- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Bush administration yesterday announced a program to spend up to $22 million over the next two years to find nonmilitary jobs for Iraqi scientists, researchers and technicians who had worked on Saddam Hussein’s chemical, nuclear and biological weapons programs.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the purpose of the program is twofold: to tap the talents of the scientists in the reconstruction of Iraq and to prevent them from selling their skills to hostile states or terrorist groups abroad.

“This is a program to put people to work, to give them more productive uses of their expertise and their energy than work on Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs,” Mr. Boucher said.

The spokesman said there is “anecdotal” evidence that some Iraqi specialists may have fled abroad, but the U.S. government has no estimate of how many.

A U.S.-funded office will open in Baghdad in two months, and an initial six-month, $2 million phase will begin identifying programs and projects for the out-of-work specialists. One project identified early is a water desalination plant.

Once the projects have been identified, the Baghdad center will provide up to $20 million for reconstruction undertakings, employing the scientists and technicians.

Mr. Boucher said it was believed that there were “hundreds” of Iraqis who might be eligible for the program, although other estimates put the total in the thousands. The State Department will oversee and fund the program, working with the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council.

Just eight Iraqi scientists remain in the custody of American forces, officials at the U.S.-run Science Ministry in Baghdad told the Associated Press last week. About 9,000 scientists, engineers and technicians who once worked for the Iraqi military and weapons programs are working for the new ministry.

The Pentagon came under sharp criticism in the wake of Saddam’s ouster in April for failing to seize scientists, researchers and critical sites related to Saddam’s weapons programs.

Earlier this month, three California Democratic lawmakers — Reps. George Miller, Ellen O. Tauscher and Adam B. Schiff — complained in a letter to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that there was no program in place to employ Iraqi weapons experts.

Jon Wolfsthal, a nonproliferation analyst in the Clinton administration who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called in June for an employment program for Iraqi weapons scientists, citing the success of similar programs in the former Soviet Union.

“It’s unfortunate we waited so long, but I do applaud the effort and definitely think we should be moving forward on this,” Mr. Wolfsthal said. “We have a problem on our hands.”

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