A scientist considered the father of Iraq's nuclear program said Thursday that his nation would have developed atomic weapons in the early 1990s had Saddam Hussein (search) not ordered the invasion of Kuwait.

The invasion sparked the U.S.-led Operation Desert Storm (search) in 1991, which drove Iraq out of Kuwait and marked the end of Baghdad's nuclear and biological weapons program, said Jafar Dhia Jafar, the scientific head of Iraq's nuclear weapons program.

"By the end of 1990, about 8,000 people were involved directly or indirectly in the nuclear program," said Jafar, presenting his new Norwegian-language book, "Oppdraget," which means The Assignment, describing the program.

"We were three years away, give or take a year," said Jafar, who fled Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

In the book, Jafar describes being picked up in 1981 after 18 months in jail and brought to see Saddam, who, standing behind a desk in military uniform, instructed him to build an atomic bomb.

"From today, that is our goal," Jafar recalled Hussein saying.

The British-educated scientist, with a doctorate in physics from the University of Birmingham, said the quest for nuclear weapons began with Israeli warplanes bombing the legal Iraqi nuclear reactor at Tuwaitha (search), near Baghdad, where he had worked, in June 1981.

"It was not illegal because it did not violate the NPT (the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons treaty)," he said. He said the program became top secret in 1986, when nuclear efforts moved beyond the terms of the treaty.

Jafar said Iraq sought to build all industrial and technological equipment needed to develop weapons on its own, sometimes importing equipment through oil or other industries.