Published December 17, 2002
UNITED NATIONS – Dozens of suppliers, most in Europe, the United States and Japan, provided the components and know-how Saddam Hussein needed to build an atomic bomb, according to Iraq's 1996 accounting of its nuclear program.
The secret declaration, shown to The Associated Press, is virtually identical to the one submitted to U.N. inspectors on Dec. 7, according to U.N. officials. The reports have not been made public to prevent nuclear know-how from falling into the wrong hands and also to protect the names of companies that wittingly or unwittingly supplied Iraq with the means to make nuclear weapons.
U.N. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the only difference between the two reports is that the latest has a 300-page section in Arabic on civilian nuclear programs and a slightly larger typeface that stretches it to 2,100 pages.
That foreign companies helped Iraq has long been known, and some of them have been identified before, but the Iraqi accounting adds up to the most exhaustive list so far of companies involved.
Iraq's report says the equipment was either sold or made by more than 30 German companies, 10 American companies, 11 British companies and a handful of Swiss, Japanese, Italian, French, Swedish and Brazilian firms. It says more than 30 countries supplied its nuclear program.
It details nuclear efforts from the early 1980s to the Gulf War and contains diagrams, plans and test results in uranium enrichment, detonation, implosion testing and warhead construction.
In one chapter, Iraq admits to having a pilot plan in September 1990 -- one month after it invaded Kuwait -- to increase the enrichment of recovered uranium to 93 percent using centrifuges. The process is a complicated extraction and purification method that at full scale requires thousands of connected, high speed centrifuges.
According to Iraq's report, the most detailed accounting of its former nuclear weapons program, it was also pursuing electromagnetic isotope separation as another method to enrich uranium, the key ingredient for an atomic explosion.
The Iraqis had everything they needed to make nuclear weapons, said Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project, a Washington-based think tank on nuclear arms control. "They weren't missing any components or any knowledge," he said in a phone interview. "It was simply a matter of time."
Milhollin said that had it not been for the 1991 Gulf War, Iraq would have had nuclear weapons by now, thanks to hundreds of suppliers who sold it an impressive array of equipment and expertise, often with their government's approval and without being aware of the ultimate purpose. According to the Iraqi accounting, induction and electron beam furnaces, which could be used in shaping uranium parts for an atomic bomb, came from Consarc Corp. of Rancocas, N.J. The company says the items were never delivered, however.
Newport Corp. of Irvine, Calif., is listed as a supplier of optical fiber, a product with uses ranging from communications to medical equipment. But the company said it doesn't carry the model listed in the declaration.
EEV Inc., based outside New York City, is listed as a supplier of a thyratron, which the company says is used in medical imaging equipment. It could not immediately verify the sale of the item.
Motorola Inc., was listed as the seller of fast photodetectors, but company spokeswoman Jennifer Weyrauch said she found no record to support the claim. "A photodetector product is not part of Motorola's current portfolio."
Most of the sales were legal and often made with the knowledge of governments. In 1985-90, the U.S. Commerce Department, for example, licensed $1.5 billion in sales to Iraq of American technology with potential military uses. Iraq was then getting Western support for its war against Iran, which at the time was regarded as the main threat to stability in the oil-rich Gulf region.
But inspectors have discovered over the years that Iraq often obtained supplies through middlemen or by lying to companies about the products' intended use.
"It was useful in the past and it will be useful in the future to go to companies and ask them questions," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. weapons inspectors. While the Iraqi declaration provides a lot of important information, the companies can often give inspectors insight into the real extent of Iraq's programs.
Since the Gulf War, dozens of companies have either admitted to sales or were prosecuted in Europe for helping arm Iraq. Several no longer exist.
"Revealing company names can discourage other companies from getting involved in deals with countries like Iraq where you don't really know the true end-use of your products," said David Albright, an American nuclear expert and a weapons inspector in 1996.
According to Iraq's accounting, the real help came from German experts and companies, in particular H&H Metallform, which sold the Iraqis old designs for centrifuges.
Cooperation with H&H "was fruitful and it was called upon to render technical assistance and consultations in various activities," Iraq wrote in its nuclear declaration.
In 1993, German courts found two H&H employees guilty of violating export law and sentenced them to over two years in prison for working with Iraq.
German companies allegedly involved in other aspects of Iraq's former weapons programs were named in a report Tuesday in the German daily Die Tag. The report also said companies such as DaimlerChrysler, Siemens and Preussag sold items to Iraq which were diverted to the weapons programs.
The companies either declined to comment on the report, or said the deliveries had nothing to do with weapons, such as trucks or auto parts from DaimlerChrysler.
Some of Iraq's nuclear materials were destroyed during previous U.N. inspections, and Iraq is now banned from repurchasing much of it. But reconnaissance photos released by the Bush administration in October indicate the Iraqis have been rebuilding sites previously used for nuclear development. A recent U.S. intelligence report says Iraq may have nuclear weapons by 2010.
Iraq acknowledged to inspectors last month that it was importing aluminum tubes which it said were for conventional weapons. The Bush administration said the tubes could be used to construct centrifuges for uranium enrichment. But nuclear experts differ on whether the tubes are of the proper size and material.
What Iraq still has, however, is the expertise to start again.
Albright said the new evidence, coupled with long-running suspicions "that Iraq continued its nuclear weapons program even while inspectors were on the ground in the '90s," is what makes the latest declaration such a disappointment.
Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last week that the new submission amounts to a rehash of the 1996 report and covers "material we already had before."
A line-by-line comparison of the table of contents from the 1996 declaration and the 2002 version which was released last week by the United Nations finds subtle differences, mainly in translation, but not in substance.
Inspectors were not surprised that Iraq resubmitted old reports since Baghdad claims it hasn't been working on weapons of mass destruction since the 1991 Gulf War. A submission of anything new would have contradicted that claim.