Defectors say Iraq tested Nuclear Bomb
Latest | Recent Articles | Multimedia Page | TV | Search | Blog

Email this article | Print this article | Link to this Article

Defectors say Iraq tested Nuclear Bomb

February 25, 2001

MER WEEKEND READING:

IRAQIS PROBABLY BUILDING ABC WEAPONS

ON THE ROAD TO MIDDLE EAST ARMAGEDDON

"The message I plan to give...is that the cause of these problems we have is in Baghdad and Saddam Hussein."

Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cairo 24 Feb

When Iraq was more overtly building nuclear weapons, the Israelis struck in 1981 destroying the Osirak reactor near Baghdad that could have provided the crucial processed uranium fuel. When Iraq was building a huge giant gun that could threaten Israel, the brilliant Gerald Bull from Europe in charge, the Mossad assassinated Bull. When the Iraq-Iran war was over -- a war instigated by the CIA and Mossad in the first place hoping to use Iraq to undo the Iranian revolution -- and when Saddam Hussein foolishly made statements about what he would do to Israel if Israel ever attached Iraq again, Saddam was provoked and tricked (by the same players) into invading once-province Kuwait providing the excuse for Iraq's destruction and his own demise (the first accomplished, the second not yet).

Israel introduced weapons of mass destruction to the Middle East. In fact it was "Nobel Peace Prize winner" Shimon Peres who played a major role in getting French help for this in the 1960s. It is thought the old CIA of Jim Angelton also provided help, under the table of course, while looking the other way as the Israelis also got help from a number of American Jewish businessmen.

This development, coupled with the 1967 and 1973 wars, provided the impetus for the Arabs and the Muslims to seriously turn toward attempting to build nuclear weapons, and in more recent years chemical and biological weapons, which the Israelis also now possess in far greater quantity and quality. Libya helped Pakistan back in the days of Bhutto, and now the Pakistanis have the bomb as well, even though the Israelis and the Indians attempted to prevent this, including failed attempts to bomb Pakistan's Kahuta reactor some years ago.

With U.S. policies unraveling in the Middle East, including that of sanctionning Iraq into submission at the cost of tremendous human death and suffering, the U.S. is twisting toward new policies of containment and war preparations. There is a de facto U.S.-Israeli-Turkey military alliance, plus of course Arabia is essentially occupied by both the U.S. military and the CIA with Egypt and Jordan also part of this overall relationship -- mostly carried out covertly of course.

As for Iraq, the Americans have made repeated public statements that "we will not tolerate" Iraq developing weapons of mass destruction; and everything relating to Iraq continues to be very closely coordinated with the Israelis.

The fact that ally Israeli has military forces eight times more powerful than all the Arab armies combined, that Israel has a huge arsenal of such weapons, and that the U.S. has essentially declared the whole region a U.S. protectorate without actually using these words -- all of this is not the focus of the controlled and manipulated mass media.

The following German assessment, also leaked in the past few days, may be accurate if interpreted to mean that Iraq may need years yet in order to actually ready a workable nuclear arsenal and means to deliver it:

GERMANY: IRAQ MAY HAVE NUKES IN 3 YEARS

BERLIN - (Reuters, 24 Feb) Saddam Hussein may be able to menace Iraq's neighbors with nuclear weapons in three years and fire a missile as far as Europe by 2005, according to a German intelligence assessment made public yesterday.

The Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has gathered evidence that Baghdad is also stepping up efforts to produce chemical weapons and has increased purchases abroad of the inputs needed to make biological weapons.

Details of the assessment were published in German newspapers. A spokesman at the BND's headquarters near Munich confirmed that selected correspondents had been briefed on Iraq by intelligence officials on Friday.

Iraq barred UN weapons inspectors in 1998, making it extremely difficult to keep track of what the West believes are Baghdad's efforts to menace the Middle East and beyond with ABC - atomic, biological and chemical - weapons.

Based on information it has gathered, the German BND has drawn the following conclusions, according to reports in Die Welt and Frankfurter Allgemeine newspapers:

* Nuclear weapons: There is evidence that Iraq has resumed its nuclear program and may be capable of producing an atomic bomb in three years. Work has been observed at the al Qaim site, believed to be the center of Baghdad's nuclear program.

* Missiles: Iraq is currently developing its Al Samoud and Ababil 100/Al Fatah short-range rockets, which can deliver a 300 kg payload 150 km. Medium-range rockets capable of carrying a warhead 3,000 km could be built by 2005, putting Europe within reach.

But whether the German assessment is accurate or not, and whatever the motivations for it being leaked precisely at this time with General Sharon taking power in Israel and America's General Powell visiting the region for the first time in a diplomatic suit, the region is on the road to an ABC War (Atomic, Biological, Chemical) and stopping it will in itself be difficult at this point.

The following extensive article is from The Sunday Times in London -- the same newspaper which in the 1980s developed and publicized the story of Israel's nuclear weapons capabilities with the help of Mordechai Vanunu who is still imprisoned in Israel for telling what he knew.

DEFECTORS SAY IRAQ TESTED NUCLEAR BOMB
Uzi Mahnaimi and Tom Walker

[The Sunday Times - 25 February] DISTURBING new evidence has emerged about Saddam Hussein's nuclear arsenal as tension rises in the Middle East over an increasingly aggressive Iraq.

According to two former senior scientists in the Iraqi nuclear programme - corroborated by a former aide to Saddam's son Uday - Iraq carried out a successful nuclear test before the Gulf war and now has a nuclear stockpile.

The scientists describe in detail Iraq's nuclear programme. They say Saddam carried out a nuclear test in September 1989 deep beneath Lake Rezzaza, southwest of Baghdad. The blast was undetected because it was relatively small - about equal to the Hiroshima bomb - and muffled.

Over the past decade, despite UN inspections, Saddam has carried out further tests and now has several bombs stored in a bunker under the Hamrin mountains north of Baghdad, they say.

[Picture of Ariel Sharon] The view from Israel: Sharon plans to attack Iraq's missile sites if it shows signs of war

Their claims, which are reported in today's News Review section of The Sunday Times, challenge the consensus among the American, British and Israeli intelligence services that Saddam does not have sufficient enriched uranium or plutonium to fulfil his ambition of developing a nuclear bomb.

Israel's prime minister-elect, Ariel Sharon, is expected to warn Colin Powell, the visiting American secretary of state, during talks today that the region may slide into war. Powell, who was in Egypt yesterday, urged Arab countries to join America in countering the threat posed by Saddam.

Israeli military sources say that Sharon has ordered Shaul Mofaz, the chief of staff, to prepare the army for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq's missile launch zone, which is close to its border with Syria.

Resurrecting and developing plans from the Gulf war, Sharon threatens to deploy tactical neutron bombs to "wipe out" the launch zone in the event that intelligence reports say a non-conventional weapons attack by Iraq is imminent, according to the sources.

Sources close to Sharon say he will tell Powell that Israel would not sit still and wait for Iraqi missiles to rain down on its towns, as it did in the 1991 Gulf war in reponse to American requests for restraint.

On Thursday Israel placed its forces on high missile alert after American intelligence warned about movements of Iraqi armoured divisions close to the border with Syria. American satellites also picked up preparations in the Iraqi long-range surface missiles brigade. Israeli air force planes took off opposite the Syrian coast.

Almost at the same time, two American Awacs, four Hawkeye spy planes and 36 assorted American and British fighter aircraft took off from the Turkish base of Incirlik and from American carriers in the region.

They ran into fierce anti- aircraft missile fire from batteries north of the Iraqi oil city of Mosul. The allied fighters blasted the Iraqi batteries in return but caused little damage.

The next day, an Arabic- language Israeli newspaper published a warning from Baghdad that "Iraq is about to hit Israel" and "will liberate the occupied territories". An Israeli general, formerly assistant to an Israeli prime minister, told The Sunday Times: "It's hard to believe that Saddam will use non-conventional weapons against Israel, but we failed to predict his moves in the past and we may fail to do so in future."

The principal source of the new evidence about Saddam's nuclear programme is a former military engineer, known as "Leone", who says he worked for a special scientific department of the Republican Palace in Baghdad, which supervised the development of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

His claim is corroborated by a scientist from another branch of the weapons programme and by Abbas al-Janabi, a former personal assistant to Uday Hussein. "A nuclear test was carried out in 1988 or 1989 in an underground site beside Lake Rezzaza," said Janabi, who claimed to have been in the test cavern before the explosion. Satellite images from 1989 show a huge tunnel at the site.

Last month, another former engineer from the weapons programme, now in hiding, said Saddam had two "fully operational" nuclear bombs.

Western intelligence officers who have heard Leone's claims say he is well informed, but they insist there is no evidence that Iraq could obtain sufficient enriched nuclear fuel. Leone and his corroborators say that the fuel was smuggled in from South Africa via Brazil.

Gwynne Roberts, a film-maker who has investigated Leone's story, said: "Something very unusual happened on the shores of Lake Rezzaza prior to the Gulf war, which was completely missed by western intelligence agencies."

------------------------

On a visit to northern Iraq, Gwynne Roberts stumbled on a trail of compelling evidence that the 'Butcher of Baghdad' has successfully tested a nuclear bomb. Could he really have hoodwinked the West?

The evidence: a 1989 satellite photo, right, shows the entrance to the tunnel under Lake Rezazza and the ground disturbed by underground activity. Top, Leoni's drawing of the test bomb. Above, Iraq later destroyed its military base near the test site. Was this Saddam's bomb?

The mysterious visitor emerged from the shadows outside my hotel in Kurdish controlled northern Iraq, just as a crisis between Washington and Baghdad was reaching a climax in January 1998. His appearance set alarm bells ringing. Several westerners had recently been murdered in Kurdistan, and Iraqi intelligence agents were blamed.

I was there to investigate the long-term impact of Saddam Hussein's gassing of the people of Halabja, the town he drenched in lethal chemicals in 1988. Iraq knew of the mission and my team was at risk. The visitor was visibly nervous and shivering, and the guards on the hotel steps were suspicious. Although it was bitterly cold, he was wearing a silk summer jacket.

"Are you a journalist?" he asked my cameraman, who was filming outside the hotel. He was keen to talk about the Iraqi nuclear programme, but I was suspicious. After the Kurds had identified him as a bona fide nuclear scientist, I invited him back to the hotel.

"I am in danger here in Iraq," said "Leone", as we came to know him. "I signed a document every six months agreeing not to talk to foreigners. It said I and my family would be executed if I broke the agreement. If I reveal secrets to you, my life is at risk."

Nonetheless, Leone talked on - and he told me an astonishing story. If true, it completely contradicts the western consensus about the shortcomings of Saddam's nuclear weapons programme.

Intelligence agencies, including Israel's Mossad, insist that Saddam has never had the technology or the fuel to fulfil his ambition of creating a nuclear arsenal. Yet Leone, and other defectors who have corroborated his story, insist that Saddam not only has nuclear weapons but has tested them.

SITTING in a scruffy hotel room in Sulaymaniyah, Leone explained in detail the work he said he was involved in. He described himself as a military engineer who was a member of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission. Simultaneously, he said, he worked for the Republican Palace in Baghdad.

"There is a special scientific department there for supervising all activities for the Iraqi mass destruction weapons, especially the missile programme. So I was in a very privileged position. I had my own bodyguards and my special status protected me. I was authorised to travel to many secret sites all over Iraq. Very few can do this."

Leone worked through the night in the hotel, drawing detailed diagrams of nuclear weapons. "This is Iraq's nuclear bomb," he said, spreading diagrams on the bed. "I saw it in the workshop in Tuwaitha many times. This is the first successful prototype. When they finished it in 1986, they took it to the president by car, but without uranium. All members of the delegation got cars as presents for their work. Between 1985 and 1989, I saw this device at least five times."

He said it worked on the principle of the Hiroshima gun-type bomb, in which high explosives drive pieces of highly enriched uranium together at high velocity. This triggers a nuclear explosion.

Leone's design was unusual. The uranium was contained in a series of finely engineered tubes, like the control rods of a nuclear reactor. It was not the type of design one might find from a search of textbooks or the internet.

He showed me a photograph of what he said was a gun assembly nuclear warhead bought off the peg from Russia. Six devices were purchased during the late 1980s, he said, all of them without fuel. Iraq managed to purchase fissile material on the black market for at least one warhead.

Leone then made the staggering claim that Iraq had conducted a nuclear test before the Gulf war.

"The test was carried out at 10.30am on September 19, 1989, at an underground site 150km southwest of Baghdad," he said. "Saddam had threatened us with the death penalty if we told anybody about it.

"The location was a militarised zone on the far shore of Lake Rezzaza, which used to be a tourist area. There is a natural tunnel there which leads to a large cavern deep under the lake. Labourers worked on it for two years, strengthening the tunnel walls.

"There was a big Republican Guard camp nearby and dirt roads leading to the site. You could see the thick high-tension cables on the ground, which disappeared into a huge shaft entrance. I saw one which must have been 20km long. The command post for the test was in a castle in the desert not far away.

"We went to a lot of trouble to conceal the test from the outside world. The Russians supplied us with a table listing US satellite movements. They were always helping us. Every six hours, trucks near the test site changed their positions. They had carried out a lot of irrigation projects in the test area during the year before as a diversion. But these weren't agricultural workers. They were nuclear engineers. It was a nice cheat.

"We had built a special platform for the bomb in the Tuwaitha workshop and this was sent to the test site. This allowed the device to be jacked up inside the cavern. Then we sealed off the cavern by blocking part of the tunnel inside with a 50-metre concrete plug and piling up sand and rocks behind that. All this was intended to muffle the explosion, and it's known as 'decoupling'.

"I saw the air-conditioned yellow truck carrying the bomb near the site at dawn a few days before the test. They always used this vehicle to transport it. On its side was a wheatsheaf symbol with 'Ministry of Trade' written below it. I saw the people in charge of the test head off in that direction as well - Dr Khalid Ibrahim Sayeed and Dr Jafaar Dhia Jafaar.

"When the test happened, there was no dust or anything. The air just vibrated. I was in my car at the time and it just shook. It reached about 2.7 on the Richter scale, and wouldn't really have been noticed by seismic stations outside Iraq."

Leone said that Hussein Kamel al-Majid, Saddam's brother-in-law, was in overall charge of the test. [Kamel defected to Jordan in 1995 and was later murdered.]

"After the test, they destroyed the entrance to the tunnel. They also removed any evidence to indicate that a test had happened.

"They washed out the shaft with water to remove any radioactivity. They then filled it with cement, rocks and sand, and destroyed the entrance. They also created a long river channel near the shaft entrance to drin off contaminated ground water."

Leone showed me a letter signed by Kamel that seemed to confirm the test. Written in Arabic and dated September 19, 1989, it read: "With the help of God and the effort of the heroic freedom fighters in the military industrialisation institution and the atomic power organisation, we have successfully completed Test Number One of the Iraqi Atomic Bomb. Its strength was 10 kilotons and highly enriched uranium was used with a purity of 93% . . . With this experiment Iraq is considered the first country in the world to carry out this sort of experiment without the knowledge of the international monitoring authorities."

I still had a problem with Leone's story. Iraq did not have the industrial capacity to produce enough bomb-grade fissile material for a test. Leone said the Iraqis had bought it on the black market.

"We had a purchasing department whose job was to buy highly enriched uranium. Brazil purchased highly enriched uranium from South Africa and then delivered it to Iraq. I am not talking about tons. It was between 20 and 50 kilograms. France also supplied us secretly with highly enriched uranium after the Israelis bombed the Osirak reactor in 1981."

The Rezzaza test, according to Leone, sealed the fate of the Observer journalist Farzad Bazoft, who had been investigating the cause of a huge explosion at a military complex south of Baghdad.

The Iranian-born reporter was arrested on September 15, four days before the test date, after taking soil samples near the al-Qaqa facility, about 80km from the test site. He was executed for espionage the following March.

I knew the Bazoft story well. In 1988 I had entered Iraqi Kurdistan and gathered soil samples which proved that the Iraqi regime had used chemical weapons against its own people. Bazoft had reportedly seen my film Winds of Death, which documented this horrific crime, and attempted to emulate my methods, with tragic results.

"He was accused of working for a foreign intelligence agency," said Leone. "The authorities were convinced he was trying to find out about the planned Rezzaza test. This was a state secret of the highest importance and, once they even suspected this, he was never going to be released."

In August 1990, Saddam invaded Kuwait. After his defeat in the ensuing Gulf war, UN arms inspectors discovered an Iraqi crash programme to build a nuclear bomb, known as PC3. But, according to Leone, they missed the most successful part of the programme.

"They thought they had stopped the Iraqis from building the bomb, but they overlooked the military organisation codenamed Group Four. This department is a comprehensive section that was involved in assembling the bomb from the beginning to the end. It was also involved in developing launching systems, missile programmes, preparing uranium, purchasing it on the black market, smuggling it back into Iraq."

Leone told me that Group Four successfully developed a gun-type device at the nuclear weaponisation centre at al-Atheer. Unscom, the UN inspectorate, was aware that the Iraqis were working on an implosion-type nuclear device there, but knew nothing about Group Four. All evidence of its existence had been removed before they arrived in Iraq, Leone said.

The Iraqis went to extraordinary lengths to protect their secrets. In one incident on 1991, the UN nuclear weapons inspection team managed to film sensitive documents listing names of key personnel in the nuclear programme. Leone claimed the Iraqi official who allowed access, Adel Fayed, was later murdered.

"He was killed by knives in his home," said he. "They cut off his head. Everyone knew that Saddam's cousin, Ali al-Takriti, was responsible. Nobody talked to Unscom after this assassination."

To avoid Unscom detection, scientists from the main weaponisation groups were spread throughout Iraq. Group Four was relocated in civilian aircraft factories at Taji in the north of Baghdad. Using the factories as a front, they imported "aircraft parts" from Russia and eastern Europe. These consignments often concealed components for the nuclear programme.

Group Four also bought up American and Russian designs for gun-type nuclear bombs. Leone alleged that these were acquired with help from India.

Leone said his pivotal job brought him into close contact with Khalid Ibrahim Sayeed, Group Four's leader, a military engineer whom he met regularly to discuss weapons design.

Another important bomb design organisation, Group Five, operated out of an agricultural machinery factory near Mosul in northern Iraq, said Leone. Group Five scientists worked on a thermonuclear device, he said. The components were assembled at secret locations under Mount Hemrin, 140km northeast of Baghdad.

In 1993, Saddam awarded Group Five's leader, Dr Ahmed Abdul Jabar Shansal, the Golden Sword of Mesopotamia (First Degree), the highest decoration in Iraq, for completing work on a nuclear implosion bomb, a far more complex design than the gun-type, Leone said. In 1995, Group Five was renamed the State Enterprise for Extracting Industries.

Leone's disclosures were detailed, and his knowledge of personnel in the programme was encyclopaedic. His bomb diagrams demonstrated specialist knowledge of nuclear weapons. His most stunning claim, however, was that Iraq now possessed three Hiroshima-type bombs, three implosion weapons and three thermonuclear weapons.

"I am certain about this," he said. "They are stored deep underground in a bunker in the Hemrin mountains."

Having disgorged this information, Leone disappeared into the cold streets of Sulaymaniyah. His evidence contradicted the claims of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was more or less dismantled after the Gulf war. Was he a hoaxer? I tracked down people in Kurdistan who knew him and a picture began to emerge.

Leone had defected in the mid-1990s to the safe havens of northern Iraq. Seeking sanctuary for his family, he had met officials from the West's four-nation military co-ordinating centre. They flew him to Ankara to debrief him but never gave him what he wanted: sanctuary in the West.

He tried to reach Europe through Ukraine and approached the British embassy in Kiev. Diplomats arranged for experts from the IAEA to fly in to debrief him, but Leone refused to co-operate when he realised they were unwilling to provide visas for the West.

"There was no doubt he was genuine," said Arras Habib Kareem, who debriefed him in Kurdistan for the opposition Iraqi National Congress (INC). "When other Iraqi nuclear scientists came north they recognised him within seconds. He knows a lot about the Iraqi nuclear programme. He knows about the test areas, the facilities and the equipment the Iraqis used.

"He once provided me with a list of 200 names of people working in the programme, with their rank and what each was doing - 90% of what he said was later confirmed by other Iraqi scientists who defected."

Seeking expert advice, I turned to Dr Frank Barnaby, the former nuclear weapons scientist who vouchsafed the authenticity of Mordechai Vanunu's evidence of the Israeli bomb programme in 1986. I asked him to assess Leone's drawing of the 1989 test device.

"The design is unusual, but I see no reason why it shouldn't work if it is well engineered," Barnaby said. "I find it impressive. All the nuclear physics he is talking about is reasonable. He has to be taken seriously because he is obviously competent. The very least we are dealing with here is a radiological bomb, a nuclear weapon in its own right, which Iraq was suspected of developing."

Could it be a hoax? "If it were, Leone would use a more standard design, not invent an unusual one," replied Barnaby. He described Leone's disclosures as more dramatic than Vanunu's, because they contained more detailed information about weapon design.

If Leone was telling the truth, surely the blast would have been detected by seismologists?

Officials at the International Seismic Centre near Newbury said detecting an event of this size - about 2.7 on the Richter scale - would be "extremely difficult" in this region, especially if it had been decoupled, as Leone claimed.

I visited Sulaymaniyah's local seismic station. It is 640km from the Rezzaza site, and its director confirmed that its range was limited. "Whether we would pick up an event 100 to 200km away would depend on its magnitude," he explained. "If it's really big, we would record it. If it's small, then we may miss it."

Records from 1989 showed no trace of an event on September 19, but a map of Iraq's main earthquake zones provided a potential clue. The Rezzaza region is virtually earthquake-free, but the map showed one exception - a tremor marked by a red circle on the southwestern shore of the lake, close to Leone's test site. Nobody at the seismic station knew when this tremor occurred, except that it was after 1985 and before 1991.

I needed corroboration from other defectors from Iraq's nuclear weapons programme. Most were too scared to talk. One scientist living in northern Europe, who had received a video from Baghdad of his sister being sexually abused by security agents, refused to have anything to do with me.

But I tracked down a "Dr Imad" who had worked for Group Four, and persuaded him to meet me in Denmark. The story he told, unprompted by me, fitted Leone's.

"There were two groups working on two different projects. One was the implosion bomb under Dr Jafaar and the other the gun-type device, under Dr Khalid Ibrahim Sayeed," Imad said "Dr Khalid headed Group Four."

Again echoing Leone, Imad continued: "The headquarters of both groups was at al-Atheer, the nuclear weapons design centre south of Baghdad. The UN inspectors only discovered one project there. They missed the Group Four programme, which had the same funding but was far more successful. This was Iraq's best-kept secret."

Imad was adamant that the Iraqis had conducted a nuclear test, although he did not know where. "Group Four was working specifically on a Hiroshima-type bomb. In 1986-87, they began to run computer simulation models, but I know for a fact that in 1989 they fed in real test data."

"From an actual test?" I asked.

"From an actual test. They modified the model according to the test data. They finished it."

"So does Iraq have the bomb?"

"Iraq tested the bomb and they have it," he said.

He also described how a senior Iraqi scientist had brought the fuel from Brazil in a private jet and was rewarded with money and land.

Imad's evidence meant that two former senior Iraqi scientists - one in Kurdistan and the other in Denmark - had independently confirmed that an organisation called Group Four not only existed but had successfully tested a gun-type atomic bomb. If this was true, the UN inspection teams had missed half of Iraq's nuclear programme. It was difficult to comprehend failure on such a massive scale.

Yet Unmovic, the UN agency that took over from Unscom after inspectors were barred from Iraq in 1998, was completely in the dark about Group Four. Dr Hans Blix, Unmovic's executive chairman, who also headed the IAEA for 16 years, thought a nuclear test was improbable.

I turned to Dr David Kay, a former head of the UN nuclear inspection team. He suspected that the Iraqis were working on a gun-type bomb and was not quite so adamant in refusing to believe that one had been tested.

"One thing I've learnt in Iraq is that it is unwise to totally exclude anything, because in fact the Iraqis spent a lot of money and got a lot of assistance from other people. They were always trying to do it, and they did it under totalitarian pressure. So people can occasionally do miraculous things," he said.

Kay knew of Group Four - he called it a "major weapons design group operating under the auspices of Saddam himself" - but he had discovered few details about its activities.

It was Kay who uncovered Iraq's crash programme to build an implosion device. He had been amazed at its size. "What we found was more or less an exact replica of a crash US Manhattan Project during the second world war. The facilities were large in number. I remember the initial briefing identified three or four sites. There turned out to be more than 50. We now think there were somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 working on the programme. The best guess of costs is somewhere in the order of $10 billion."

Late last year I turned to the most important Iraqi defector to reach Europe, Abbas al-Janabi. He was personal assistant to Saddam's son, Uday, for 15 years, was imprisoned eight times by his former boss and routinely tortured. He finally fled the country with his family in 1998.

His cousin, Fadil al-Janabi, was high in the Iraqi nuclear programme and other members of his clan were highly placed within Group Four. His response to my probing was succinct. "A nuclear test was carried out - in 1988 or 1989 - in an underground site beside Lake Rezzaza," he said.

He pointed out the test site on a map of Iraq. It was close to Leone's location. "It's a military zone," he said. "I doubt whether UN inspectors ever visited it." He himself had clambered down into a vast underground cavern.

He learnt of the successful test from Uday, who, he said, was unable to conceal his jubilation. "They were talking about the test, about their ability to produce a nuclear bomb. They were talking about a new powerful Iraq," said Janabi.

Was it definitely a nuclear test? "Definitely. There is no doubt about that. It was a small nuclear test." Who had supplied the highly enriched uranium for the bomb?South Africa, he said, via South America.

He claimed to know the person who had negotiated with the South Africans. "He was talking about 50kg. Negotiations began in 1986 and the delivery was made in 1988."

In the mid-1990s, on a Channel 4 investigation, I visited Valindaba, the facility near Pretoria which produced South Africa's bomb-grade uranium. Officially, I was told the plant never achieved its design output because of technical problems. In its lifetime, it was said to have produced weapons-grade uranium for only six or seven devices. But a plant supervisor let slip that it had functioned flawlessly from 1976 until 1989. It could have produced enough for 20 simple uranium bombs.

So had South Africa sold off surplus stocks? I contacted a former intelligence official under the apartheid regime who had helped procure components for his country's nuclear weapons programme on the black market. "The story is true," he said. "About 50kg were sold to the Iraqis."

For the final stage of my investigation, I used the latest space technology. I bought pictures of Lake Rezzaza taken in July 1989 - two months before the claimed test - by a French Spot Image satellite and compared them with images from the Indian IRS1D spacecraft shot in September 2000.

Professor Bhupendra Jasani of King's College, London, analysed them. He quickly discovered the tunnel Leone and Abbas al-Janabi had told me about. It was 4km long and 400 metres wide and stretched under Lake Rezzaza. Roads led from a railway line to the shaft entrance, a huge rectangular structure. Many lorries could have driven abreast into the tunnel.

To the southwest, Jasani found more evidence of an unusually sensitive military zone - an army base with some 40 buildings, each 40 by 70 metres in size, and a massive missile base nearby.

The September 2000 image showed that 60% of these buildings had been destroyed. Jasani and I assumed this must have been in allied air attacks. When I mentioned this to Leone, however, he said the Iraqis themselves had blown them up to cover up the evidence. At the UN headquarters in New York, I showed my satellite images to UN arms inspectors who confirmed they had never visited the western shore of Lake Rezzaza.

The 2000 picture also provided a vital clue. The shaft entrance was destroyed and the tunnel blocked up, exactly as Leone had told me. I got hold of a third satellite picture from 1990, which revealed that this blocking had happened before the Gulf war in January 1991.

"If you wanted to hide something, I guess this is exactly what you would do," said Jasani.

But was it consistent with this being a nuclear test site? "The infrastructure is certainly consistent with test activity. You require storage sites, vehicle activities, communications systems like the train, railway tracks and roadworks. All of those things you can certainly see on the image," said Jasani.

The tunnel and the entrance were huge and the manpower needed to block it up massive. Leone had told me that thousands of political prisoners worked on the tunnel after a presidential amnesty.

"They were well fed and lived in comfortable caravans. In return, they worked hard. But none of them came out of it alive," he said. "Many were contaminated with radioactive waste. Friends working for Iraqi security who were guarding them said they were buried in caves nearby. The Iraqi regime hoped the secret of the Rezzaza lake test would die with them.

"Hussein Kamel gave the order to kill these people . . . I was disgusted by it and it's one of the major reasons I fled."

This grotesque story was corroborated by Imad. He said he was aware that political prisoners who worked on the Rezzaza tunnel were massacred by Iraqi security guards to conceal an unspecified secret military project. He did not know this was the nuclear test site.

Last year Leone and his family finally reached the West with the help of the UN refugee programme. Although comparatively safe, he fears reprisals. Last week his brother was arrested in Iraq after the Anglo-American air raids.

Leone no longer needs to draw attention to himself to get help, yet he continues to give more details of the bomb programme, insisting that his story is true.

Western intelligence sources, while recognising that he is well informed, continue to insist that he and the other Iraqi sources I have spoken to are wrong about the test. Personally, I think the evidence is compelling.

Roberts & Wykeham 2001 - "Saddam's Bomb" will be broadcast on BBC2's Correspondent programme at 6.20pm next Saturday


February 2001


Magazine



PERES UNMASKS AND JOINS SHARON
(February 27, 2001)
Was it the Likud Party, or the Labor Party, that authorized more illegal settlements in the occupied territories since the Gulf War and the Madrid Peace Conference?

PERES AND COLLEAGUES "SLITHER ON THEIR BELLIES"
(February 26, 2001)
For those who still needed proof of the cravenness and duplicity of Israel's Labor Party, the party that spawned "Peace Now" and "Oslo" among other gross deceptions, it came today.

Defectors say Iraq tested Nuclear Bomb
(February 25, 2001)
When Iraq was more overtly building nuclear weapons, the Israelis struck in 1981 destroying the Osirak reactor near Baghdad that could have provided the crucial processed uranium fuel.

"Go back, we don't want you"
(February 24, 2001)
General Colin Powell, now combining even more closely than usual the Pentagon with the State Department, was afraid to go to Gaza; and rightly so.

The Hebron MASSACRE - 7 long years ago
(February 24, 2001)
Abraham's dysfunctional family has had unbelieveable historical ramifications for which the focal point today is Hebron, site of Abraham's burial place, a religious site to both Jews and Muslim alike who are today quite literally at each other's throats.

Council on foreign relations help legitimize Sharon
(February 23, 2001)
The Council on Foreign Relations, New York-power elite-based but in recent years integrating more with the Washington government and corporate elite, has been for quite some time, to put it bluntly, a rather tricky and chicanery Israeli-oriented Zionist center when it comes to matters relevant to Israel.

Iraq - The great Cover-Up
(February 23, 2001)
As terrible as what the Israelis, with their superpower American ally (and European connivance), are doing to the Palestinians, what has been and is being done to the Iraqis and the Chechnyans is also truly appauling.

Arab expulsion admitted by Sharon Ally
(February 22, 2001)
One day maybe Israel -- like South Africa and Chile before it -- will have some kind of "truth finding" commission to try to purge itself of the past.

Protests in Jordan
(February 22, 2001)
If it weren't for the Hashemite Regime in today's Jordan, yesterday's Transjordan, and before that the East Bank of Palestine, the Israelis would never have been able to vanquish the Palestinian people in days past and would never be able to do to the remaining Palestinians what is happening today.

Powell and Sharon - Street protests?
(February 21, 2001)
Clearly, the US is rushing to court unpopularity across the world, contrary to expectations that the Bush national security establishment would conduct itself with a degree of sophistication.

"This is only the beginning"
(February 21, 2001)
The crippling is not just physical. Psychologically, culturally, economically, and even morally, the Palestinian people are being twisted and tortured beyond all recognition of their former selves.

Gaza Ghetto, Gaza Concentration Camp, Gaza Prison
(February 19, 2001)
For four months, the Gaza Strip has been effectively isolated from the world. Over 1 million Palestinians are caged in an area of not more than 365km2.

Locked in an Orwellian eternal war
(February 19, 2001)
President Bush Jr didn't seem so confident the other day as he told the world of the newly increased bombing of Iraq. But he made it clear that "until the world is told otherwise" the Americans are convinced they run the world and it is up to them to decide whom to bomb, whom to favor, whom to take out, whom to reward.

Arafat collapsing
(February 16, 2001)
The Arafat Regime is collapsing. Here are some of the details, twisted somewhat of course because the reports are from Israel's best newspaper, Ha'aretz, in view of the fact that Palestinian and Arab news sources are unable and unwilling to provide such insights.

The realization, "perhaps the dream"
(February 16, 2001)
Out of the cycle of violence the gradual, hesitant understanding - perhaps the dream - will grow, that the only way is through a struggle to create a land of Israel/Palestine that is undivided in both physical and human terms, pluralistic and open; a land in which civilized relations, human touch, intimate coexistence and a link to a common homeland would be stronger than militant tribalism and the separation into national ghettoes.

"Collective suicide" or Zionism united?
(February 15, 2001)
If there is a national unity government, it will be evident that the differences between Labour as the main branch of the left and the Likud as the main branch of the right are not that big.

Death and assissination
(February 14, 2001)
It didn't take long for the Israelis, now Sharon-led, to start creating the escalating provocations that will then bring about still more Palestinian rage which will then give the Israelis the excuse they seek to pulverize the Palestinians still harder, possibly destroying the regime they earlier created, and possibly leading to another Palestinian "nakbah" (disaster).

Israelis strike, Palestinians without strategy
(February 13, 2001)
The Israelis have had a long-term strategy for a very long time; and they have pursued it regardless of what party was in power and who happened to be Prime Minister of the moment.

Dozens of Palestinians wounded
(February 12, 2001)
Israeli troops shot dead two Palestinians in the West Bank Monday as Israel's rightwing Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon sought to forge a unity government.

"Holy war" is forever
(February 12, 2001)
Fifty four years ago when an international commission of that day was hearing from Jews and Arabs about what the new U.N. should do about Palestine there was testimony from very credible and very establishment Jewish Zionist sources opposing creation of a "separatist Jewish State" precisely because it would bring about an unending conflict with the Palestinian Arab population.

War preparations continue
(February 11, 2001)
The Arafat Regime, the "Authority", is near collapse -- not just financially, but credibility wise as well. The Israeli government is near "unity" -- with General Sharon in charge.

The PA is about to collapse
(February 10, 2001)
How ironic history can be. After generations of struggle and such suffering the regime that rules the Palestinians is now in the hands of Ariel Sharon representing Israel, the U.S. Congress representing the financial levers of the American Empire, and the European governments which in this situation operate on the pretense that they are better than either of the above.

Rocking Israel to its Biblical core
(February 9, 2001)
Well if King David was a nebbish (modern translation might be "nerd"), one has to wonder how history will record Ariel Sharon, the man with such a past whom the Jews of Israel have just overwhelming elected their leader.

Sharon maneuvers for starting position
(February 9, 2001)
It's time for serious political confusion and disinformation now. As the armies prepare themselves for the clashes likely to come in one form or another, the politicians maneuver for new starting positions.

Clinton pardoned Mossad spy for Israelis
(February 9, 2001)
The Israelis adore Bill Clinton, as all the pollsters know. Deep down even the common everyday Israelis know he was their man in the White House.

The many crimes of Ariel Sharon
(February 8, 2001)
Some incorrigible optimists have suggested that only a right-wing extremist of the notoriety of Likud leader Ariel Sharon will have the credentials to broker any sort of lasting settlement with the Palestinians.

Sharon wastes no time - Arafat bows
(February 7, 2001)
We will give him the benefit of the doubt. If he comes with good ideas that will bring us closer to the peace process, why not? The world has seen many such situations before.

Holy war for Jerusalem
(February 7, 2001)
We're on the way now to a new and expanded struggle, maybe even a religious war, Jerusalem the focalpoint.

The cold logic of Sharon
(February 7, 2001)
Many Israelis just stayed home. Others cast a blank vote. But a considerable minority thrust Ariel Sharon into the greatest electoral landslide in that country's history -- obviously as well an overwhelming majority of those who did vote.

Sharon wins and Peres wants in
(February 6, 2001)
He may be a brutish thug, he may fit the definition of war criminal, he may be a Jewish racist -- but now he is also the Prime Minister-elect of Israel, overwhelmingly swept into power in a way few imagined possible just a year ago.

All sides now committed to escalation
(February 6, 2001)
Now the real craziness begins. The Palestinians are committed to heating things up to demonstrate their resolve and their capabilities. The Israelis are committed to "stopping the violence" which means clamping the boot down on the Palestinians even more harshly.

The legacy of Ariel Sharon
(February 5, 2001)
This is a place of filth and blood which will forever be associated with Ariel Sharon. In Israel today, he may well be elected prime minister.

BBC casts doubt of Pan AM convictions
(February 5, 2001)
In advance of whatever the Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi is going to produce as "evidence" of innocence today, the BBC has published the following story quoting the very Scottish law professor who arranged the trial in The Netherlands casting great doubt about the veracity of the verdict reached:

What's left of Israel's left
(February 5, 2001)
What's left of Israel's left is in a fractured and demoralized state of affairs. Not only is Ariel Sharon about to become Israel's Prime Minister, but in all likelihood he is to be swept into power tomorrow in a landslide unprecedented in Israel's history.

The Pan Am 103 Verdict
(February 3, 2001)
The papers are filled with pictures of happy relatives of the victims of the 1988 bombing of PanAm 103. A Libyan, Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, was just found guilty of the bombing by a Scottish court in the Hague, his co-defendant, Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, being acquitted... What's wrong is that the evidence against Megrahi is thin to the point of transparency.

Rivers of blood
(February 2, 2001)
The bloodiness and racism of Sharon's past is fact. And these two articles help bring that past forward to the present.

Waiting for Sharon
(February 2, 2001)
They believe a Sharon victory will be a boon for their cause. 'He will expose the true face of Israel,' says an activist in Yasir Arafat's Fatah movement in Nablus, 'and force the world, including the US, to address its real responsibilities to the peace process...

Israeli Arabs boycott Barak, await Sharon
(February 1, 2001)
As the extreme right-wing revolution in Israel nears, as Ariel Sharon and friends prepare to take over political power, the "Israeli Arab vote" will not be enough to save Ehud Barak, and in fact it will not even be mobilized on his behalf this time, though Yasser Arafat and his friends have surely tried.




© 2004 Mid-East Realities, All rights reserved