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Top Iraq nuke scientist seeks UN probe
Updated: 2004-03-09 10:14

The father of Iraq's nuclear bomb program denied Monday that Saddam Hussein tried to restart his atomic activities, but acknowledged Iraq tried to conceal its banned weapons operations before destroying them 13 years ago.

Jafar Dhia Jafar, speaking publicly for the first time since U.S. forces occupied Baghdad, also called for a U.N. probe of what its inspectors knew before the U.S.-led invasion. Inspectors "reached total conviction" that Iraq was free of nuclear weapons yet failed to convey that to the Security Council because of U.S. pressure, he said.

"Reports of the United Nations to the Security Council should have been clear and courageous," Jafar said.

Before the invasion last March, chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix and his nuclear counterpart Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that in four months of searching, their teams found no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction or programs to build them, and needed more time to make a definitive conclusion.

Asked to respond to Jafar's claims, IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said ElBaradei was forthright to the Security Council. She rejected the idea that investigators were absolutely convinced Iraq had no weapons program.

"In order to be thorough and factual we had to make sure that we had checked every lead and every possibility before making any final determination," Fleming said. "After four months, we weren't quite there yet."

At the time, U.S. officials insisted Saddam was developing a nuclear weapons program. After the war, U.S. inspectors also found no signs of a revived program. Still, David Kay, the chief U.S. inspector who resigned in January, contended last October he found "evidence of Saddam's continued ambition to acquire nuclear weapons." That evidence has not been made public.

Jafar has been living in the United Arab Emirates since slipping out of Iraq to Syria during the war. U.S. officials said last April he had surrendered and was questioned.

On Monday, he addressed a meeting on the repercussions of the occupation of Iraq, organized by the Beirut-based Center for Arab Unity Studies. Before a sympathetic audience of intellectuals and Arab nationalists, he presented a paper co-written with Noman Saad Eddin al-Noaimi, a former director-general of Iraq's nuclear program.

"Saddam Hussein issued orders in July 1991 for the destruction of all banned weapons, in addition to the systems to produce them. It was carried out by the Special Republican Guard forces," the scientists said in their paper.

"We can confirm with absolute certainty that Iraq no longer possessed any weapons of mass destruction after its unilateral destruction of all its components in the summer of 1991, and did not resume any such activity because it no longer had the foundations to resume such activity," they wrote.

In a later panel discussion, Jafar who once was an adviser to the Iraqi dictator as a leader of his nuclear program acknowledged Iraq tried to conceal its weapons programs from international inspectors, who first arrived in early 1991.

"There was concealment at the beginning in all programs," he said.

But Jafar said the speed with which inspectors operated, aerial reconnaissance and the large size of equipment that had to be moved led to the "the concealment operation failing within weeks" and to an Iraqi decision to dismantle and destroy the weapons and their programs.

He also acknowledged Iraqi errors in handling the destruction of the weapons programs.

The United Nations had complained that figures relating to chemical and biological agents did not match what was produced, used or destroyed. In a reply to a question from the audience, Jafar said the destruction of the banned weapons and substances by Special Republican Guard forces "was not done in a proper, detailed manner."

"There were great and serious attempts later to document it (the destruction), put the pieces together and estimate what was destroyed. It was not convincing," he said.

The two scientists wrote about the history of Iraq's nuclear program and how Saddam turned it into a covert effort after Israel's 1981 airstrikes that destroyed a nuclear reactor near Baghdad before it became operational.

In their paper, the scientists said Iraq achieved "encouraging results" by the end of 1990 in uranium enrichment programs as well as in studies and designs of nuclear weapons, but the activities "did not continue as a result of the Desert Storm war in 1991."

Iraq produced 160 tons of low-grade uranium in 1990, according to the scientists, before most of the facilities were damaged or destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War. The paper listed the detailed destruction of nuclear facilities in the Gulf War and in 1998 U.S. airstrikes.

Scientists, engineers and technicians who worked on armament and homegrown technology "were dispersed after the 1991 war. Some moved to work in state civilian institutions or universities, some left to work in the private sector, some retired, many emigrated and some died," they wrote.

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