MANILA, Philippines – With or without weapons of mass destruction, Saddam Hussein is a “grave danger,” particularly to his own people, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist said Tuesday.
Hussain Al-Shahristani, former chief adviser to the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, said he believes Iraq’s nuclear program has been dismantled, but Saddam still has chemical and biological weapons.
He said such weapons are relatively easy to make and that Saddam has "mobile" laboratories that roam the countryside, making it hard for U.N. weapons inspectors to find them.
He said stockpiles of those weapons are also located underground and in tunnels.
“Saddam has mastered his concealment tactics,” Al-Shahristani said in a TV interview in the Philippines. “He has appointed thousands of security officers and trained them well in hiding these weapons."
Despite this, Al-Shahristani said, Saddam does not have the technological capability to use biological or chemical weapons in attacks on other countries -- unless he gives his weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups who can smuggle them into other nations.
The former scientist was jailed in 1979 for refusing to take part in Saddam's nuclear weapons development program, but he escaped from prison in 1991 during the chaos following the Gulf War.
He now heads the British-based Iraqi Refugee Aid Council.
Al-Shahristani traveled to Manila at the invitation of the Asian Institute of Management to address a forum on the Iraq crisis.
He said his knowledge of the current state of Iraq's weapons programs is based on information he received from contacts who were also involved in Saddam's arms programs but have since fled the country.
"Saddam does not have the capacity to deliver them (chemical weapons) to distant countries,” he said at a foreign correspondents press conference.
“The only way he can spread this outside Iraq's boundaries is using terrorist cells that he trained specifically for this purpose, and he does have a number of terrorist cells that he has used in the past. But I don't think that danger is as imminent as the danger to the Iraqi people themselves....
"Iraqis cannot feel safe and secure in their country, he said. “They cannot practice their basic human rights without Saddam being forced to leave and relinquish power in the country."
He added Iraqis had suffered human rights abuses for 30 years under Saddam, losing about one million people -- about half killed in the suppression of resistance and opposition and the other half in wars against Iran and Kuwait.
“These weapons have been used against the Iraqis in the past. In the 80s and also in suppressing the uprising of 1991,” he said. “And Saddam might use them again against the Iraqi people in the event of military confrontation because he knows that his real opponents are the Iraqi people.”
But even with his extensive knowledge of Saddam’s weapons and willingness to use them, Al-Shahristani said he does not support any military action that could harm the general Iraqi population.
"A war that can cause civilian casualties or damage to Iraqi infrastructure, I would not support. A surgical operation, I would rather call it, not a war, that would target Saddam himself and allow the Iraqi people to free themselves and decide their destiny, decide and choose their rulers is an operation that many Iraqis would welcome."
Al-Shahristani says he was arrested, tortured and kept in solitary confinement for over 11 years for refusing to work on Iraq's military nuclear program.
“However, I was more fortunate than many of my fellow political prisoners in the country,” he said during a briefing on Iraqi human rights abuses in London in December.
“I did not have my eyes gouged out,” he said. “Women of my family were not brought in and raped in front of me, as happened to many of my colleagues.... I was not among the hundreds of political prisoners who were taken from prison as guinea-pigs to be used for chemical and biological tests.”
Another former Iraqi scientist, Khidhir Hamza, who headed Saddam's nuclear program in the late 1980s, told Fox News in August that Saddam could have nuclear weapons in just a few years.
“Many intelligence estimates say that Saddam is within two to three years," he said. "The Americans say at least a year... the Germans say in 2005, he should have three nuclear weapons.”
Hamza, who defected in 1994 and is the author of Saddam's Bomb Maker, also said Saddam has a stockpile of chemical weapons. “That's a worry because although the U.S. forces would be able to take care of that… the population is not," he said. "So the idea is to take [the chemical repositories] out ahead of time…”
Hamza said it did bother him to help Saddam develop nuclear capabilities. “Initially we started in an innocuous way. All we needed was two or three nuclear weapons to counterbalance Israel. It was a deterrent sort of thing.
"Then, when the Iranian war… started, the scheme changed into attempts to more or less control the region, be a dominant power in the region.”
“Then when the Gulf War started, the worries started because he wanted one nuclear weapon to use if his regime was going to go away. And that worried us, so we dragged our feet.”
Fox News' Amy C. Sims and The Associated Press contributed to this report.