As we noted last night, one of the recently-released audio tapes from Saddam Hussein’s office makes clear that by the mid 1990s, portions, at least, of Iraq’s nuclear weapons program had been moved outside that country:
Sir, where was the Nuclear material transported to? A number of them were transported outside of Iraq.
The tape does not say where the nuclear materials went. But two readers have suggested that it was likely Libya. Norm Grant writes:
ISSA [International Strategic Studies Association] has been saying for years that Saddam’s nuclear program was primarily located in Libya. You might want to go to strategicstudies.org and check out the January 30, 2004 Iraqi war report. I’m having a hard time pulling up a link.
ISSA has written that they have better human intel in Libya than our own CIA. ISSA believed that as many as 20,000 Iraqis were in Libya working on WMD and missile development.
Paul Linsay writes:
Regarding the nuclear program and the Iraqis who were working on it “somewhere.” Remember when Quaddafi gave up his nuclear program in the aftermath of OIF? Initially, I was surprised to learn that Libya had a program and wondered how they could do it. They have a population of 6 million, a GDP of $30 billion, and a 75% literacy rate. For comparison, the state of Massachusetts also has a population of 6 million, a GDP of $120 billion, and the needed brainpower to build a nuclear weapon. But Massachusetts probably couldn’t afford it since the cost is north of $20 billion and requires an industrial operation of at least 10,000 people. So where does Libya come by the needed people, knowledge, and money? Iraq! At the time Quadaffi said “Uncle”, there were a few reports, which quickly disappeared, of large numbers of Iraqi nuclear scientists and technicians in Libya to run the program. This tape may be a link in the connection.
The ISSA analysis is accessible here, linked through “Libya Assessments” in the upper right-hand corner of the page. The ISSA analysis is too long to quote in detail, but this is the broad outline:
Given the billions of dollars which Saddam had invested in WMD, and the fact that WMD and associated delivery systems represented his only chance at strategic independence, it was inconceivable that he would not have engaged in massive strategic deception operations in the hope that, as partially demonstrated in 1991, once the US/West/UN had gone through Iraq as comprehensively as possible, he would then be free to re-import his strategic capacity, by that time at a proven and operational level. This option was lost, however, not because the US George W. Bush Administration was aware — at the White House level — of the specifics of the deception and re-deployment of WMD programs, but because of the intuitive belief by the White House that Pres. Saddam was engaged in a strategic-level build-up which threatened the region and Western interests.
Saddam utilized his best efforts and international contacts and alliances to limit the scope of debate and UN inspections to an extremely finite set of conditions, all of which focused solely on the Iraqi territory. In this, he was almost totally successful.
However, there were numerous failures to maintain the total secrecy of his actions at an operational intelligence level. This may have been inevitable, given the scope of the WMD programs being conducted in Libya, for example, where an estimated Iraqi workforce of up to 20,000 scientists, engineers and workers were engaged in WMD and missile development, and in other countries, such as Mauritania (intended as a launch site for ballistic missiles to threaten the US), where Iraqi intelligence officials were conducting aspects of the strategy.
What has emerged from the pattern of intelligence available is that Pres. Saddam took the opportunity, possibly shortly after the 1991 defeat of his Armed Forces in the first US-led Coalition war against Iraq in 1990-91, to move his WMD programs to one or more safe havens abroad. It was known, even at that point, that Iraq maintained extensive deployments of forces and some basing inside Sudan, and that Saddam and Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi were closely aligned in that they perceived threats from the same quarters: (a) the United States, and (b) radical Islamists. Equally, they increasingly came to the same view that they needed to work with the Islamists because the various Islamist groups — ranging from Osama bin Laden’s organization to the Iranian-led Shi’a groups — also felt threatened by, and hostile to, the United States.
It will be interesting to see whether additional documents to be released will confirm that Saddam continued his nuclear program in Libya, or perhaps elsewhere.