A Nuclear-Armed Iraq Must Be the Next Target
Even before the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan had routed the Taliban regime from physical control of the country and isolated the al Qaeda terrorists in their caves, a debate arose within the Bush administration over the next phase of the global war against terrorism.
The following narrative, assembled from Iraqi documents, defectors and other sources, demonstrates why Iraq must be the next target of U.S. military power:
A small group of men labored to jack up a large platform in the middle of the cavern, watched over intently by Dr. Khalid Ibrahim Sayeed, Dr. Jafaar Dhia Jafaar, and Hussein Kamel al-Majid, son-in-law to Saddam Hussein. Nearby, a yellow enclosed truck waited, emblazoned with a wheat sheaf symbol with “Ministry of Trade” written below it. Shortly before a crane guided by one of the laborers had carefully lifted a six-foot-long, twelve-inch cylinder out of the truck and placed its flat end in a ten-inch-deep cylindrical depression in the center of the platform.
From a distance, it looked like an American midwest farm silo rising from a flat field. A heavy black cable snaked from the cavern floor to the bottom of the platform where one of the workers plugged it into the base of the cylinder. Dr. Khalid checked the connection personally, and nodded to Dr. Jafaar and Kamel.
The rounded end of the cylinder was near the center of the cavernous space when the platform stopped. After a final inspection, Director Kamel and the two scientists climbed into the yellow truck’s cab, and the workers climbed in back. The driver started the engine and followed the thick black cable up the sloping passageway of a huge lava tube connecting the cavern to the surface.
As soon as they exited the tube, a crew of nearly a thousand political prisoners entered the passageway and started erecting a scaffolding several hundred feet into the tunnel. As it went up, they dragged hoses attached to several cement trucks parked outside the lava tube and began to fill the wooden form held in place by the scaffolding. Every six hours a siren sounded and the trucks and other vehicles moved their positions while most of the workers hid inside the tunnel entrance or under camouflaged netting, waiting for the U.S. spy satellite to pass.
It had taken two years to reinforce the ancient lava tube that connected to a large cavern carved by natural forces out of solid rock deep below Lake Rezzaza, a popular 1960s tourist area about 90 miles southwest of Baghdad. From the sky, they appeared to be working on a large-scale irrigation project, complete with water culverts and diversionary locks. A short week later the ancient passageway that surfaced on the lake’s western shore was plugged by 80 feet of solid concrete backed by another 70 feet of boulders and sand.
It was time: 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 19, 1989. Drs. Khalid and Jafaar had assembled their senior staff in a small room in one of the buildings left over from the 1960s tourist trade. They were joined again by Kamel. Arrayed before them was a bank of instruments, and a prominent red button under a clear plastic cover. As the second hand swept to the vertical, Dr. Khalid received a nod from Dr. Jafaar. He lifted the cover and Kamel pressed the button.
Needles on the instruments jumped. There was a slight feeling of motion underfoot, followed by a movement of air that was more sensed than felt. A seismometer at University of Sulaymaniyah’s local seismic station registered a seismic event on the southwestern shore of Lake Rezzaza with an intensity of 2.7 on the Richter scale. Kamel had planned well. Muffled by rock and the lake above, and the four-kilometer-long plugged tunnel, there was no widespread dispersal of the shockwaves. Nobody else measured anything at all.
Later that day, Kamel sent a letter in Arabic to his wife’s father – Saddam Hussein – that read: “With the help of Allah and the effort of the heroic freedom fighters in the Military Industrialization Institution and the Atomic Power Organization, 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 percent …. 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.”
Shortly thereafter, the political prisoners returned and commenced hosing down the still exposed tunnel entrance. The water was drained off through the “irrigation” culverts, which also served to siphon off any contaminated ground water. Then they collapsed the tunnel entrance with conventional explosives until it was completely obliterated. During the process, many of the workers received significant amounts of radioactive exposure, and some of them succumbed. To ensure secrecy, however, when the work was completed, Kamel issued an order to kill those who still were alive, and all thousand of them were all buried in nearby caves.
Before and after satellite photos clearly show the open and then blocked entrance to the cavern, and sophisticated analysis techniques even establish the extent of the buried facilities. Because of careful concealment efforts nothing was even detected from orbit except an apparently routine, large-scale irrigation project. Information supplied three years later by a defector who was a participant on the project shed the first light on Iraq’s new capabilities.
With the data collected from the Lake Rezzaza test, Dr. Khalid and his colleagues were able to construct three of these Hiroshima-type bombs. Dr. Jafaar and his group, using the same data along with technical help from outside Iraq – from the Russians and French, along with plans purchased in the United States – completed construction in 1993 of three implosion-type bombs with significantly greater kilotonnage. Implosion bombs are the first step in the design and construction of thermonuclear devices.
And in the following year, working with Dr Ahmed Abdul Jabar Shansal, they completed three tritium-boosted thermonuclear bombs. The components for all these weapons were assembled at secret locations under Mount Hemrin, about 85 miles northeast of Baghdad, and are presently stored in a deep underground bunker in the Hemrin Mountains.
Farzad Bazoft, a journalist for The London Observer, was investigating the western Lake Rezzaza region four days before the test, when he was arrested. He was executed as a spy the following March.
In 1991, an Iraqi official, Adel Fayed, allowed the United Nations inspection team to view some sensitive documents containing the names of over 200 people closely associated with their nuclear program. Assassins attacked him with knives in his home and cut off his head, under orders of Saddam’s cousin, Ali al-Takriti. Nobody talked to Unscom thereafter.
In August of 1995, Hussein Kamel al-Majid defected to Jordan along with his brother. When they returned to Baghdad the following March after being deceived by a false offer of clemency, both were murdered. All other direct participants in developing the Iraqi nuclear bomb are either comfortable in their present association with Saddam’s regime, or they have been eliminated.
This account remains officially unconfirmed by U.S., British, and Israeli intelligence agencies. But the wide-ranging independent confirmations underscore the credibility of these allegations. These confirmations cover every aspect of the story, including the acquisition of sufficient fissile material from apartheid South Africa through a Brazil intermediary to enable actual construction of the devices.
Iraq at present has at least a dozen Scud missiles capable of delivering these weapons inside a radius of 500 miles, which could strike Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Intelligence reports indicate that by 2005 Iraq will have a modified Scud capable of delivering one of these weapons out to 2,500 miles. There appears little doubt that Iraq currently possesses the ability to rain nuclear terror on its neighbors such as Israel and Turkey, and will soon acquire the ability to threaten all of Europe.
The potential for nuclear attack by the terrorist regime in Baghdad is not an abstract, notional possibility. It is a clear and present danger that the civilized world will ignore at its peril.
Robert G. Williscroft is DefenseWatch Navy Editor