 supplies.

"Aside from conventional military munitions," it said, "delivery of biological weapons by individuals or small groups acting as commandos or terrorists remains a plausible threat that is very difficult to defend against."

The report suggested that Saddam, with his back to the wall in the face of an Anglo-American military invasion, might fire missiles loaded with chemical or biological warheads at Israel in hopes that such an attack would provoke an Arab-Israeli conflagration.

"Some [missiles] could get through," the IISS said. "With nothing to lose, Baghdad may also seek to mount CBW chemical and biological weapons attacks with special forces and sympathetic terrorist groups in the U.S. and allied countries."

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