Secrets of Saddam's nuclear programme hidden under tree
AN IRAQI scientist-turned-author says the most significant pieces of his country’s dormant nuclear programme were buried under a lotus tree in his backyard, untouched for more than a decade before the US-led invasion in 2003.
But their existence, Dr Mahdi Obeidi writes in a new book, is evidence that the international community should remain vigilant as other countries try to replicate Iraq’s successes before the 1991 Gulf war to develop components necessary for a nuclear weapon.
In The Bomb in my Garden, Dr Obeidi details Saddam’s quest for a nuclear bomb: "Although Saddam never had nuclear weapons at his disposal, the story of how close Iraq came to developing them should serve as a red flag to the international community."
In the book, published tomorrow, Dr Obeidi details his research through nearly a quarter of a century under Saddam, including the designs for key components and prototypes for nuclear production, buried in a plastic drum next to his rose garden. Probably just two of Saddam’s most trusted deputies knew the whereabouts of the research, he says.
While only the former president knows fully why he did not restart his nuclear programme, Dr Obeidi believes Saddam may have realised the scope of the massive undertaking. UN inspectors had dismantled the programme, removed stockpiles of enriched uranium and exposed Iraq’s international network of suppliers - and Saddam was doing well from the UN’s oil-for-food programme, while increasing his control over a population reliant on him for basics.
To get caught importing the components needed to produce a nuclear weapon, the scientist says, would have ended the programme. Yet Saddam kept his Iraq Atomic Energy Commission running, apparently without weapons programmes, as late as 2003.
"All we had left was the knowledge in our heads and the documents buried in my garden," Dr Obeidi writes.
In a forthcoming report, US weapons inspectors with the Iraq Survey Group are expected to conclude that Saddam had intentions of reinvigorating his weapons programmes, but no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Dr Obeidi, 60, was the creator of Iraq’s centrifuge, a key component in one method of enriching bomb-grade uranium. He considers it the most dangerous piece of nuclear technology because related advances make it possible to conceal uranium enrichment in one warehouse.
Dr Obeidi and his colleagues were able to travel the world in the 1980s, collecting centrifuge research and components for their work from scholars and private companies in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, France, England and elsewhere. Then, Saddam had yet to become an enemy to the West.
By the late 1980s, Iraq was making breakthroughs. However, international help dried up as Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. The UN arrived after Saddam’s 1991 defeat, intent on taking apart his weapons programmes.
To hide signs of uranium enrichment then, Dr Obeidi describes a massive demolition and reconstruction programme he led, to remove everything from topsoil to coffee makers at his former centrifuge lab.
After the 2003 invasion, Dr Obeidi attempted to take the nuclear secrets buried in his garden to US authorities. He describes disorganisation as the CIA and military intelligence wound up fighting over him. Only after extensive negotiations involving a former UN weapons inspector, David Albright, who was in Washington, did Dr Obeidi turn over all of his information.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Wednesday 22 May 2013
Temperature: 3 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: West
Temperature: 5 C to 11 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west