Who’s Afraid of Iraq’s Nukes?

WHO’S AFRAID OF IRAQ’S NUKES?….We know now that Saddam Hussein shut down his nuclear weapons program after 1991 and never started it back up. Back in 2003, however, when we first entered Baghdad, we didn’t. The scientists and technicians who were the backbone of his earlier program should have been prime targets for U.S. intelligence.

They weren’t. No one made any effort to find these people, and to make matters worse, the few who tried to turn themselves in were treated shoddily. The result is that hundreds of Iraqi nuclear scientists quietly disappeared and are now….somewhere. Kurt Pitzer reports in Mother Jones:

“Before we invaded, there was no evidence that Iraq had any plan or incentive to proliferate,” says former CIA analyst Ray McGovern. “Now, my God, we have a magnet attracting…jihadists to a place where the WMD expertise is suddenly unprotected.

….During the 1990s, the International Atomic Energy Agency and other watchdog groups compiled lists of key participants in Saddam’s WMD programs. The IAEA roll call alone included about 2,000 names. One of the few that has been made public is that of Dr. Faris Abdul Aziz, a mild-mannered engineer who oversaw a staff of more than 200 working on the nuclear centrifuge program….Today, no one seems to know where he is. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with these guys for months,” Albright says. “But by now they’re probably so jaded and suspicious that they want nothing to do with the U.S.”

An even greater concern is the flight risk posed by scientists one level down….A source with close ties to intelligence on the issue recently told me of the case of a female scientist who worked in Saddam’s centrifuge program, most likely Dr. Widad Hattam al-Jabbouri….”From what we have learned she has ended up at a university in Syria,” the source said. “Apparently the Syrians basically set up a refuge for senior scientists, especially those with Baathist connections, who couldn’t get any work in Iraq.”

Pitzer and Mahdi Obeidi, who headed Saddam’s bombmaking program, are on Mother Jones Radio right now (1 pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific). You can check it out at your local Air America affiliate.