Iraq’s Weapons of Mass Destruction – The assessment of British Government (2002)
IRAQ’S CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, NUCLEAR AND BALLISTIC MISSILE PROGRAMMES
CHAPTER 1: THE ROLE OF INTELLIGENCE
1-Since UN inspectors were withdrawn from Iraq in 1998, there has been little overt information on Iraq’s chemical, biological, nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. Much of the publicly available information about Iraqi capabilities and intentions is dated. But we also have available a range of secret intelligence about these programmes and Saddam Hussein’s intentions. This comes principally from the United Kingdom’s intelligence and analysis agencies – the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the Security Service, and the Defence Intelligence Staff (DIS). We also have access to intelligence from close allies.
2-Intelligence rarely offers a complete account of activities which are designed to remain concealed. The nature of Saddam’s regime makes Iraq a difficult target for the intelligence services. Intelligence, however, has provided important insights into Iraqi programmes and Iraqi military thinking. Taken together with what is already known from other sources, this intelligence builds our understanding of Iraq’s capabilities and adds significantly to the analysis already in the public domain. But intelligence sources need to be protected, and this limits the detail that can be made available.
3-Iraq’s capabilities have been regularly reviewed by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), which has provided advice to the Prime Minister and his senior colleagues on the developing assessment, drawing on all available sources. Part 1 of this paper includes some of the most significant views reached by the JIC between 1999 and 2002.
Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC)
The JIC is a Cabinet Committee with a history dating back to 1936. The JIC brings together the Heads of the three Intelligence and Security Agencies (Secret Intelligence Service, Government Communications Headquarters and the Security Service), the Chief of Defence Intelligence, senior policy makers from the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office, the Treasury and the Department of Trade and Industry and representatives from other Government Departments and Agencies as appropriate. The JIC provides regular intelligence assessments to the Prime Minister, other Ministers and senior officials on a wide range of foreign policy and international security issues. It meets each week in the Cabinet Office.
IRAQ’S PROGRAMMES: 1971–1998
Iraq has been involved in chemical and biological warfare research for over 30 years. Its chemical warfare research started in 1971 at a small, well guarded site at Rashad to the north east of Baghdad. Research was conducted there on a number of chemical agents including mustard gas, CS and tabun. Later, in 1974 a dedicated organisation called al-Hasan Ibn al-Haitham was established. In the late 1970s plans were made to build a large research and commercial-scale
Effects of Chemical Weapons
Mustard is a liquid agent, which gives off a hazardous vapour, causing burns and blisters to exposed skin. When inhaled, mustard damages the respiratory tract; when ingested, it causes vomiting and diarrhoea. It attacks and damages the eyes, mucous membranes, lungs, skin, and blood-forming organs.
Tabun, sarin and VX are all nerve agents of which VX is the most toxic. They all damage the nervous system, producing muscular spasms and paralysis. As little as 10 milligrammes of VX on the skin can cause rapid death.
production facility in the desert some 70km north west of Baghdad under the cover of Project 922. This was to become Muthanna State Establishment, also known as al-Muthanna, and operated under the front name of Iraq’s State Establishment for Pesticide Production. It became operational in 1982-83. It had five research and development sections, each tasked to pursue different programmes. In addition, the al-Muthanna site was the main chemical agent production facility, and it also took the lead in weaponising chemical and biological agents including all aspects of weapon development and testing, in association with the military. According to information, subsequently supplied by the Iraqis, the total production capacity in 1991 was 4,000 tonnes of agent per annum, but we assess it could have been higher. Al-Muthanna was supported by three separate storage and precursor production facilities known as Fallujah 1, 2 and 3 near Habbaniyah, north west of Baghdad, parts of which were not completed before they were heavily bombed in the 1991 Gulf War.
Iraq started biological warfare research in the mid-1970s. After small-scale research, a purpose-built research and development facility was authorised at al-Salman, also known as Salman Pak. This is surrounded on three sides by the Tigris river and situated some 35km south of Baghdad. Although some progress was made in biological weapons research at this early stage, Iraq decided to concentrate on developing chemical agents and their delivery systems at al-Muthanna. With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, in the early 1980s, the biological weapons programme was revived. The appointment of Dr Rihab Taha in 1985, to head a small biological weapons research team at al-Muthanna,
The effects of biological agents
Anthrax is a disease caused by the bacterium Bacillus Anthracis. Inhalation anthrax is the manifestation of the disease likely to be expected in biological warfare. The symptoms may vary, but can include fever and internal bleeding. The incubation period for anthrax is 1 to 7 days, with most cases occurring within 2 days of exposure.
Botulinum toxin is one of the most toxic substances known to man. The first symptoms of poisoning may appear as early as 1 hour post exposure or as late as 8 days after exposure, with the incubation period between 12 and 22 hours. Paralysis leads to death by suffocation.
Aflatoxins are fungal toxins, which are potent carcinogens. Most symptoms take a long time to show. Food products contaminated by aflatoxins can cause liver inflammation and cancer. They can also affect pregnant women, leading to stillborn babies and children born with mutations.
Ricin is derived from the castor bean and can cause multiple organ failure leading to death within one or two days of inhalation.
helped to develop the programme. At about the same time plans were made to develop the Salman Pak site into a secure biological warfare research facility. Dr Taha continued to work with her team at al-Muthanna until 1987 when it moved to Salman Pak, which was under the control of the Directorate of General Intelligence. Significant resources were provided for the programme, including the construction of a dedicated production facility (Project 324) at al-Hakam. Agent production began in 1988 and weaponisation testing and later filling of munitions was conducted in association with the staff at Muthanna State Establishment. From mid-1990, other civilian facilities were taken over and some adapted for use in the production and research and development of biological agents.
- al-Dawrah Foot and Mouth Vaccine Institute which produced botulinum toxin and conducted virus research. There is some intelligence to suggest that work was also conducted on anthrax;
- al-Fudaliyah Agriculture and Water Research Centre where Iraq admitted it undertook aflatoxin production and genetic engineering;
- Amariyah Sera and Vaccine Institute which was used for the storage of biological agent seed stocks and was involved in genetic engineering.
3-By the time of the Gulf War Iraq was producing very large quantities of chemical and biological agents. From a series of Iraqi declarations to the UN during the 1990s we know that by 1991 they had produced at least:
- 12 19,000 litres of botulinum toxin, 8,500 litres of anthrax, 2,200 litres of aflatoxin and were working on a number of other agents;
- 2,850 tonnes of mustard gas, 210 tonnes of tabun, 795 tonnes of sarin and cyclosarin, and 3.9 tonnes of VX.
4-Iraq’s nuclear programme was established under the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s. Under a nuclear co-operation agreement signed with the Soviet Union in 1959, a nuclear research centre, equipped with a research reactor, was built at Tuwaitha, the main Iraqi nuclear research centre. The research reactor worked up to 1991. The surge in Iraqi oil revenues in the early 1970s supported an expansion of the research programme. This was bolstered in the mid-1970s by the acquisition of two research reactors powered by highly enriched uranium fuel and equipment for fuel fabrication and handling. By the end of 1984 Iraq was self-sufficient in uranium ore. One of the reactors was destroyed in an Israeli air attack in June 1981 shortly before it was to become operational; the other was never completed.
5-By the mid-1980s the deterioration of Iraq’s position in the war with Iran prompted renewed interest in the military use of nuclear technology. Additional resources were put into developing technologies to enrich uranium as fissile material (material that makes up the core of a nuclear weapon) for use in nuclear weapons. Enriched uranium was preferred because it could be more easily produced covertly than the alternative, plutonium. Iraq followed parallel programmes to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU), electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) and gas centrifuge enrichment. By 1991 one EMIS enrichment facility was nearing completion and another was under construction. However, Iraq never succeeded in its EMIS technology and the programme had been dropped by 1991. Iraq decided to concentrate on gas centrifuges as the means for producing the necessary fissile material. Centrifuge facilities were also under construction, but the centrifuge design was still being developed. In August 1990 Iraq instigated a crash programme to develop a single nuclear weapon within a year. This programme envisaged the rapid development of a small 50 machine gas centrifuge cascade to produce weapons-grade HEU using fuel from the Soviet research reactor, which was already substantially enriched, and unused fuel from the reactor bombed by the Israelis. By the time of the Gulf War, the crash programme had made little progress.
6-Iraq’s declared aim was to produce a missile warhead with a 20-kiloton yield and weapons designs were produced for the simplest implosion weapons. These were similar to the device used at Nagasaki in 1945. Iraq was also working on more advanced concepts. By 1991 the programme was supported by a large body of Iraqi nuclear expertise, programme documentation and databases and manufacturing infrastructure. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iraq had:
- experimented with high explosives to produce implosive shock waves;
- invested significant effort to understand the various options for neutron initiators;
- made significant progress in developing capabilities for the production, casting and machining of uranium metal.
Effect of a 20-kiloton nuclear detonation
A detonation of a 20-kiloton nuclear warhead over a city might flatten an area of approximately 3 square miles. Within 1.6 miles of detonation, blast damage and radiation would cause 80% casualties, three-quarters of which would be fatal. Between 1.6 and 3.1 miles from the detonation, there would still be 10% casualties.
The short-range mobile SCUD ballistic missile was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1950s, drawing on the technology of the German V-2 developed in World War II.
For many years it was the mainstay of Soviet and Warsaw Pact tactical missile forces and it was also widely exported. Recipients of Soviet-manufactured SCUDs included Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and Libya, although not all were sold directly by the Soviet Union.
7-Prior to the Gulf War, Iraq had a well-developed ballistic missile industry. Many of the missiles fired in the Gulf War were an Iraqi modified version of the SCUD missile, the al-Hussein, with an extended range of 650km. Iraq had about 250 imported SCUD-type missiles prior to the Gulf War plus an unknown number of indigenously produced engines and components. Iraq was working on other stretched SCUD variants, such as the al-Abbas, which had a range of 900km. Iraq was also seeking to reverse-engineer the SCUD engine with a view to producing new missiles. Recent intelligence indicates that they may have succeeded at that time. In particular, Iraq had plans for a new SCUD-derived missile with a range of 1200km. Iraq also conducted a partial flight test of a multi- stage satellite launch vehicle based on SCUD technology, known as the al-Abid. Also during this period, Iraq was developing the Badr-2000, a 700-1000km range two-stage solid propellant missile (based on the Iraqi part of the 1980s CONDOR- 2 programme run in co-operation with Argentina and Egypt). There were plans for 1200–1500km range solid propellant follow-on systems.
The use of chemical and biological weapons
8-Iraq had made frequent use of a variety of chemical weapons during the Iran- Iraq War. Many of the casualties are still in Iranian hospitals suffering from the long-term effects of numerous types of cancer and lung diseases. In 1988 Saddam also used mustard and nerve agents against Iraqi Kurds at Halabja in northern Iraq (see box on p15). Estimates vary, but according to Human Rights Watch up to 5,000 people were killed.
9-Iraq used significant quantities of mustard, tabun and sarin during the war with Iran resulting in over 20,000 Iranian casualties. A month after the attack on Halabja, Iraqi troops used over 100 tonnes of sarin against Iranian troops on the al-Fao peninsula. Over the next three months Iraqi troops used sarin and other nerve agents on Iranian troops causing extensive casualties.
The Attack on Halabja
On Friday 17th March 1988 the village of Halabja was bombarded by Iraqi warplanes. The raid was over in minutes. Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against his own people. A Kurd described the effects of a chemical attack on another village:
“My brothers and my wife had blood and vomit running from their noses and their mouths. Their heads were tilted to one side. They were groaning. I couldn’t do much, just clean up the blood and vomit from their mouths and try in every way to make them breathe again. I did artificial respiration on them and then I gave them two injections each. I also rubbed creams on my wife and two brothers.”
(From “Crimes Against Humanity” Iraqi National Congress.)
Among the corpses at Halabja, children were found dead where they had been playing outside their homes. In places, streets were piled with corpses.
10-From Iraqi declarations to the UN after the Gulf War we know that by 1991 Iraq had produced a variety of delivery means for chemical and biological agents including over 16,000 free-fall bombs and over 110,000 artillery rockets and shells. Iraq also admitted to the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) that it had 50 chemical and 25 biological warheads available for its ballistic missiles.
The use of ballistic missiles
11-Iraq fired over 500 SCUD-type missiles at Iran during the Iran-Iraq War at both civilian and military targets, and 93 SCUD-type missiles during the Gulf War. The latter were targeted at Israel and Coalition forces stationed in the Gulf region.
12-At the end of the Gulf War the international community was determined that Iraq’s arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles should be dismantled. The method chosen to achieve this was the establishment of UNSCOM to carry out intrusive inspections within Iraq and to eliminate its chemical and biological weapons and ballistic missiles with a range of over 150km. The IAEA was charged with the abolition of Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme. Between 1991 and 1998 UNSCOM succeeded in identifying and destroying very large quantities of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles as well as associated production facilities. The IAEA also destroyed the infrastructure for Iraq’s nuclear weapons programme and removed key nuclear materials. This was achieved despite a continuous and sophisticated programme of harassment, obstruction, deception and denial (see Part 2). Because of this UNSCOM concluded by 1998 that it was unable to fulfil its mandate. The inspectors were withdrawn in December 1998.
13-Based on the UNSCOM report to the UN Security Council in January 1999 and earlier UNSCOM reports, we assess that when the UN inspectors left Iraq they were unable to account for:
up to 360 tonnes of bulk chemical warfare agent, including 1.5 tonnes of VX nerve agent;
up to 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, including approximately 300 tonnes which, in the Iraqi chemical warfare programme, were unique to the production of VX;
growth media procured for biological agent production (enough to produce over three times the 8,500 litres of anthrax spores Iraq admits to having manufactured);
over 30,000 special munitions for delivery of chemical and biological agents.
14-The departure of UNSCOM meant that the international community was unable to establish the truth behind these large discrepancies and greatly diminished its ability to monitor and assess Iraq’s continuing attempts to reconstitute its programmes.
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