Iraq Survey Group Final Report
Evolution of the Chemical Warfare Program
Over a period of twenty years, beginning with a laboratory operated by the intelligence services, Iraq was able to begin and successfully undertake an offensive CW program which helped ensure the Regime’s internal and external security. By 1984, Iraq was operating a number of CW agent production plants, producing hundreds of tons of a range of weaponized agents annually, for use against external and internal enemies of the Regime. The program was supported by a complex web of international procurement, R&D, weaponization and indigenous precursor production efforts. Iraq fired or dropped over 100,000 chemical munitions against Iranian forces and its own Kurdish population during the Iran-Iraq war and then later to help put down the Shi’a rebellion in March 1991.
- Iraq became the first nation to use a nerve agent on the battlefield when it used Tabun munitions against Iran in 1984.
- During the Iran-Iraq war, CW use helped the Iraqis turn back Iranian human-wave attacks when all other methods failed, buying time for Iraqi forces to regroup and replenish. Iraq again used CW successfully to help crush the popular revolt in 1991.
- By 1991, Iraq had amassed a sizable CW arsenal, comprising thousands of short range rockets, artillery shells, and bombs, and hundreds of tons of bulk agent. It also had produced 50 nerve agent warheads for the 650 km-range al Husayn missile.
- Despite the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 687 in April 1991, which called for Iraq to disarm, Iraq initially chose to retain CW weapons, precursors and associated equipment, making false declarations to the UN. Even when Iraq claimed to have complied with UNSCR 687 and its successors, Saddam retained components vital to restarting a CW program.
Regime Strategy and WMD Timeline
For an overview of Iraqi WMD programs and policy choices, readers should consult the Regime Strategy and WMD Timeline chart, enclosed as a separate foldout and in tabular form at the back of Volume I. Covering the period from 1980-2003, the timeline shows specific events bearing on the Regime’s efforts in the BW, CW, delivery systems and nuclear realms and their chronological relationship with political and military developments that had direct bearing on the Regime’s policy choices.
Readers should also be aware that, at the conclusion of each volume of text, we have also included foldout summary charts that relate inflection points—critical turning points in the Regime’s WMD policymaking—to particular events/initiatives/decisions the Regime took with respect to specific WMD programs. Inflection points are marked in the margins of the body of the text with a gray triangle.
The Early Years, 1960-1980: A Slow Start
The Chemical Corps and Al-Hasan Ibn-al-Haytham Research Foundation
Iraq’s interest in CW began in the early 1960s and escalated in response to a perceived threat from Iran and Israel to comprehensive CW research program by the mid-1970s. The Regime initially sent a number of Iraqi officers abroad for training in nuclear, biological and chemical defense. These officers later formed the nucleus of the Iraqi Chemical Corps, established in 1964.
- In 1971, a cadre of Chemical Corps officers sought authorization to synthesize small quantities of CW agents (mustard, Tabun, and CS) for familiarization and the experience, according to Iraq’s Currently Accurate Full and Complete Declaration (CAFCD) submitted to the UN in December 2002. The Iraqi General Staff approved the request, and laboratories were built for the Chemical Corps at al-Rashad near Baghdad.
- By 1974, this initial effort had failed, and the IIS stepped in and founded the Al Hasan Ibn al-Haithem Research Foundation. The IIS funded Al Hasan, whose cover was as part of the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research. Iraq’s various intelligence services remained involved, directly and indirectly, in CW and related activities for many years.
- Al Hasan personnel were drawn from academia and the Chemical Corps. Al Hasan expanded with the construction of new laboratories in Baghdad and the selection of a new production site 60 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, later to be known as Al Muthanna. Al Hasan’s mission was to research the synthesis and production of CW agents. It had limited success producing gram quantities of mustard, Tabun, CS and organophosphate pesticides like Malathion and parathion.
Iraq later declared that the work at Al Hasan was suspended in 1978 and the organization liquidated for failure to achieve its objectives, as well as for mismanagement and fraud.
- General Amer al-Sa’adi found that Al Hasan had made insufficient progress toward the goal of production. Having failed, a Presidential Decree dissolved Al Hasan.
That same year, the former head of the Chemical Corps, BG Nizar al-Atar, claims he submitted a five-year plan to the Ministry of Industry and Minerals for a CW program that included the production of weapons, and some work continued.
By the end of 1979, a reorganized Chemical Corps used the expanded al-Rashad site to produce CW agents, ostensibly for the testing of CW defensive gear and detection equipment. The Chemical Corps, reinforced by many of the former Al Hasan staff, was also surveying the technical literature for information on the production of the nerve agents, Sarin and Tabun, research, which laid the groundwork for their nerve agent production processes.
Full Capability, 1981-1991: Ambition
Foundation of the Al Muthanna State Establishment
Once committed, Iraq spent large amounts of money and resources on its CW program (see Figure 1). The outbreak of war with Iran in 1980 and Iraq’s failure to attain a speedy victory appear to have been the impetus for the Ministry of Defense’s launch of its industrial-scale, comprehensive, strategic CW program—code-named Research Center 922 or Project 922—on June 8, 1981. The objective was to produce CW agents—mustard, Tabun, Sarin, and VX, chemical munitions, and white phosphorus (WP) munitions. (See Annex B.)
- Project 922 covered research and development for all aspects of CW, production of CW agents and precursors, filling of CW munitions, storing of chemical munitions and agents, and acquiring sufficient technical expertise to construct and maintain production lines.
- The project also included BW R&D after 1985 and pesticide R&D from 1984 to 1987.
Agent Production Begins and Al Muthanna State Establishment Takes Shape
Project 922 subsumed the Chemical Corps al-Rashad CW efforts and their site 60 km northwest of Baghdad. Within months of its inception, Project 922 began construction at the site on what was to become Iraq’s main CW production and research center. West German businesses, using East German designs, supervised the creation of what was at the time the world’s most modern and best-planned CW facility under the cover of pesticide production.
- Construction activity between 1982 and 1983 was intense. Iraq’s foreign contractors, including Karl Kolb with Massar for reinforcement, built five large research laboratories, an administrative building, eight large underground bunkers for the storage of chemical munitions, and the first production buildings.
Iraq had acquired sufficient expertise during the 1970s, despite fraud and failure by Al Hasan, to begin agent production immediately on completion of the first pilot-scale production line in the early 1980s. For example, 85 tons of mustard agent were produced at al-Rashad from 1981 to 1982. After Project 922 came on line, both facilities produced agent.
- 150 tons of mustard were produced in 1983.
- About 60 tons of Tabun were produced in 1984.
- Pilot-scale production of Sarin began in 1984.
Work at the Project 922 site did not pass unnoticed:
- During the summer of 1985, Iranian F-4 aircraft attacked the Samarra’ site;
- This was followed in October 1986 with a SCUD attack.
As a result, Iraq moved a significant portion of its Roland Air Defense System to the Samarra’ area to protect the project.
As production increased, Baghdad recognized that its dependence on foreign suppliers for precursors was a program weakness and took immediate steps towards self-reliance for precursor production. Iraq made plans to build three precursor production plants, starting in 1985, near the town of Fallujah, 50 kilometers west of Baghdad.
- Iraq began constructing Fallujah I, II and III between 1986 and 1988 to produce precursors.
The decision to construct the precursor production plants was the beginning of a significant commitment of resources to a long-term CW program. In 1987, Husayn Kamil, assisted by Amer al-Sa’adi, created the MIC and renamed the CW complex the Al Muthanna State Establishment (MSE).
MSE Redefines “Dual-Use”
The term “dual-use” refers to resources that have both WMD and legitimate civilian or conventional military applications. MSE pursued legitimate industrial projects in addition to CW agent production, particularly after the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Pesticide and pharmaceutical research took place at Al Muthanna alongside CW development, often involving the same people.
- The German firm Karl Kolb described the production plants it built as “general multi-purpose pilot plants,” providing Iraq with plausible deniability regarding the plants and distancing Karl Kolb from being implicated in contributing to WMD programs.
- Pesticide research and development was a secondary responsibility for MSE. Post-1988, MSE unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a pesticide production plant from a number of leading companies worldwide, in order to expand its background knowledge in organophosphorous production.
- Between 1989 and 1990, during which time Iraq interrupted CW production because there was no longer an immediate need for agent, the MSE CW infrastructure produced civilian goods, including shampoos, disinfectants, and simple pesticides.
Early Weaponization: Simple Solutions
Against the background of the Iran-Iraq war and the pressure to halt the Iranians, Al Muthanna took every available shortcut in developing chemical weapons. To avoid the delays of developing indigenous delivery systems, Iraq purchased conventional bombs from Spain that easily could be modified for CW fill. Later, using reverse-engineering, Al Muthanna built the infrastructure to manufacture its own weapons.
- According to Iraq’s declaration to the UN in 1996, from 1981 to 1984 Iraq purchased 40,000 artillery shells, and 7,500 bomb casings from various countries that were to be modified for delivery of CW.
- Iraq also declared that by 1989, it had manufactured 10,000 CW bomb casings and 18,500 rocket warheads, all reverse engineered from imported munitions.
CW—A Permanent and Pivotal Strategic Weapon
The work underway at Al Muthanna State Enterprise by the late 1980s was an indication Saddam intended Iraq’s CW effort to be a significant, large-scale program. From its inception, MSE’s Research and Development (R&D) Directorate investigated a broad assortment of agents. Iraqi CW scientists understood that they would gain the greatest battlefield impact by developing a range of CW agents with different characteristics for different situations.
- MSE’s R&D Directorate had individual departments dedicated to the development of mustard agents, nerve agents, and psychomimetic compounds according to Iraq’s declaration to the UN in 1996. Reporting from various sources indicates Iraq investigated more than 40 potential CW compounds.
Saddam believed Iraqi WMD capabilities had played a central role in the winning of the Iran-Iraq war and were vital to Iraq’s national security strategy.
- Iraq became the first nation to use nerve agent on the battlefield when it used Tabun against Iran in 1984. By the end of the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq had used over 100,000 chemical munitions against Iranian human wave attacks and its own Kurdish population.
- By 1991, Iraq had amassed a sizeable CW arsenal and hundreds of tons of bulk agent. Iraq had also produced nerve agent warheads for the 650 km al-Husayn missile.
Reflecting those perceptions, and in a bid to create a strategic deterrent, MSE turned immediately after the Iran-Iraq war to a strategy for maintaining an offensive CW capability in peacetime. With the end of the war in August 1988, MSE stopped CW agent production, and focused on production of marketable products while continuing research to improve production techniques, agent purity, and shelf life, although it restarted production in 1990.
- Al Muthanna’s CW nerve agents contained impurities that affected agent stability and thus limited the shelf life of stored filled munitions and bulk agent. This had not mattered during the Iran-Iraq War, when Iraq was using agent as fast as it could produce it, but given Iraq’s intent to use chemical weapons as a strategic deterrent, some stockpiling was essential.
A speech by Saddam on 2 April 1990 publicly identified Iraq’s CW research and production efforts in anticipation of the next war. Saddam claimed Iraq had a binary agent capability, an assertion that caught MSE scientists off guard, according to Iraqi declaration corroborated by documents the UN discovered at Al Muthanna.
- In less than a month after Saddam’s speech, Iraq restarted its CW production lines, tested CW warheads for al Husayn missiles, and reverse-engineered special parachute-retarded bombs. [According to the FFCD, Iraq did not import any aerial bombs in 1990.]
Al Muthanna filled the al-Husayn warheads and aerial bombs with a binary nerve agent component. These weapons were accompanied by Jerry cans containing the second component, a chemical that, when mixed with the weapons’ contents, produced nerve agent. This was the mix-before-flight Iraqi ‘binary’ system. Iraq deployed 1,000 binary bombs and 50 al-Husayn warheads—binary and unitary—by August 1990.
- In the subsequent first Gulf war, it is assessed that Saddam believed that the deployment of CW, and the delegated authority to use them, contributed to the US not driving on to Baghdad.
The Decline, 1991-1996
Destroying Iraqi Weapons
During the Gulf war in early 1991, Coalition Forces destroyed or extensively damaged most of Iraq’s CW infrastructure, including many of the agent and precursor production facilities at Al Muthanna. Then, in April 1991, the UN adopted Security Council Resolution 687, which established a ceasefire in the Gulf war.Iraq was required to verifiably disarm as a prerequisite to lifting of the oil embargo imposed by UNSCR 660 of August 1990.
Examples of Known Iraqi Use of CW
The war with Iran ended in August 1988. By this time, seven UN specialist missions had documented repeated use of chemicals in the war. According to Iraq, it consumed almost 19,500 chemical bombs, over 54,000 chemical artillery shells and 27,000 short-range chemical rockets between 1983 and 1988. Iraq declared it consumed about 1,800 tons of mustard gas, 140 tons of Tabun, and over 600 tons of Sarin. Almost two-thirds of the CW weapons were used in the last 18 months of the war. Examples of CW use by Iraq:
|Use in Iran-Iraq war, 1983-1988
|Mustard , fewer than 100 Iranian/Kurdish casualties|
|Mustard, 3,000 Iranian/Kurdish casualties|
|Mustard, 2,500 Iranian casualties|
|Tabun, 50-100 Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & Tabun, 3,000 Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & Tabun, 8,000 to 10,000 Iranian casualties|
|Mustard, 1,000s Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & Tabun, 5,000 Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 3,000 Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 1,000s Kurdish/Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 1,000s Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties|
|Mustard & nerve agent, 100s or 1,000s Iranian casualties|
Use in Southern Iraq against the Popular Uprising, 1991
|Nerve agent & CS, Shi’a casualties not known.
These are selected uses only. Numerous other smaller scale CW attacks occurred.
Iraq initially chose not to fully declare its CW weapons and infrastructure, a decision usually attributed to Husayn Kamil and implemented by senior personnel including his senior deputy, Amer al-Sa’adi.
- Anticipating that inspections would be an ineffective and short-lived inconvenience, Iraqi leaders decided in early April 1991 to hide significant components of the CW program, including weapons, precursors, and equipment.
- Following a particularly invasive IAEA inspection in late-June 1991, Saddam ordered Dr. Mahmud Faraj Bilal, former deputy of the CW program, to destroy all hidden CW and BW materials, according to an interview with Bilalafter OIF.
- Available evidence indicates Iraq destroyed its hidden CW weapons and precursors, but key documentation and dual-use equipment were retained and were later discovered by inspectors.
For the next five years, Iraq maintained the hidden items useful for a CW program restart but did not renew its major CW efforts out of fear the UN sanctions would not be removed. UN sanctions severely limited Iraq’s financial resources. Raw materials, precursors, equipment, and expertise became increasingly scarce. The crippling of Iraq’s CW infrastructure by the war, and the subsequent destruction and UN monitoring of much of the remaining materials and equipment limited Iraq’s ability to rebuild or restart a CW program.
- The effects of sanctions reverberated throughout the scientific community and affected all aspects of industry within Iraq. Many scientists were underemployed or had access to neither research and production materials nor professional development.
In August 1995, shortly after Iraq revealed its production of bulk BW agent, Saddam’s son-in-law and head of Iraq’s WMD programs, Husayn Kamil, fled the country. Saddam made a decision at that time to declare virtually all hidden information and material they felt was significant on Iraq’s programs, turning over WMD documentation, including 12 trunks of CW documents.
- The documentation turned over by Iraq, allegedly hidden by Husayn Kamil, included results of Iraqi research material up to 1988 that indicated more extensive research on VX than previously admitted.
- The documents also included papers related to new agent research, mix-in-flight binary munitions development, and previously undisclosed involvement of other organizations in CW research.
ISG believes that none of these events weakened Saddam’s resolve to possess a robust CW capability. Baghdad believed its need for chemical weapons was justified, based on its fear of hostilities with Iran and Israel. The Regime, we judge, was also motivated by an unstated desire to elevate its status among Arab nations. ISG believes that Saddam deferred but did not abandon his CW ambitions.
- Saddam implied, according to the former Presidential Secretary, that Iraq would resume WMD programs after sanctions in order to restore the “strategic balance” within the region and, particularly, against Israel.
- Saddam was fascinated by science and by the possibilities it offered for enhancing his military power base. He felt that possessing the technological capability to develop WMD conferred the intrinsic right on the country to do so, according to a former senior Iraqi official.
- In the 1990s, the Regime actively sought to achieve scientific excellence in Iraq through a series of administrative measures, but years of isolation from the international academic community and a lack of successful domestic research left Iraq’s scientific infrastructure in decay.
- According to an Iraqi academic scientist, Saddam issued an edict in 1993-1994 that all Iraqi universities address problems encountered in the military and industrial sectors. This marked a departure from past practice where the government denied such work to universities.
- Following this order, Iraqi research universities were required to become self-funding. MIC projects accounted for much of the research funding during this time, according to a leading university scientist.
- Saddam encouraged open forums for competition among scientists through committees and other programs, and he personally awarded top scientists for exceptional work in technical fields. Saddam became personally involved in the direction of some of these programs, but many lacked unified planning or direction for research, and few were successful, according to Sa’adi.
Following Husayn Kamil’s defection, Saddam took steps to better manage Iraqi industry, and with the creation of the Iraqi Industrial Committee (IIC) in September 1995, the stage was set for a renewal of Iraq’s chemical industry. The IIC coordinated a range of projects aimed at developing an indigenous chemical production capability for strategically important chemicals that were difficult to import under UN sanctions, according to reporting. (See Annex C.)
Recovery and Transition, 1996-2003
Iraq’sCW program was crippled by the Gulf war and the legitimate chemical industry, which suffered under sanctions, and only began to recover in the mid-1990s. Subsequent changes in the management of key military and civilian organizations, followed by an influx of funding and resources, provided Iraq with the ability to reinvigorate its industrial base. Iraq’s acceptance of the UN OFF program in 1996 was the foundation of Iraq’s economic recovery and sparked a flow of illicitly diverted funds.
Iraq’s chemical industry surged in the late 1990s, when more financial resources became available to the Regime. Although Iraq still lagged behind its pre–Gulf war capabilities, it was able to divert a portion of its revenue to purchase new plants and renovate existing ones to renew its basic chemical industry.
- Iraq was successful in procuring, constructing, and commissioning a complete state-of-the-art chemical facility for ammonium perchlorate through the Indian company NEC. Ammonium perchlorate is a key chemical for missile propellants.
- Iraq began refurbishing, and in some cases expanding, existing chemical facilities with foreign assistance. For example, the Al Tariq complex renovated its chlorine and phenol lines and restarted them in March 2000, according to reporting.
Between 1996 and 2003, the IIC coordinated large and important projects for the indigenous production of chemicals.
- A written order from Saddam established the National Project for Pharmaceuticals and Pesticides (NPPP). NPPP focused on the synthesis of drugs and pesticides, for which Iraq in the past relied heavily on foreign suppliers.
- The IIC examined over 1,000 chemicals for initial R&D to determine the feasibility of scaled-up production. ISG notes that two chemicals on this list were compounds that are consistent with an experimental VX pathway.
- The process for vetting the 1,000 chemicals for economic feasibility and large-scale production was intensive and formalized. The IIC leadership built in several layers of review, research, and justification before compounds were selected for scale-up, raising further suspicion about the three compounds, particularly dicyclocarbodiimide (DCC)—a dehydrating agent that can be used as a VX stabilizer
- Dr. Ja’far Dhia Ja’far, and IIC member, could not recall which projects were accepted for scale-up but he knew that some compounds were dual-use and declarable to the UN, and that the National Monitoring Directorate (NMD) did not declare all of the chemicals.
Reports of an unexplained discovery of VX traces on missile warhead fragments in April 1997 led to further tension between UNSCOM and Iraq. The uneasy relationship escalated with the discovery of the ‘Air Force Document’ (see RSI chapter) in July 1998, which indicated further Iraqi deception and obfuscation over its CW disclosures. Iraq’s anger about these two major issues was a contributing factor to Saddam’s decisions to suspend cooperation with UNSCOM and IAEA.
- The lack of inspectors allowed further dual-use infrastructure to be developed. The lack of effective monitoring emboldened Saddam and his illicit procurement activities.
Concurrently, Iraq continued to upgrade its indigenous manufacturing capability, pursuing glass-lining technology and manufacturing its own multipurpose controllers.
- Reporting indicates that research being conducted by State Establishment for Heavy Engineering Equipment (SEHEE)—Iraq’s primary fabrication plant—beginning in 1999 was geared towards developing a process for glass lining steel reactors, making them corrosion resistant. SEHEE was focused on making cheaper, longer-lasting vessels, and reducing reliance on stainless steel.
- Documents recovered by ISG indicate that two teams, including one from the Al Majid Company had developed multipurpose controllers for typical chemical production by January 2003.
As the chemical industry began to recover, former CW scientists remained employed, primarily at Al Tariq Company (see Annex F), on a range of issues of interest to the UN and which Iraq claimed were part of its industrial chemical or defensive NBC interests. We have not been able to confirm that any of these efforts were connected to chemical agent production capability.
- Scientists from the former CW program formulated agent simulants such as concentrated Malathion, a pesticide, and locally manufactured a copy of a system to disperse the simulant in 2001 and 2002.
There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD production after sanctions were lifted by preserving assets and expertise. In addition to preserved capability, we have clear evidence of his intent to resume WMD production as soon as sanctions were lifted. All sources suggest that Saddam encouraged compartmentalization and would have discussed something as sensitive as WMD with as few people as possible.
- Huwaysh claimed that in 1999 Saddam asked how long it would take to build a production line for CW agents. Huwaysh tasked four officials to investigate, and they responded that experts could readily prepare a production line for mustard within six months. VX and Sarin production were more complicated and would take longer. Huwaysh relayed this answer to Saddam, who never requested follow-up information. An Iraqi CW expert separately estimated Iraq would require only a few days to start producing mustard—if it were prepared to sacrifice the production equipment.
As the reality of the UN’s impending return sank in, Iraq rapidly initiated steps to prepare for inspectors. Committees and groups were formed to ensure sites and key scientists were ready to receive the inspectors.
- As had often occurred in the past, individual scientists, heads of departments and security officials examined their plans of work for items or documents that would be subject to inspections. In every relevant location in Iraq, to some extent, normal work was disrupted in the effort to ensure Iraq was not suspected of undertaking proscribed activities.
- According to a senior chemist at the MIC, Huwaysh in October 2002, issued an order—the same order issued several times in the past—which held scientists personally responsible for any materials, equipment, or other prohibited items found by the UN.
- Vice President Taha Ramadan chaired a meeting of over 400 scientists before the inspectors returned, threatening scientists with dire consequences if the inspectors found anything that interfered with Iraq’s progress towards the lifting of sanctions.
- When inspections resumed, foreign experts were hidden from the inspection teams.
In the final days of his Regime, Saddam continued to pursue efforts to enhance Iraq’s industrial base, with plans underway for the construction of a multipurpose chemical plant, and nine oil refineries in Southern and Northern Iraq. The plans for this chemical plant were the result of years of the IIC’s efforts to coordinate research into the indigenous production of chemicals.
- The Ministry of Industry and Minerals (MIM) owned a plot of land west of Baghdad that it set aside for construction of this multipurpose production facility, which was designed to produce a year’s supply of 100 chemicals using only 10 independent pilot-scale production lines. (For more information, see Iraq’s Infrastructure: Production Capability).
- Construction was scheduled to begin in March 2003, but was halted just prior to OIF. The plant would have provided Iraq with an indigenous multi-purpose production facility capable of producing large quantities of chemicals, in a relatively short time.
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