Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Programme

Kalpana Chittaranjan, Researcher, IDSA


On January 30, 1999, the UN Security Council approved the creation of three panels : to "reestablish an effective disarmament/ongoing monitoring and verification regime;"1 to study humanitarian issues such as improving the availability of food and medicine; and to look into what to do about the more than 600 people who disappeared after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait as well as missing Kuwaiti property. All three panels were headed by Brazil's Ambassador to the United Nations, Celso Amorim. The panels were created following the withdrawal of UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel in mid-December 1998. Earlier, Iraq had banned UNSCOM and IAEA weapons inspections on August 5, 1998, and banned monitoring activities on October 31, 1998. Immediately after the withdrawal of the weapons inspectors, the USA and Britain conducted air strikes on Iraq from December 16-19, 1998 ending 14 months of the cat-and-mouse game with Iraq, during which US President Bill Clinton had three times pulled back from the brink of war—in November 1997 and again in February and November 1998. An hour after the airstrikes started, in an internationally televised explanation, Clinton stated, " Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbours or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons," adding, "Saddam has disarmed the inspectors. This situation presents a clear and present danger to the stability of the Persian Gulf and the safety of people everywhere."2

Celso Amorim, the chairman of all three panel reports on Iraq issued its findings to the UN on March 30, 1999, and made a presentation to the Security Council on April 7, the day on which the Council began a new debate on a new Iraq policy. The disarmament panel had consisted of 20 members, 11 of whom were representatives of UNSCOM, and three were from the IAEA. Amorim said that this panel stressed the urgency of returning inspectors to Iraq, noting that their absence "was seen as substantially increasing th risk that Iraq might try to reconstitute its proscribed weapons programmes."3 He stressed on the panel's key recommendations, i.e., that there are outstanding disarmament issues but that these can be resolved through a reinforced system of monitoring Iraq's banned weapons programmes. In response, Iraq angrily denounced the panel reports, stating that the panel's conclusions not only provided "the enemies of Iraq with the pretext for future aggression," but that they would infringe Iraq's territorial sovereignty and dignity. The statement went on to declare, "Such a position will never be accepted by the government of Iraq."4 The Security Council finds itself at an impasse over the debate on Iraq. While the US and Britain have argued that Council resolutions require Iraq to disarm itself of unconventional weapons and meet its other commitments before sanctions are lifted, by contrast, Russia and China have argued that sanctions are no longer warranted as most questions surrounding Iraq's past weapons programmes have been answered. Amorim tried to strike a balance by arguing that a reinforced long-term monitoring system could both answer questions about Iraq's past programmes as well as monitor future ones. While he recommended that steps should be taken to get more food and medicine to Iraq, he did not urge that sanctions be lifted.5

As the impasse continues, it becomes relevant to understand why Iraq developed a nuclear weapons programme, when it was started and what its status is today.

Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Programme

Pre-Gulf War

In theory, it is now possible that with so much information available on the Internet alongwith nuclear-sensitive material that has been declassified, anyone with the help of any modern university with a good library, sufficient resources, advanced scientific ability as well as some specialist help, should be able to make a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). In the late 1970s, this is what Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was led to believe. However, as it turned out, some critical considerations in this endeavour were ignored. Building a reliable and deliverable nuclear weapon requires a vast industrial base, long-term planning and a programme that needs to be intensely focussed. It is now accepted by most analysts that if Saddam Hussein had not invaded Kuwait when he did, Iraq could well have built its bomb by now and that, while the country faced serious problems in the development of a nuclear weapon at the time of the Gulf War, it was about two years away from producing the first Arab bomb using indigenous facilities.6 How close Iraq was to completing a bomb at the time of the Gulf War is still open to debate. A group of nuclear weapon designers from the USA, Britain, France and Russia met in April 1992 at the request of the IAEA to assess the progress of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme prior to the Persian Gulf War, based on documents that had been obtained through subsequent inspections. These designers are reported to have concluded that bottlenecks in the programme could have delayed completion of a working bomb for at least three years, assuming that Iraq had continued its multifaceted strategy and design approach. This assessment was debatable because several experts familiar with the inspections believe that had Iraq decided to seize foreign-supplied highly-enriched uranium (HEU) which was under safeguards and focus attention on a crash programme to produce a device in the shortest possible amount of time, the country could probably have produced a workable device in as little as 6 to 24 months.7

What were early Western assessments of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme? It was presumed by the US intelligence community and others, as of 1989, that Iraq was interested in acquiring a nuclear explosives capability, based on evidence that the country was acquiring nuclear-related equipment and materials without regard for immediate need. Iraq had ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1969 but there were indications that it had been striving to possess nuclear weapons for a long time. However, amazement has been expressed at the "true breadth of Saddam's nuclear weapons enterprise as well as the skill with which it was kept hidden from prying eyes, both on the ground and above it";8 by David Albright, who has spent time with the IAEA Action Team in Iraq and is president of the Institute of Science and Internationl Security in Washington DC. In spite of indications of at least some use of fronts for nuclear-related procurement, as of early 1990, however, it was believed that Iraq was not in possession either of weapons-grade fission material (HEU or plutonium) or of installations for its production (uranium-enrichment installations, plutonium producing reactors, reprocessing equipment). The USA imposed a de facto embargo on the export of nuclear-related commodities to nuclear end-users during the Iran-Iraq War and with the exception of China and Argentina, other nuclear suppliers had similar policies. When ceasefire was declared, the US urged a number of nuclear suppliers not to resume their pre-war practice of permitting export of nuclear commodities to Iraq and Iran.9 Iraqi efforts were observed to have increased in the acquisition of modern technology for the construction of its own armaments industry from the industrialised nations through a network of organisations in Iraq and cover companies and subsidiaries abroad since 1987, but apart from projectile and chemical-weapons technology, one of the main obstacles in the way of Iraqi efforts was nuclear technology. While there was little evidence of an Iraqi military nuclear programme or information concerning the transfer of nuclear weapon-related technology or equipment to Iraq prior to the Gulf War, it was certain that Iraq intended to build a secret uranium enrichment plant that used the gas-centrifuge process. It was thus concluded that Iraq was attempting to produce weapons-grade, HEU as there was no recognisable civil need for a uranium-enrichment plant and Iraq did not have any nuclear energy plants either in operation or under construction. By the middle of 1988, Iraq had been trying to acquire the components and technology for uranium enrichment by means of the gas-centrifuge process from Great Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), Holland and France. Efforts in this regard were partially successful. From information obtained in connection with procurement efforts from these countries, it became apparent that technical data and construction documents classified as confidential pertaining to German centrifuges types had already made their way to Iraq but to what extent and in what ways this occurred was not known with any certainty. By early 1990, it could not be definitely ascertained how far Iraq had been successful in its efforts to employ experts from the FRG for the development and construction of gas centrifuges in 1988-89. Indications were available that the Iraqi armaments firm, "Al Quqa State Establishment", which had experience in modern high explosives and high-velocity measurement techniques, was involved in the development of the non-nuclear components of a nuclear weapon. Also, the armaments firm, "Nassr State Enterprise for Mechanichal Industries", in Taji, near Baghdad, was viewed as probably involved in the development and production of gas centrifuges. There was no evidence of direct support to Iraq in its development of nuclear weapons as of 1990 and in the light of the state of affairs of Iraqi nuclear technology, the Western assessment was that the implementation of a possible nuclear-weapons development programme would be unlikely to succeed before 1995 without significant support from abroad. The Iraqi nuclear programme was massive, fiscally unconstrained, close to fielding a nuclear weapon and less vulnerable to destruction by precision bombing than coalition air commanders and planners and US intelligence specialists realised before Desert Storm. This is evidenced from the fact that while UNSCOM inspectors eventually uncovered more than 20 sites involved in the Iraqi nuclear programme, 16 of which were described as "main facilities," the target list on January 16, 1991 contained only two nuclear targets.10 The IAEA, which could be inferred to mean the Western powers, was aware that when the coalition forces launched the Gulf War ground campaign, Iraq had a total of almost 14 kg of Russian-supplied 80 per cent enriched uranium, 11.9 kg of lightly irradiated 93 percent uranium and almost 0.5 kg of 93 per cent HEU, the latter two of which were bought from France. While all of this had been subject to IAEA scrutinies, Dr David Kay, , chief inspector of the three early UN nuclear weapon inspections in post-Gulf War Iraq, believed that all of this had been very cleverly manipulated by Iraq.11

Why were Western analysts unable to assess correctly the extent of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme, i.e., the "remarkable clandestine nuclear materials production and weapons design of unexpected size and sophistication."12 It was revealed that there were critical weaknesses in inspection routines, export controls as well as intelligence-gathering and sharing. It is now known that thousands of people were involved in the Iraqi nuclear programme but it was not until later that the number of Iraqi students who had been sent abroad to acquire the necessary expertise was known. It was rare to have students sent to the same universities or countries which made it difficult for any one country to appreciate the breadth of technical skills being amassed by Iraq. Another problem was keeping track of individual Iraqi scientists. An example has been given by David Kay who revealed that while he was in Iraq, he had dealt for months with a senior Iraqi scientist whose entire university training from undergraduate to doctorate level had been in the USA and whose first job had been at a US nuclear power plant. It was discovered that the basic data on, or pictures of, this key individual could not be found. Immediately prior to the Gulf War, the Iraqis received generous amounts of aid from their chief antagonists, the Americans. When the USA was providing arms to Iran in the hope of getting their hostages in Lebanon freed, it was also rushing classified satellite intelligence to Iraq as it came in. As a result, the Iraqis had an excellent idea of what the Americans could see, and, by extension, how they could be fooled. On numerous occasions, the Iraqis demonstrated that they had an accurate understanding of the limitations of US technical collection systems and of how data gathered by such systems was interpreted. As Kay stated, "The catalogue of techniques is long. It includes construction of buildings within buildings (Tuwaitha); deliberately constructing buildings designed to the same plans and for the same purposes to look different (Ash Sharqat and Tarmiya); hiding power and water feeds to mislead as to facility use (Tarmiya); disguising operational state (Al Atheer); diminishing the value of a facility by apparent low security and lack of defences (Tarmiya); severely reducing off-site emissions (Tuwaitha and Tarmiya); moving critical pieces of equipment as well as dispersing and placing facilities under- ground."13

With the benefit of hindsight, what do we now know of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme prior to the Gulf War? The code name for Iraq's secret nuclear programme was "Petrochemical Project Three" (PC-3), which was conducted under the auspices of the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialisation. It has been established that Iraq had a very well-funded nuclear weapons programme aimed at the indigenous development and exploitation of technologies for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material and the development and production of nuclear weapons. The target date for the first weapon was set at 1991. However, it is now supposed that the first device containing indigenously produced HEU, would not have been available before late 1992. Equally, the demonstration needed for a delivery capability in Iraq's strategy to acquire a small nuclear arsenal before testing would not have been possible until 1994.14

Iraq's nuclear programme comprised:15

l Indigenous production and overt and covert procurement of natural uranium compounds.

l Industrial-scale facilities for the production of pure uranium compounds suitable for fuel fabrication or isotopic enrichment.

l Research and development of the full range of enrichment technologies culminating in the industrial-scale exploitation of EMIS (electromagnetic isotope separators) and substantial progress towards similar exploitation of gas centrifuge enrichment technology.

l Design and feasibility studies for an indigenous plutonium production reactor although there were no indications that Iraq's plans for an indigenous plutonium production reactor had proceeded beyond a feasibility study.

l Research and development of irradiated fuel reprocessing technology.

l Research and development of weaponisation capabilities for implosion-based nuclear weapons at the Al Atheer nuclear weapons development and production plant.

l A "crash programme" aimed at diverting safeguarded research reactor fuel and recovering the HEU for use in a nuclear weapon.

Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was established in 1988 with an estimated 7,000 scientists and 20,000 workers (the total value of the programme was initially estimated at about $5 billion which later considerations pegged at double that ) and the objective was to produce a small arsenal of weapons, with the first device to be developed by 1991. However, the three main components of the programme, i.e., the production of HEU from domestic sources of uranium, the design and production of a viable device and the development of a delivery system had not progressed equally and so the planned schedule could not be met. The PC-3 Fourth Group (Weaponisation) group or the weapon design component had made the best progress and was confident that despite solutions to a few problems remaining, the finalisation of a viable design could have been achieved close to schedule. The production of HEU by enrichment of domestic uranium, pursued through the two parallel lines of EMIS and gas centrifuges was far behind schedule. By January 1991, EMIS was years away from completion and centrifuge enrichment was still at the stage of single machine testing. Where the design and development of the delivery system was concerned, the programme had progressed through several meetings and detailed technical exchanges during the latter half of 1990 between the nuclear weapon and missile groups. It was estimated that the modification of the Al Hussein missile which was being designed with a separable warhead to deliver a payload of 1 ton over a distance of 600 km could have been completed within six months. While Iraq had developed or otherwise acquired many of the technologies required to produce deliverable nuclear weapons, the attempt made by it to assemble a nuclear device by diverting HEU from their safeguarded research reactor was a clear indication that its uranium enrichment programme was still far from production in January 1991.16

Iraq had made a deliberate effort to make its nuclear programme self-sufficient and to reduce its reliance on foreign suppliers. As Dr Jafar dhia Jafar, leader of Iraq's nuclear weapons effort claimed, it was the Israeli aircraft bombing of the Osirak nuclear reactor at Tuwaitha in 1981 that led to the country deciding to reduce their reliance on foreign suppliers, attain nuclear self-sufficiency, and going "underground." An example of how Iraq went about implementing this policy of self-sufficiency was the decision to invest billions of dollars in uranium enrichment through electro-magnetic isotope separation or the "calutron" programme which did not have to depend on sophisticated imports needed for more modern and efficient methods of uranium enrichment. The Iraqi calutron programme was largely indigenous. It was an improvement over the technology used by the USA in the 1940s. David Albright has stated that in the evaluation of enrichment technologies, the Iraqis saw many advantages in EMIS technology, the first of which is that this procedure involves large and static pieces of equipment. This was regarded by Iraq as preferable to gas centrifuge programmes that required advanced engineering technology which was ill-suited to a developing country with a limited industrial base.17


Activities were first carried out at Tuwaitha and later at Al Atheer (about 50 km south of Baghdad) aimed at the production of a nuclear device. The minister who inaugurated Al Atheer likened it to "Los Alamos." The involvement of the Al Qa Qaa State Establishment in support of the development of the implosion package began in 1987. Iraq had made significant progress in weaponisation technologies before 1991. It possessed flash x-ray photography equipment and high speed streak cameras (from Hamamatsu Photonics of Japan) as well as maraging steel from European suppliers which are useful in the research and development phase for studying the timing and compression achieved by a nuclear implosion design. Sophisticated work in metallurgy, chemistry and detonation engineering was also carried out at Al Atheer. The dimensions of the explosive lens, a significant decision, was taken at a meeting on January 12, 1991. Where the question of a missile delivery vehicle was concerned, the conceptual nuclear weapon design of 1988, the first weapon of which was to have been ready by 1991, was deemed to be far too heavy to be delivered by missile. The PC-3 Fourth Group (Weapon Development) was then advised to modify the design "with a view to reducing the total weight of the projectile (payload) to about one ton or less."18 In this connection, three delivery vehicle options seem to have been pursued and though deemed impractical by the Iraqis, it was supposed that the "crash programme" necessitated the initiation of the production (August/September 1990) of a derivative of the Al Hussein/Al Abbas missile designed to deliver a warhead of one ton up to 650 km and to accommodate a nuclear package of 80 cm diameter. The "Crash Programme" initiated in the latter part of 1990 was to comprise the chemical processing of both unirradiated and irradiated research reactor fuel placed under IAEA safeguards in order to recover HEU from the fuel; the reenrichment of part of the HEU through the use of a 50-machine centrifuge cascade which was to have been specially constructed for the purpose; fabrication of the implosion package; selection and construction of a test site and options for a delivery system; and the conversion of the HEU chemical compounds to metal. According to the Iraqi scientists, assembling the nuclear device could not have been possible before the end of 1992. However, had the HEU recovery and enrichment process been successful, it could have resulted in the availability, by the end of 1991 of a quantity of HEU sufficient to manufacture a single low-yield nuclear device. The plans could not be implemented because of the Allied forces bombing in January 1991 which destroyed the technical tools for the processing of HEU contained in the safeguarded research reactor fuel at the nuclear research centre at Tuwaitha.19

Foreign Assistance

In pursuing its objective of acquiring an atom bomb, Iraq received much foreign aid, the bulk of which came from Western Europe. The Swiss company Asea Brown Boveri provided a state-of-the-art cold isostatic press which could be used to shape explosive charges. Other Swiss firms included Acomel SA of Neuchatel (five high frequency inverters suitable for centrifuge cascades) and Balzer AG and VAT AG, (apart from the US company Nupro, shipped 700 uranium hexafluoride-resistant bellows-valves). During the apartheid regime, Armscor of South Africa supplied Iraq with the G5 gun-howitzer, a 155mm artillery piece. Many of the bulky calutron pole magnets used to enrich uranium were produced in Austria by an Austrian state-owned firm that shipped the finished products to Iraq. The high-quality copper that was used to wrap these magnets was produced in Finland to Iraqi specifications. Carlos Cardoen of Chile exported hundreds of tonnes of HMX high explosive (some of which could be used in the making of the nuclear device). Both pre and post unification Germany has featured widely in almost every phase of the Iraqi nuclear programme. German companies, included international conglomerates like Siemens AG (a workshop for 'tube processing); H&H Metalform (flow-forming machines to make maraging steel rotor tubes for centrifuges); Neue Magdeburger Werkzeugmachinen GmbH (aluminium forgings and a CNC machine to machine casings); Rhein-Bayern Fahrzeugbau GbH (240, 000 magnetisable ferrite spacers for centrifuges); Degussa AG (oxidation furnaces), Leybold Heraeus (electron beam welder); Reutlinger und Sohne KG (centrifuge balancing machines); Arthur Pfeiffer Vakuum Tecknik GmbH (vacuum induction furnace); and others. German aid also came in the form of technicians who were secretly hired to work on the Arab bomb project. When the IAEA uncovered names, some of them were charged with treason and several were jailed. Among them were Bruno Stemmler, Walter Busse and Karl-Heinz Schaab.20 The three men had worked on the centrifuge programme at MAN Technologie AG of Munich. Busse and Stemmler came to Iraq under the sponsorship of H&H Metalform. They operated efficiently as a team and met many of Iraq's technical requirements, apart from assisting in locating international suppliers. Their assistance greatly accelerated Iraq's centrifuge design process and speeded up the acquisition of necessary, know-how and equipment for manufacture. Earlier, some Iraqis had already spent time in URENCO-contractor installations in exchange programmes so that they could familiarise themselves with complex centrifuge-related procedures. British companies like Endshire Export Marketing, which met an order for ring magnets that had come from Inwako GmbH, a firm directed by the German arms dealer Simon Heiner, were also involved.21

Post Gulf-War (UN Resolutions 687 and 715)

At the end of the Gulf War, on April 3, 1991, the Security Council, acting in accordance with Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which makes it mandatory to establish the conditions required for the restoration of peace and security, adopted Resolution 687.22 Among other conditions, Section C of Resolution 687 bans Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capabilities and long-range ballistic missiles. Thus, not only are the weapons banned but the capability for them is prohibited. The ban covers research and development, production, use, testing, support, repair and maintenance of such weapons, their delivery means and all sub-components and associated equipment. While Paragraph 10 of Resolution 687 requests "the Secretary-General, in consultation with the Special Commission, to develop a plan for the future ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq's compliance," Paragraphs 12 and 13 deal in similar fashion with nuclear weapons, requesting the director-general of the IAEA, with the assistance and cooperation of UNSCOM, "to develop a plan, taking into account the rights and obligations" of the NPT "for the future ongoing monitoring and verification of Iraq's compliance with Paragraph 12." Security Council Resolution 715, which was approved by the Security Council on October 11, 1991, contained plans by UNSCOM and the IAEA for future, ongoing monitoring and verification. This resolution requested UNSCOM and the IAEA to implement their plans and further requested "the Committee established under Resolution 661, the Special Commission and the Director-General of the IAEA to develop in cooperation a mechanism for monitoring any future sales or supplies by other countries to Iraq of items relevant to the implementation of Section C" of Resolution 687 and other relevant resolutions, including items specified within Resolution 715 and the two plans approved under this resolution.23 The plan for the IAEA under Resolution 715 starts with an introduction which places it in the context of previous resolutions and requests from the Security Council. It was noted that the plan would enter into force upon adoption and that ongoing monitoring and verification should be undertaken in parallel with the identification and destruction phases specified in Resolution 687.

According to David Albright, "Even as Iraq was agreeing, under the terms of Resolution 687, to disclose its nuclear programme and bring it to an end, it was developing a broad strategy for hiding evidence of the programme and misleading UN inspectors about it."24 Albright states that before the war itself, Iraq had already learned how to hide its nuclear programmes and their locations and to conceal a vast procurement network that gathered classified documents and special materials from abroad. When the Gulf War ended in April 1991, Iraq began salvaging equipment from damaged buildings and returning hidden items to the facilities where they had been placed before the war. However, it soon started hiding equipment again. Materials that could have revealed the extent of the nuclear programme were boxed up and concealed underground, at military sites and even in private homes. Albright gives an instance of a group of key documents which was transferred to an ordinary railway freight car, which had its doors welded shut. The car , which was left unguarded, travelled continuously between Mosul in northern Iraq and Basra in the south. Few knew of its existence.25

Iraq soon realised that UNSCOM and the IAEA Action Team inspections were going to be far more intrusive than the traditional IAEA safeguards inspections had been as the post-war inspectors had access to intelligence information from IAEA member states (mainly the USA) and overhead photos which were particularly helpful in their initial inspection efforts. The inspection teams themselves, which included both IAEA safeguards inspectors and nuclear experts from member states, were more aggressive.

In two no-notice inspections at dawn on September 23 and 24, 1991, the Action Team and UNSCOM learned that important nuclear documents were stored in downtown Baghdad. The inspectors found at the Nuclear Design Centre and PC-3 headquarters, design, production, operations, procurement, and personnel records proving that Iraq had been in the midst of a full blown programme designed to produce HEU (and possibly plutonium) and turn it into deliverable, implosion-type nuclear weapons.26 It was only when Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, General Hussein Kamel, former head of the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialisation (MIMI) defected to Jordan in August 1995 that Iraq was forced to reveal significant new details about its weaponisation programme, which included the existence of a well-funded nuclear weapons programme that aimed to put a warhead on an intermediate-range ballistic missile, and the crash programme, launched after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, that had as its objective turning a stock of safeguarded HEU into a nuclear weapon. With Kamel's defection, Iraq had no option but to hand over to the IAEA half a million pages of secret documents, about 20 tons of high-strength maraging steel and stocks of carbon fibre for more than a thousand gas centrifuges.27

Current US Policy Towards Iraq

Bill Clinton delivered an announcement on December 19, 1998 to state that allied air strikes against Iraq had concluded. He said:28

Based on the briefing I have just received, I am confident we have achieved our mission. We have inflicted significant damage on Saddam's weapons of mass destruction programmes, on the command structures that direct and protect that capability, and on his military and security infrastructure.... So long as Saddam remains in power, he will remain a threat to his people, his region and the world. With our allies, we must pursue a strategy to contain him and to constrain his weapons of mass destruction programme, while working toward the day Iraq has a government willing to live at peace with its people and with its neighbours. Let me describe the elements of that strategy going forward. First, we will maintain a strong military presence in the area and we will remain ready to use it if Saddam tries to rebuild his weapons of mass destruction, strikes-out at his neighbours, challenges allied aircraft or moves against the Kurds. We also will continue to enforce "no-fly" zones....Second, we will sustain what have been among the most extensive sanctions in UN history. To date, they have cost Saddam more than $ 120 billion, resources that otherwise would have gone toward rebuilding his military. At the same time, we will support a continuation of the oil-for-food programme, which generates more than $ 10 billion a year for food, medicine and other critical humanitarian supplies for the Iraqi people....Third, we would welcome the return of UNSCOM and the IAEA back into Iraq to pursue their mandate through the United Nations, provided that Iraq first takes concrete, affirmative and demnstrable actions to show that it will fully cooperate with the inspectors. But if UNSCOM is not allowed to resume its work on a regular basis, we will remain vigilant and prepared to use force if we see that Iraq is rebuilding its weapons programmes. Now, over the long term, the best way to end the threat that Saddam poses to his own people in the region is for Iraq to have a different government. We will intensify our engagement with the Iraqi opposition groups, prudently and effectively. We will work with Radio Free Iraq....And we will stand ready to help a new leadership in Baghdad that abides by its international commitments and respects the rights of its own people.

While on a visit through Arab capitals, US Secretary of State Madeleine K Albright described the new US policy towards Iraq as "containment plus regime change."29 On January 21, 1999, while addressing the Centre for National Policy, Albright announced the appointment of American diplomat, Frank Ricciardone, as Special Representative for Transition in Iraq.30 Ricciardone would, in effect, have to coordinate the efforts at organising Iraqi opposition which the US Congress had funded with $97 million.31


What we now know of Iraq's nuclear programme is that for ten years before the Gulf War, it was involved in a large clandestine effort— approximately $8-10 billion, more than 20 sites and more than 15,000 people—pursuing multiple routes to enrich uranium, directed toward producing nuclear weapons. Foreign assistance, both technical and equipment, from Western-based companies, and the lax export control regimes operated by several Western allies played a major role in this programme. In 1987, the Iraqis also embarked on a testing programme to field radiological weapons which would have had as "their sole purpose rendering large areas uninhabitable and terrorizing civilian populations." Soon after its invasion of Kuwait, the Iraqis embarked on a crash programme to strip the uranium out of the fuel in their safeguarded research reactor and further enrich it in a secret centrifuge facility. The aim of this crash effort was to produce a single nuclear device by April 1991.32

Iraq had invested a great amount of effort in concealing and suppressing the evidences related to its nuclear weapon programme. This shows that with enough effort and resources, a country can hide from international view the size and specifications of its nuclear weapon programme and pursue a clandestine programme within the NPT by circumventing the treaty's safeguard system.33 As a result of the lessons learned from the Iraqi case, a major effort was made to improve the IAEA safeguards system.34

What is Iraq's current nuclear weapon status? Though it has suffered considerable damage from coalition bombing, and IAEA monitoring has ensured that all of its fissile material has been removed, Iraq retains considerable expertise in the form of its pool of 7,000 scientists and engineers who had constituted the backbone of its earlier effort. In late 1996, Hans Blix, the former director of the IAEA, publicly expressed concern when he said, "The know-how and expertise acquired by Iraqi scientists and engineers could provide an adequate basis for reconstituting a nuclear weapon-based programme," adding, "A continuing high-level of vigilance, is therefore, necessary."35 Additionally, its past programmes have not been totally wasted efforts as Iraq's scientists have narrowed down the "dead ends" that could waste time and resources for a future programme.36

Where the question of reconstituting a nuclear programme is concerned, the CIA had estimated in 1992 that of all of Iraq's WMD programmes, the "nuclear weapons programme would need the most time to recover because much of the infrastructure for the production of fissile material would need to be reconstructed" and that the time needed for reconstituting could be measured "in a few rather than many years." In the same year, the estimate was sharpened to "five to seven years if UN inspections and sanctions were to cease." However, with foreign assistance, Iraq could rebuild it programme faster.37 In an exchange of correspondence that was released by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), Washington, D.C., on May 3, 1999, it was revealed that the US State Department had disclosed that it was "engaged" with United Nations inspection agencies in investigating intelligence reports that Iraq possessed complete sets of nuclear-bomb components but without the fissile material. In its response, the NCI criticised the IAEA for minimising Iraq's weaponisation progress which, according to it, was "based upon highly questionable Iraqi documents that may well be forgeries."38

While it is not clear what Saddam Hussein has gained through his brinkmanship with the USA, the case of Iraq has put the issue of sanctions on Iraqi WMD back on the international agenda and exposed weaknesses in the Security Council position against him. Now that UNSCOM inspectors are no longer present to monitor the situation, Iraq is probably rehiding materials that were in danger of being discovered.39

Today, while UN inspections have ceased, sanctions remain firmly in place. Meanwhile, US warplanes continue to enforce the "no-fly" zones in Iraq by bombing Iraqi air defence sites.40 Unless there is a change of regime, the stalemate is likely to continue.



1. Howard Diamond, "UN Creates New Panel to Review Iraqi Disarmament," Arms Control Today, January/February 1999, at URL

2. Barton Gellman, "US Strikes at Iraqi Targets," The Washington Post, December 17, 1998.

3. AP, "UN Security Council Debates New Policy on Iraq," The New York Times, April 8, 1999.

4. Judith Miller, "Iraq Rejects Panels' Efforts to End Impasse on Security Council," The New York Times, April 9, 1999.

5. Ibid.

6. Al J Venter, "How Saddam Almost Built His Bomb," Jane's Intelligence Review, vol. 9, no. 12, December 1997.

7. Federation of American Scientists, "Iraqi Nuclear Weapons," at URL

8. n. 6.

9. Federation of American Scientists, "Early Western Assessments: What Did We Know and When Did We Know It?" at URL For details on Iraq's nuclear programme, see Leonard Spector, Mark McDonough and Evan Medeiros, Tracking Nuclear Weapons: A Guide in Maps and Charts 1995 (Washington DC: Carnegie Endowment, 1995). For a personal account of the inner workings of Iraq's nuclear weapons programme, see Khidhir Hamza, "Iside Saddam's Secret Nuclear Programme," The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, vol. 54, no.5, September/October 1998, pp.26 to 33.

10. Ibid.

11. n.6.

12. Ibid.

13. Ibid.

14. n.7.

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid.

17. n.6.

18. n.7.

19. Ibid.

20. Schaab was in the news recently when, on February 1, 1999, the German attorney general's office in Karlsruhe, on February 1, 1999, charged the former consultant and technician for the Urenco gas centrifuge enrichment programme—with espionage and high treason in connection with aid he provided to Iraq's centrifuge programme in 1989 and 1990. While it was discovered in 1992 that Schaab had sold carbon fibre centrifuge rotors to IPC, an undercover procurement organisation in Baghdad (export of the rotors was forbidden under German nuclear trade restrictions), in 1995 it was learned that Schaab had sold Iraq classified design blueprints giving the Iraqis a virtually complete picture of TC-11, an advanced super-critical Urenco machine. See Mark Hibbs, "Attorney General Charges Schaab with Treason in Centrifuge Case," Nucleonics Week, vol. 40, no. 7, February 18, 1999, p. 14.

21. n. 6.

22. For the text of United Nations Security Council S/RES/687(1991), April 3 1991, see SIPRI Yearbook 1992: Armaments Disarmament and International Security (London: Oxford University Press, 1992), appendix 13 A, pp. 525-530.

23. Tim Trevan, "Ongoing Monitoring and Verification in Iraq," Arms Control Today, vol.24, no.4, May 1994, p. 11.

24. David Albright, "Masters of Deception," The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, vol. 54, no. 3, May/June 1998.

25. Ibid.

26. For an overview of the experiences and challenges faced by UNSCOM inspectors and the IAEA Action Team, see Ibid., and for a brief report on IAEA findings on Iraq's nuclear weapons programme, see Federation of American Scientists, "IAEA and Iraqi Nuclear Weapons at URL

27. n. 6.

28. The Washington Post, December 20, 1998.

29. Thomas W. Lippman, "US Builds Support for Ouster of Saddam," The Washington Post, January 29, 1999.

30. Official Text, "Albright Remarks to Center for National Policy January 21," USIS, N Delhi.

31. n. 29.

32. Dr David A. Kay, "Detecting Cheating on Nonproliferation Regimes: Lessons from our Iraqi Experience," in Barry R. Schneider and William L. Dowdy eds., Pulling Back from the Nuclear Brink: Reducing and Countering Nuclear Threats, (London: Frank Cass, 1998), p.17.

33. Shahram Chubim, "Eliminating Weapons of Mass Destruction," (Washington DC: The Henry L. Stimson Center, March 1997), pp. 15-16.

34. Bruno Pellaud and Richard Hooper, "IAEA Safeguards in the 1990's: Building from Experience," Atoms for Peace, vol.37, no.1, pp. 14-20. Also, see Suzanna van Moyland, The IAEA's Programme '93 + 2', (London: VERTIC, 1997).

35. Quoted in Office of the Secretary of Defense, Proliferation: Threat and Response, (Washington DC: Department of Defense, November 1997), p.31.

36. n.33, p.16.

37. For a comprehensive account of Iraq's efforts at reconstituting its nuclear programme, see David Albright and Khidhir Hamza, "Iraq's Reconstitution of its Nuclear Weapons Programme," Arms Control Today, vol.28, no.7, October 1998, pp.9 to 15.

38. URL

39. SIPRI, SIPRI YEARBOOK 1998: Armaments, Disarmament and International Security, (London, Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 105.

40. The New York Times, April 30, 1999 and The Washington Post, May 3, 1999.