Published on Sunday, September 15, 2002 in the Toronto Sun
Saddam's Nukes are a Western Myth
by Eric Margolis
BARCELONA, Spain -- Does Iraq have nuclear weapons? Last week, Britain's authoritative International Institute for Strategic Studies issued a study that concluded Iraq had the ability to produce a few nuclear devices, but lacked the enriched uranium or plutonium to do so.
The institute's report seemed timed to provide more justification for a U.S.-British attack on Iraq. The U.S. and British governments as well as world media seized on the report to intensify claims that Iraq was a grave nuclear threat.
As a long-time member of the institute, I was disappointed that it would appear to bend to pressure from the British government by producing a report that was misleading and sensational. Instead of supporting "regime change" in Baghdad, the IISS might do better to review its own weak leadership at London HQ.
Iraq has no nuclear weapons or fissionable materials. This fact has been certified by the UN's nuclear inspection agency. As to IISS claims Iraq has the capability to produce nuclear devices, so do more than 40 nations. Making a nuclear weapon is relatively simple. Take 4-9 kilos of highly enriched uranium or plutonium, surrounded with a specially shaped shell of high-explosive lenses, and detonate.
The recipe is available on the Internet. The trick is acquiring highly enriched uranium or plutonium. This process requires hugely expensive, laborious separation and enrichment using banks of centrifuges, as well as expertise in fusing, and shaped-charge explosives.
In the 1980s, Iraq was indeed working on a crude nuclear weapon. Saudi Arabia secretly funded this top secret project in order to counter Israel's large nuclear arsenal, believed to number over 200 devices. Iraq acquired uranium from South Africa in exchange for oil. South Africa, which produced eight nuclear devices, secretly obtained its nuclear weapons technology from Israel. Ironically, South Africa later sold the Israeli uranium enrichment technology to Iraq.
The Bush Sr. trap
When Saddam Hussein stumbled into the trap laid for him by George Bush Sr. by invading Kuwait in 1990, his scientists were within a few years of producing a primitive nuclear test device. During the 1991 Gulf war, Iraq's total nuclear and, in fact, total national industrial infrastructure, were pulverized by massive U.S. bombing. Before the war, Iraq had been the most technologically developed and best educated nation in the Arab world. After, Iraq was reduced to pre-World War I level, with even its water and sewage systems wrecked by America's ruthless air campaign.
However, Iraq still retains a cadre of about 10,000 trained nuclear scientists and technicians. Unless they are all shot, Iraq will in theory be able one day to build a nuclear weapon, provided it can obtain fissionable material. Once the crushing blockade of Iraq is lifted, Baghdad might be able to produce one or two nuclear warheads within five years. But having warheads and delivering them are two different things. Iraq lacks aircraft or missiles to deliver nuclear weapons beyond a range of 70 miles.
Iraq is a leading Arab nation with the Mideast's second largest oil reserves. Unless the U.S. succeeds in implanting and maintaining a compliant regime in Baghdad, such as it has done in Kabul, whatever brutal general that succeeds Saddam will eventually seek nuclear weapons. Why?
First, to counter Israel's nuclear monopoly. Israel is considered a mortal threat by the Arabs and Iranians. Second, because Iraq fears neighbouring Iran, which has three times its population. Interestingly, every Iraqi leader since the 1920s has vowed to invade Kuwait and reunite it with Iraq. Why, in fact, should Iraq not have the right to possess nuclear weapons to protect its vast oil reserves?
President Bush claimed last week that an attack on Iraq was justified because it had refused to bow to UN resolutions and had weapons of mass destruction. Bush could just as well have been talking about Israel, which ignores scores of UN resolutions and refuses to admit nuclear arms inspectors. Or of India, which also ignores UN resolutions on Kashmir, and is developing a very large nuclear arsenal with Israeli aid, that includes nuclear-armed ICBM missiles that will soon be able to reach the U.S.
The original 1990 UN resolution authorizing military action to evict Iraq from Kuwait had a little-noticed article that called for the Security Council to immediately begin a process of regional nuclear arms control and disarmament. This provision was totally ignored, yet it offers a key to the Iraq problem.
Instead of Bush threatening a war of pure aggression against Iraq - what used to be called "warmongering" - the U.S., European Union and Canada should begin an intensive campaign to rid the Mideast of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. Regional disarmament cannot be accomplished until all nations, including Israel and Iran, are thoroughly inspected by impartial specialists - Canadians would be ideal. There must be no repeat of the 1990s, when many UN inspectors in Iraq turned out to be U.S. and Israeli spies whose job was to target Saddam Hussein for assassination.
President Bush might even begin this overdue process by getting rid of a lot more of his own weapons of mass destruction.
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