- The Washington Times - Monday, December 1, 2003


Iraqi scientists never revived their long-dead nuclear bomb program and lied to Saddam Hussein about how much progress they were making before U.S.-led attacks shut the operation down for good in 1991, Iraqi physicists say.

Before that first Persian Gulf war, the chief of the weapons program resorted to “blatant exaggeration” in telling the then president of Iraq how much bomb material was being produced, key scientist Imad Khadduri writes in a new book.

Other leading physicists said in interviews in Baghdad that the hope for an Iraqi atomic bomb was never realistic. “It was all like building sand castles,” said Abdel Mehdi Talib, Baghdad University’s dean of sciences.

Seven months after a U.S.-British invasion toppled Saddam’s Ba’ath Party government, Iraqi scientists have grown more vocal in countering Bush administration assertions that Baghdad had “reconstituted” nuclear weapons development.

At best, Mr. Khadduri writes, it would have taken Iraq several years to build a nuclear weapon if the 1991 war and subsequent inspections had not intervened.

His self-published “Iraq’s Nuclear Mirage,” a chronicle of years of secret weapons work and of a final escape into exile, is part of this senior scientist’s emergence from a low profile in Canada — intended to refute what he calls a “massive deception” in Washington that led the United States into war.

Months of searching by hundreds of U.S. experts have turned up no trace of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in Iraq. Before the war, inspectors from the United Nations also had found none. No Iraqi scientists have confirmed that the programs were revived in recent years.

Bush administration officials nonetheless speak of a threat from such weapons — of Baghdad’s “robust plans” for them, in Vice President Dick Cheney’s words — in defending the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March. They offer no hard evidence, however.

A former bomb designer is dismissive of the U.S. contentions.

“There was no point in trying to revive this program. There was no material, no equipment, no scientists,” Sabah Abdul Noor said in a recent interview at Baghdad’s Technology University.

“Scientists were scattered and under the eyes of inspectors, totally scattered. To do a project, you have to be together.”

Mr. Khadduri writes that when he transferred top-secret documents of bomb program chief Jafar Dhia Jafar to an optical disc in 1991, he found the “blatant exaggeration” in a 1990 report to Saddam.

With its clever wording, Mr. Khadduri said in a telephone interview from Toronto, “one could easily have been convinced we had produced a couple of kilograms of enriched uranium instead of a couple of grams” — that is, about 4 pounds of bomb material instead of a fraction of an ounce.

A bomb would have required about 40 pounds of highly enriched uranium.

In a 1997 summary, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said there were no indications that the Iraqis had produced more than a few grams of such material. It also said there were “no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.”

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