As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated.
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2, Issue 4
Iraq's Export Threat
By Valerie Lincy and Gary Milhollin
As questions mount about the failure to find mass destruction weapons in Iraq, and America's pre-war intelligence data appears ever more dubious, we are tempted to overlook a threat in Iraq that still undoubtedly exists: the remaining know-how and equipment used in Iraq's banned weapon programs -- and the risk that it may find its way to Tehran, Tripoli or Damascus. Scientists and machines may not be the smoking gun most were expecting to find, and they in no way embody the imminent threat described by the Bush administration before the war. But the potential for Iraq to become a ready source of dangerous exports is real. And our failure to prevent these exports would mean failing at one of this war's main goals: stopping the spread of mass destruction weapons.
Before the war, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were given a list of 430 key technical staff involved in Iraq's past attempts to build nuclear weapons, along with information on where they were then employed. Where are these experts now? The IAEA also affirmed that as of March, all critical machine tools tagged by previous nuclear inspectors were still on Iraqi soil. These tools are unique in their ability to form nuclear weapon components. Then there are the tons of special high explosive --HMX-- a crucial part of Iraq's planned nuclear bomb. The IAEA was able to reseal almost 200 tons of the HMX previously catalogued. But the Iraqi bomb required no more than 250 kilograms, so this remaining inventory could be used in scores of similarly designed weapons. Have coalition forces secured this equipment and material, or has it fallen prey to targeted looting?
Iraq's remaining ability to produce chemical and biological weapons is equally troubling. Before leaving Iraq in 1998, U.N. inspectors counted 400 individuals with direct experience in biological weapon research. They also inventoried 1,334 pieces of dual-use biological equipment, including 20 spray dryers capable of processing bulk biological agent like anthrax.
U.N. inspectors identified 833 pieces of equipment useful for making chemical weapons. Plus two "cook books" on how to produce chemical warfare precursor agents, along with references to other manuals on how to make the warfare agents themselves, including the deadly nerve gas, VX. This know-how could be useful in Syrian efforts to develop VX, or in Libya, whose chemical warfare program still depends on foreign help.
Saddam Hussein's regime also ran 30 missile facilities where Iraq developed both liquid and solid fuel rockets. These sites were full of sensitive equipment. And so was Project 1728, a missile engine program aimed at extending the range of Iraqi SCUDs. Many machines used to make missiles were inventoried and monitored, rather than destroyed by inspectors. As far as we know, this equipment remains in Iraq, but has it been secured?
The ease with which this catalogue of know-how and equipment could slip out of Iraq is sobering. But we should not despair. The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative has been working to set up export controls in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union for over a decade. It provides a guide for what should now be done in Iraq, to prevent it from becoming a supermarket for WMD expertise and equipment.
The first requirement is to set up controls at Iraq's border crossings. Next, use the inventories compiled by the United Nations to generate updated lists of individuals, facilities, equipment, raw materials and suppliers associated with Iraq's previous chemical, biological, nuclear and missile programs. Third, create an effective way of ensuring that the dual-use capability remaining in Iraq is used for non-weapon activities.
We also need be more lenient towards Iraqi experts willing to share information on banned programs. Iraqi scientist Mahdi Shukur Ubaydi recently decided to cooperate with coalition authorities; but he was arrested by U.S. forces and left in limbo by the C.I.A. before being spirited out of Iraq to tell his story. Ubaydi headed Iraq's gas centrifuge uranium enrichment program before 1991 and kept centrifuge parts, along with designs, buried in his garden. His example reveals that information about Iraq's programs must be coaxed rather than scared out. The Iraqi Scientists Immigration Act of 2003, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senator Joseph Biden, is a step in the right direction. It would grant up to 500 Iraqis with information on Saddam's WMD programs permanent residence in the United States in exchange for cooperation. This bill passed the Senate in March but is languishing in the House. Meanwhile, other Iraqi scientists wait in the wings.
Worrying about Iraqi exports may seem abstract --even irrelevant-- while our troops are under fire in Iraqi towns. But if we wait for the situation in Iraq to quiet before mounting effective export controls, we will have waited too long.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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