- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Anti-coalition forces have killed a prominent Iraqi chemical-weapons scientist whom U.S. investigators were questioning at Abu Ghraib prison, in an attempt to unravel the mysteries of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal.

The scientist’s death is not the first such killing, and it has some U.S. analysts wondering whether there is a pattern and also whether the Iraqi insurgents had incredibly good intelligence and a deadly aim — or were just lucky.

Last spring, according to two defense officials, the United States detained an Iraqi scientist who was active in the nation’s development of chemical weapons.

The man, whom the sources declined to identify, was not cooperative at first. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) had him held at Abu Ghraib prison for further questioning. He seemed to be ready to offer up valuable information.

But then one night, the insurgents fired a volley of mortar rounds into the prison. One landed near enough to kill the chemical expert. Any chance that he might have disclosed information on what happened to Saddam’s stocks of chemical shells vanished in the explosion.

The death is at least the fourth hostile-fire killing of Iraqi scientists who had been talking to the ISG. There have been press reports that as many as nine have been slain.

One of the country’s most prominent nuclear scientists, Majid Hussein Ali, was found dead earlier this year, shot twice in the back. He had been questioned by the ISG.

David Kay, who led the weapons search until he resigned in December, said in October that two scientists, whom he did not name, cooperating with the ISG were killed.

“We think it was because, in fact, he was engaged in discussion with us,” Mr. Kay said of one of the killings.

A U.S. intelligence official, who asked not to be named, confirmed to The Washington Times that the scientist at Abu Ghraib was killed by a mortar round. But he said officials think it was a lucky shot, because the insurgents have a poor record on mortar accuracy.

But another defense source said suspicions linger that the insurgents targeted the scientist. The source said the insurgents were receiving intelligence on who was in the prison and where they were being held.

The first Army investigative report on prison abuse at Abu Ghraib uncovered shortfalls in the prison’s exterior defenses. It was not particularly good at keeping prisoners in and enemy fire out. The U.S.-lead coalition failed to install self-protection devices to protect inmates and staff.

“Detainees did not have access to bunkers or shelters with overhead cover to protect them from hostile enemy mortar or rocket fire from outside the walls of Abu Ghraib,” the report said.

Rep. Steve Buyer, Indiana Republican, has called on the Bush administration to better publicize the killings as proof that Saddam loyalists are still hiding something.

“I want the world to be informed that these individuals are being assassinated, and it’s not because they have a new cooking recipe,” Mr. Buyer said.

The ISG has yet to find stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam once possessed and had used on Iranian soldiers and his own citizens. But some Bush officials suspect that the weapons are hidden in Iraq or were moved across the border to Syria.

Charles Duelfer, who succeeded Mr. Kay in Iraq, told senators last spring that he was struck by how reluctant Iraq weapons managers and scientists are to talk to the ISG, even though Saddam’s regime is gone.

“Many perceive a grave risk in speaking with us,” Mr. Duelfer said.

He added: “We have yet to identify the most critical people in any programmatic effort. Many people have yet to be found or questioned, and many of those we have found are not giving us complete answers.”

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