Sci-Fi in DC
A senior Iraqi nuclear scientist accuses the US and Britain of waging a "misinformation campaign" about his country's nuclear programme. He spoke to Michael Jansen
In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Imad Khadduri, a senior Iraqi nuclear scientist who was involved in Iraq's nuclear programme for 30 years, claimed, "Iraq is in no position today to produce a nuclear device or deliver it, and has not been able to engage in nuclear research since the end of the 1991 War."
He said allegations that Iraq might manufacture a "large, dirty bomb deliverable by aircraft or missile" are in the realm of "science fiction". Iraq has neither the "reactors nor the neutron generators needed to produce such a weapon". Weapons inspectors "have found nothing because there is nothing to be found".
Khadduri, who obtained an MSc in physics from the University of Michigan and a PhD in nuclear reaction technology from Birmingham University in the UK, was involved in Iraq's nuclear programme from 1968 to 1998, when he and his family immigrated to Canada. During those three decades, he prospected for uranium ore in Iraq, helped to develop its nuclear facilities, served as procurement officer for the programme and maintained its records.
Khadduri is, therefore, in a unique position to judge Iraq's current potential. He dismissed allegations that Baghdad could, in the foreseeable future, produce a nuclear device. "Its nuclear weapons programme was derailed in 1991 and the whole cadre of nuclear scientists and engineers was diverted to the reconstruction of damaged electric power stations, oil refineries and telephone exchanges. The umbrella organisation for that effort, Petrochemical 3, was disbanded in 1993-94. Several of its departments were resurrected as civilian enterprises designed to employ scientists at previous levels of seniority." Khadduri said he "visited each and every" scientist who was engaged in the rehabilitation effort. He stated, "None of these enterprises are engaged in projects or work related to the continuation of the nuclear weapons programme."
Khadduri dismissed accusations levelled by Khidhir Hamza, the sole Iraqi nuclear expert to defect to the US. Hamza, author of a book entitled Saddam's Bombmaker, has testified before Congress and made high profile appearances on television.
Khadduri said that while Hamza was involved in theoretical work at the nuclear research centre during the 1970s and 1980s, he had an "aversion to scientific experimentation and shunned any responsibilities which would have made him, in any sense, a bombmaker".
Historically, the US initiated Iraq's nuclear programme in 1956 by dispatching to Baghdad the "Atoms for Peace Library" which, under the administration of President Dwight D Eisenhower, was provided to many governments around the world and used by at least two, India and Pakistan, as the starting point for developing weapons. Following the July 1958 ouster of the Iraqi monarchy, "the small reactor, which was part of the package and on its way to Iraq, was diverted to Iran," Khadduri said.
While "still pursuing the Atoms for Peace vision without military intent," Baghdad "turned to the Soviet Union. We bought and they built a two- megawatt research reactor which went critical in 1966-67".
Khadduri joined the Iraqi Atomic Energy Centre a year later. "The IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] sent us many consultants and researchers to assist" in early work at the centre. During 1975, France stepped in and provided Iraq with a light water reactor, OSIRAK, which "was specifically designed to be unsuitable for the production of plutonium for a bomb". Meanwhile, Iraqi scientists were, said Khadduri, "dabbling with rudimentary research on fission bombs". In 1976 he prospected for uranium ore "using a novel technique" that "came up with positive results". The bombing by Israel of OSIRAK in June 1981 prompted Iraq to take the "solid decision to go full steam ahead with weaponisation". During 1987, the last year of the Iraq-Iran war, Baghdad stepped up its efforts in a crash programme under the president's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel. Domestic sources of uranium ore, rather than "yellow cake" imported from Africa (as claimed by the US) were tapped, processed and shipped to the separators.
By 1991 Khadduri said Iraq had "many complexes supporting the nuclear weaponisation programme: the original research centre at Tawaitha near Baghdad, a fertiliser-cum-uranium ore extracting plant at Akashat in the west, a uranium ore processing plant near Mosul, facilties at Tarmiyah and Sharqat which housed separators similar to those which were used to develop the first US A-bomb, and the new centre for the design and assembly of bombs at Al-Atheer. There were also major electrical and mechanical installations near Baghdad. Had we had enough enriched uranium, Al-Atheer would have been the key installation, but the separators were a long way from delivering", he stated. His assessment is supported by the IAEA which said, "there were no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons" or that it "had produced more than a few grams of weapons-grade nuclear material through its indigenous processes" or "otherwise clandestinely-acquired weapons-usable material".
"Most, but not all, of these complexes were destroyed by US bombers during the 1991 War. Al- Atheer survived and was discovered and dismantled by the first UN inspectorate." Subsequent allegations that Iraq had set up a clandestine programme are untrue, asserted Khadduri.
The careers of Iraq's scientists and engineers came to an end after the 1991 War. They fell victim to the "inflation and gradual economic degradation" created by the harsh sanctions regime. Their final task, at the end of the 1990s, was to produce a comprehensive report for the IAEA.
Today the "determination and drive" of Iraqi scientists "has been crushed by economic realities... their skills have atrophied from lack of activity in their fields". Khadduri flatly rejected the recent US allegation that aluminium piping purchased by Iraq could be used to construct highly advanced centrifugal spinners. "The fact that there are no Iraqi scientists qualified to fashion and operate these centrifuges has eluded the spin doctors in Washington." (An Iraqi metalurgist told UN inspectors last month that the tubing was meant for battlefield rockets which Iraq is permitted to possess.)
Khadduri said most scientists remain in Iraq. "The number of senior scientists who managed to leave, by hook or by crook, number no more than the fingers of your hands." He was one of the few. Determined to provide his children with a Western education, Khadduri arranged matters for the family to leave without defecting in 1998.