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– Frank von Hippel
Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
Did Iraqi Materials, Experts Escape?
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Paul Kerr

The unstable security conditions that have reigned in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion may have allowed both unconventional weapons experts and weapons-related equipment to escape, according to U.S. and international officials.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in an Oct.1 letter to the UN Security Council that the agency is “concerned about the widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq’s nuclear program.” Manufacturing equipment and related materials that could assist another country’s nuclear weapons efforts have been removed, the letter said, adding that entire buildings containing such equipment have been dismantled.

A Western diplomat told Arms Control Today Oct.19 that the removal of the equipment and buildings took place “at least through the entirety of 2003,” a period during which the United States exercised formal control over Iraq prior to the establishment of an interim government this past June. At that time, the United States removed nuclear material that posed a potential proliferation threat from Iraq’s Tuwaitha nuclear complex. (See ACT, September 2004.)

ElBaradei’s letter also points out that Security Council resolutions oblige Iraq to report inventory changes at sites subject to agency monitoring, but neither Iraq nor the United States has submitted such reports.

ElBaradei wrote a similar letter to the Security Council in April (see ACT, May 2004), but an IAEA official indicated in an Oct. 19 interview that new evidence has emerged suggesting that the removal of equipment and related materials was “apparently widespread and systematic.”

Tuwaitha contained nuclear material subject to routine IAEA agency safeguards prior to the invasion. The agency has visited the site twice since the invasion, but no proliferation-sensitive material has been found missing.

In addition, Iraq notified the IAEA Oct. 10 of the disappearance after April 2003 of more than 340 metric tons of dual-use conventional high explosives that were subject to agency monitoring prior to the invasion. The explosives can be used in implosion-type nuclear weapons to compress a core of plutonium or uranium to start a nuclear chain reaction. The IAEA last inventoried the stockpiles in January 2003 and spot-checked a portion of them in March 2003.

Other reports from UN inspectors have described in detail the export of materials from Iraq, including missile engines that were associated with Baghdad’s past weapons programs. (See ACT, October 2004.)

Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher acknowledged during an Oct. 12 press briefing that Washington is concerned that “some material might have gotten out into the market immediately after the war.” However, he added that IAEA visits and Iraq’s development of export controls should “prevent any further leakage.”

Iraq’s interim science and technology minister, Rashad Omar, told the Associated Press Oct.13 that Iraq now has control over its former weapons sites.

Scientists

The ongoing insurgency in Iraq has also slowed U.S. efforts to redirect Iraqi scientists and other personnel previously associated with Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. A State Department official told Arms Control Today Oct.18 that these efforts are “progressing more slowly than we would like them to” because of the adverse security conditions.

David Kay, former CIA special adviser to the U.S.-led weapons inspectors, told Arms Control Today in March that some scientists with whom Washington wanted to speak had left the country.

According to the State Department official, the programs have the “overwhelming majority” of relevant Iraqi personnel “identified and engaged.”

Several efforts are underway to redirect former Iraqi weapons personnel. The State Department is in the process of setting up an Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry. That center is tasked with identifying relevant Iraqi personnel and facilitating the development and funding of projects designed to aid Iraqi reconstruction efforts. The center was initially funded with a $2 million grant from the State Department’s Nonproliferation and Disarmament Fund and has access to an additional $2 million. (See ACT, January/February 2004.)

In addition, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has a similar program to be implemented by an international group of scientists. The NNSA announced in June that the project has completed a survey of Iraq’s “science and technology priorities.” NNSA spokesperson Kim Krueger told Arms Control Today Oct. 25 that two pilot projects concerning water resources and public health are to be completed before the end of the year. (See ACT, April 2004.)

Another program, the Iraqi Nonproliferation Programs Foundation, was set up by the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in June. According to the CPA order establishing the program, the foundation was created to develop and finance projects to provide former Iraqi weapons of mass destruction personnel with “opportunities to redirect their expertise to transparent peaceful civilian activities.” The foundation’s mission has not yet been “entirely defined,” the State Department official said.

The foundation received $37.5 million from the Development Fund for Iraq, which the UN Security Council set up for Iraqi reconstruction.