- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

The Iraqi scientist who headed Saddam Hussein’s long-range missile program has fled to neighboring Iran, a country identified as a state sponsor of terrorism with a successful missile program and nuclear ambitions, U.S. officers involved in the weapons hunt say.

Modher Sadeq-Saba al-Tamimi’s departure comes as top weapons makers from Saddam’s deposed regime find themselves eight months out of work but with skills that could be valuable to militaries or terrorist organizations in neighboring countries. U.S. officials have said some are already in Syria and Jordan.

U.N. inspectors spoke with Mr. Modher in Baghdad a week before the U.S.-led war began March 19. Two U.S. weapons investigators say they believe he crossed the Iraq-Iran border on foot at least two months after U.S. forces took Baghdad.

Mr. Modher is not on the list of the 52 most-wanted Iraqis whose faces grace a deck of playing cards, but U.S. officials have been eager to talk to scientists who may know anything about Saddam’s efforts to develop proscribed weapons.

Mr. Modher’s activities in Iran are unknown and may explain why his disappearance hasn’t been disclosed publicly. The CIA declined to discuss its efforts with Iraqi scientists or identify individuals.

Thought to be in his mid-50s, the Czech-educated scientist specialized in missile engines. He met numerous times with U.N. inspectors during the 1990s and earlier this year when he argued that the al Samoud missile system under his command wasn’t in violation of a U.N. range limit.

The inspectors determined otherwise when tests showed it could fly more than 93 miles. They quickly began destroying the Iraqi stock, much to his frustration.

“Dr. Modher was declared by Iraq to have been one of the principal figures in their missile programs,” said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. inspectors.

In the late 1980s, Mr. Modher headed up the Iraqi military’s Project 1728, part of an effort to produce engines for longer-range missiles.

He was the protege and favored colleague of Iraqi Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamel, Saddam’s right-hand man and son-in-law who briefly defected to Jordan in 1995. There, Gen. Kamel told U.N. inspectors during interrogations about his work and Mr. Modher’s efforts to build a missile powerful enough to strike most major European cities.

According to the interrogation transcripts, Gen. Kamel said Mr. Modher and a nuclear physicist named Mahdi Obeidi both took work and documents from their offices. U.N. inspectors investigated the claim but found nothing.

In July, Mr. Obeidi gave the CIA a stack of papers and a piece of equipment that had been buried in his back yard for 12 years. In return, he has become the only Iraqi scientist allowed to move to the United States since the beginning of the U.S. occupation.

Other than Mr. Obeidi, who is living along the East Coast with his family, another scientist known to have left the country is Jaffar al-Jaffer, who founded Iraq’s nuclear program in the 1980s. He is in the United Arab Emirates, where U.S. troops are stationed, and has been questioned by U.S. and British intelligence officials.

Mr. Modher traveled to Germany in 1987 to buy high-tech equipment through H&H; Metalform, a company whose senior officers were tried later in Germany and found guilty of violating the country’s export-control laws, U.N. inspectors said.

The equipment enabled Iraq to make components for Scud missiles similar to the ones they fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf war.

When that conflict ended, Iraq faced U.N. sanctions forbidding it from purchasing any new weapons-making equipment.

But four years later, Mr. Modher was caught by U.N. inspectors when he inquired about Russian-made gyroscopes from a Palestinian middleman. At the time, Tariq Aziz, Iraq’s deputy prime minister, told U.N. inspectors that Mr. Modher had acted on his own and would be punished for breaking sanctions.

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