Iraq and Its Quest for Nuclear Weapons


By Jim Garamone, AFPS

Map of Iraq. (Click map for screen-resolution image.) (Map courtesy CIA World Factbook.)
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2003 — Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the U.S. military gathered huge piles of information and came up with a long list of "lessons learned."

The United States wasn’t the only place with experts mulling over the war. One Indian general came up with his succinct own lessons learned from the conflict: "Never fight the Americans without nuclear weapons."

A huge post-war surprise for the victorious Gulf War coalition was how close Iraq had been to having nuclear warheads.

Iraq was within months of producing an enriched-uranium nuclear weapon when the Persian Gulf War started in January1991. Had Iraq waited until it had a nuke and had mounted it on a Scud missile begs the question of what the worldwide response would have been to its invasion of Kuwait in August 1990.

Would the United States have been as quick to offer aid to Kuwait? Would any of the Gulf nations have allowed a U.S. or coalition presence if Saddam Hussein had threatened nuclear retaliation? By extension, would or could the United States have been able to mass a coalition?

"The purpose of a terror weapon is to terrorize," Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said during testimony before Congress on Sept. 18, 2002. "And it need not even be used to still be very effective, because it alters behavior. And in the hands of the likes of Saddam Hussein, that is a significant shift in capability and power."

Iraq, with its ties to worldwide terrorism, is a rogue state. Hussein has already used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and his own people. An Iraqi nuclear weapon would clearly be destabilizing.

"His regime has an active program to acquire and develop nuclear weapons," Rumsfeld said. "And let there be no doubt about it, his regime has dozens of ballistic missiles and is working to extend their range in violation of U.N. restriction."

The Persian Gulf War heavily damaged Iraq’s nuclear facilities. Yet Iraq managed to hang on to its scientific and technical expertise. Hussein has kept his core of nuclear experts together.

Experts believe Hussein’s "nuclear holy warriors," as he calls his scientists, have developed the plans for a nuclear weapon. The International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iraqi scientists could fashion a warhead within months if only Hussein could get foreign fissile material.

President Bush addressed the threat of Iraqi nuclear weapons in his State of the Union speech Jan.28. He noted that the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed in its inspections following the Gulf War that Iraq had an advanced nuclear weapons development program and a bomb design. Saddam Hussein’s scientists were also working on five different methods of enriching uranium for a bomb, Bush said.

"The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa," Bush said. "Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production.

"Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities," Bush continued. "He clearly has much to hide."