Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper

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By Barton Gellman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2004

BAGHDAD -- Of all Iraq's rocket scientists, none drew warier scrutiny abroad than Modher Sadeq-Saba Tamimi.

An engineering PhD known for outsized energy and gifts, Tamimi, 47, designed and built a new short-range missile during Iraq's four-year hiatus from United Nations arms inspections. Inspectors who returned in late 2002, enforcing Security Council limits, ruled that the Al Samoud missile's range was not quite short enough. The U.N. team crushed the missiles, bulldozed them into a pit and entombed the wreckage in concrete. In one of three interviews last month, Tamimi said "it was as if they were killing my sons."

But Tamimi had other brainchildren, and these stayed secret. Concealed at some remove from his Karama Co. factory here were concept drawings and computations for a family of much more capable missiles, designed to share parts and features with the openly declared Al Samoud. The largest was meant to fly six times as far.

"This was hidden during the UNMOVIC visits," Tamimi said, referring to inspectors from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. Over a leisurely meal of lamb and sweet tea, he sketched diagrams. "It was forbidden for us to reveal this information," he said.

Tamimi's covert work, which he recounted publicly for the first time in five hours of interviews, offers fresh perspective on the question that led the nation to war. Iraq flouted a legal duty to report the designs. The weapons they depicted, however, did not exist. After years of development -- against significant obstacles -- they might have taken form as nine-ton missiles. In March they fit in Tamimi's pocket, on two digital compact discs.

The nine-month record of arms investigators since the fall of Baghdad includes discoveries of other concealed arms research, most of it less advanced. Iraq's former government engaged in abundant deception about its ambitions and, in some cases, early steps to prepare for development or production. Interviews here -- among Iraqi weaponeers and investigators from the U.S. and British governments -- turned up unreported records, facilities or materials that could have been used in unlawful weapons.

But investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ-warfare agents such as anthrax bacteria, and no work on a new designer pathogen -- combining pox virus and snake venom -- that led U.S. scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months. The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a "grave and gathering danger" by President Bush and a "mortal threat" by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s.

A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, described factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by 12 years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command. The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

David Kay, who directs the weapons hunt on behalf of the Bush administration, reported no discoveries last year of finished weapons, bulk agents or ready-to-start production lines. Members of his Iraq Survey Group, in unauthorized interviews, said the group holds out little prospect now of such a find. Kay and his spokesman, who report to Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet, declined to be interviewed.

He asked to see the dean, Abdel Mehdi Taleb, immediately. Dan preceded Barry into Taleb's office, weapon ready, then stood sentry outside.

According to Taleb, Barry asked -- once again -- about the work of immunologist Alice Krikor Melconian. For months, Taleb said, the Americans had sent scientists and intelligence officers to investigate the compact, curly-haired chairman of the university's biotechnology department.

Three Iraqi scientists said U.S. investigators asserted they have reason to believe Melconian ran a covert research facility, location unknown. In July, colleagues said, Melconian emerged from her office with a burly American on each arm and was placed into the back seat of a car with darkened windows. U.S. investigators held her for 10 days in an open-air cell and then released her.


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