UK think tank says Iraq could have nuclear weapons within months

An independent British think tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), says Iraq could build such a weapon within a matter of months if it were able to obtain the necessary radioactive materials. The IISS report, released on 9 September, also concludes Iraq probably has large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, as well as a small number of long-range missiles.

The IISS special publication, Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Net Assessment, makes the following conclusions about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq:

  1. Nuclear weapons

    • Iraq does not possess facilities to produce fissile material in sufficient amounts for nuclear weapons.
    • It would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to build such fissile material production facilities.
    • It could, however, assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained.
    • It could divert domestic civil-use radioisotopes or seek to obtain foreign material for a crude radiological device.
  2. Biological weapons

    • Iraq has probably retained substantial growth media and BW agent (perhaps thousands of litres of anthrax) from pre-1991 stocks.
    • The regime is capable of resuming BW Agent production on short notice (in weeks) from existing civilian facilities.
    • It could have produced thousands of litres of anthrax, botulinum toxin and other agents since 1998.
    • Iraqi production of viral agents is unknown as is the question of whether the regime possesses small pox.
  3. Chemical weapons

    • Iraq has probably retained a few hundred tonnes of mustard and precursors for a few hundred tonnes of sarin/cyclosarin and perhaps similar amounts of VX from pre-1991 stocks.
    • It is capable of resuming CW production on short notice (months) from existing civilian facilities.
    • It could have produced hundreds of tonnes of agent (mustard and nerve agents) since 1998.
  4. Ballistic missiles

    • Iraq has probably retained a small force of about a dozen 650km range al-Hussein missiles.
    • These could strike Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Kuwait. Could be armed with CBW warheads.
    • Iraq does not possess facilities to produce long range missiles and it would require several years and extensive foreign assistance to construct such facilities.
    • Iraq may, in addition, have a small number of al-Samoud missiles with ranges of up to 200km able to strike Kuwait but only if deployed within the southern no fly zone.
    • It is capable of manufacturing rudimentary CBW warheads; its development of more advanced designs is unknown.
    • Iraq can convert civilian vehicles to provide mobile launchers for its ballistic missiles.

The report’s author, Gary Samore, said the argument for taking action against Iraq now was stronger than it was before the Persian Gulf war because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had proved in the 11 years since that he will not respond to political and military pressure.

The IISS Director Dr John Chipman underlined that both options under discussion held risks. “Wait, and the threat will grow. Strike, and the threat may be used,” he said.

 

The British Governmenthas described the IISS report as "highly significant". According to a Downing Street spokesman, the report "paints a powerful picture of a highly unstable regime, with access to biological and chemical weapons". The British Government will publish its own dossier of evidence against Iraq. Government sources say their report will be even starker because they have access to intelligence information that the IISS did not have.

British Prime Minister Tony Blairagrees with US President George W. Bush that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction must be destroyed, and he is confident he can win international support.

Other European leaders begin to be aware of the dangers identified by the US.French President Jacques Chirachas proposed giving President Saddam Hussein a three-week deadline before using military force. Mr Chirac's two-step plan would see United Nations support for a new inspection mission to Iraq. If President Saddam refused the inspectors' return, Mr Chirac proposed a second UN resolution on whether to use military force.

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussenalso offered cautious support for facing the Iraqi threat in a telephone call with President Bush.

Spain and the Netherlandsalso emphasise the importance of the UN, but do not exclude military action.

The Vaticansaid that any attack must have the approval of the UN. "If the international community judges it to be opportune to resort to a proportionate use of force, it must be part of a decision taken within the framework of the United Nations," Vatican's Foreign Minister Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said.

Only theGerman Chancellor Gerhard Schröderinsists on his absolute refusal of any military action. "It cannot be that one side says what it wants and the other clicks its heels together and obeys," said Mr Schröder.

The Iraqi Government claims that its former nuclear site is now being put to peaceful use.

The 22-nationArab League Secretary General Amr Moussawarned that any attack would "open the gates of hell" in the region and that no Arab country would join it. Mr Moussa said that the return of weapons inspectors "should be the subject of discussions between Iraq and the secretary general of the UN."

 

The US administration is considering a full-scale attack against Iraq to prevent Saddam Hussein from using weapons of mass destruction. The US says it has evidence of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction programmes in Iraq.

UN weapons inspectors were driven out of Iraq in 1998 after seeking such weapons that Saddam Hussein had promised to give up in accordance with UN resolutions. The EU has called on Iraq to allow the UN weapons inspectors to return, but Saddam Hussein has so far failed to comply with the demand.

 

US President George W. Bush is due to address the United Nations on 12 September to explain why he believes military action against Iraq is necessary.

 

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