UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq Survey Group Final Report


Evolution of the Nuclear Weapons Program

The Regime 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: Ambition

Saddam demonstrated his commitment to obtain a nuclear weapon over two decades. Saddam’s close association with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) stems from his service as Vice President of the Republic from 1968 until 1979 when he became President of Iraq. From 1973 to 1979, he also served as President of the IAEC and sponsored its acquisition of foreign-supplied facilities with which to support a nuclear weapons program.

In 1968, Iraq commissioned a Russian supplied IRT-2000 research reactor and commissioned a number of other facilities that could be used for radioisotope production at the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, home of the IAEC. In the 1970s, through contracts with French and Italian firms, the IAEC built facilities at Tuwaitha that, if operational, could have allowed Iraq to attempt to produce plutonium for a weapons program. The Israeli destruction of the Tammuz 1 (Osirak) research reactor on 7 June 1981 and Iraq’s subsequent failure to replace or rebuild it compelled the Iraqis to pursue a more clandestine uranium enrichment program for a nuclear weapon by the mid-1980s.

Between 1979 and 1982, Iraq bought large quantities of uranium in various forms including yellowcake and uranium dioxide from several countries. Some of the purchases were reported to the IAEA and some were not. Iraq’s uranium purchases are detailed in its CAFCD in 2002 and in other, earlier disclosures.

Not long after the start of the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq began to formally pursue uranium enrichment. In January 1982, the Office of Studies and Development (OSD) was established in the IAEC to conduct research and development in uranium enrichment. The staff of OSD was drawn largely from the staff of IAEC and numbered no more than several hundred. In late 1982, the IAEC was restructured and OSD became known as Office 3000.

During the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq studied a variety of uranium enrichment techniques. It was not until near the last year of the war in the late 1980s that Iraq began to make decisions and take serious steps to develop a nuclear infrastructure.

In April 1987, the IAEC created a group structure that assigned responsibility for gaseous diffusion research projects to Group 1, EMIS research and development to Group 2, and support activities to Group 3 in the Office of Studies and Development, or Office 3000.

Also in April 1987 a program, codenamed the Al-Husayn project (HP), was formed under Husayn Kamil, supervisor of the State Organization for Technical Industries at the time, to study the steps required to start a nuclear weapons program in Iraq. The finished report outlined a range of projects and served as the basis of a formally constituted nuclear weapons program. In November 1987, the project team was transferred to the IAEC and in April 1988 became Group 4 in Office 3000. The program was implemented in June 1987 and construction began on a nuclear weapon research, development, and production complex at Al Athir in August 1988.

In August 1987, Group 1 formally left the IAEC and Tuwaitha to act independently as the Engineering Design Directorate (EDD) in the Ar Rashidiyah District of Baghdad. At that time the EDD began to develop centrifuge enrichment technology and throughout its existence was directly responsible to Husayn Kamil.

Nearly all avenues of uranium enrichment were considered, but by late 1987 Iraq began construction of a large electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS) plant at Tarmiya. To support the large investment in EMIS technology, a network of facilities was created to concentrate uranium, convert uranium to feed materials, fabricate EMIS equipment, and chemically recover product.

As the Iraq-Iran war drew to a close, further changes were made in the Iraqi Nuclear Program structure that would ultimately place the nuclear weapons program under Husayn Kamil. In May 1988, when the Ministry of Industry and Military Industrialization (MIMI) was officially established, EDD, renamed the Engineering Design Center (EDC), became one of the institutions of the Military Industrialization Commission (MIC), under MIMI. In November 1988, Office 3000 (Groups 2, 3, and 4) was transferred to the MIMI and in January 1989 officially given the name Petrochemical Project 3 (PC-3) under Dr. Ja’far Diya’ Ja’far. Husayn Kamil, Director of MIC and MIMI, assumed control of the Iraqi Nuclear Program.

In August 1988, German engineers traveled to Baghdad and presented European centrifuge design data that EDC immediately copied to advance its otherwise slow progress in developing centrifuge enrichment. In the years before the 1991 Gulf war, several more German engineers became involved, and centrifuge design documents based on technology developed for the European enrichment consortium URENCO were transferred to EDC. Contracts were signed with a number of European firms to acquire key component manufacturing technology and critical equipment for the centrifuge program.

After the invasion of Kuwait and the UN economic embargo, Iraq initiated an accelerated, or “crash program.” to produce a nuclear weapon that called for the diversion of IAEA-safeguarded research reactor fuel at Tuwaitha. Iraq planned to further enrich some research reactor fuels using an envisioned 50-machine centrifuge cascade to produce enough weapon-grade uranium for one nuclear weapon. There were numerous obstacles—such as deficiencies in cascade development, uranium recovery capability, and weapons design and development—that prevented the Iraqis from succeeding.

At the time the program ended in early 1991, the Iraqi Nuclear Program (INP) had several thousand personnel, and Iraq was commissioning EMIS equipment at Tarmiya and producing micrograms of enriched uranium. The centrifuge enrichment program was successfully operating a single machine in a test stand and building facilities for a small enrichment cascade. The Iraqis were working on a first-generation nuclear weapon design, which they intended to make into a device deliverable by missile.

Decline (1991-96)

Following the invasion of Kuwait, nearly all of the key nuclear facilities—those involved in the processing of nuclear material or weapons research—were bombed during Desert Storm. Many of the facilities located at Tuwaitha were devastated, and the EMIS enrichment plants at Tarmiya and Ash Sharqat were largely destroyed. Iraq’s yellowcake recovery plant at Al-Qa’im and feed material production plant at Mosul (Al Jazira) also were bombed during the war. Al-Athir—a high-explosives testing site revealed after the war to be Iraq’s planned nuclear weapons development and assembly site—was also damaged. Iraq’ s centrifuge research and development site at Rashdiya and the planned centrifuge production and operations site at Al Furat were neither found nor targeted in the 1991 war, but industrial sites, found after the war to be supporting nuclear weapons efforts, were attacked and damaged.

The Iraqis first chose not to disclose the extent of their clandestine nuclear program in their April 1991 declaration. As part of a denial and deception effort at the end of May 1991, Kamil issued orders to collect all documents and equipment indicating Non-Proliferation Treaty violations. Equipment and documentation were moved to a variety of locations to hide program elements from the IAEA. Iraqi researchers were instructed by their managers to dispose of their laboratories, some of which were then set up in universities and institutes. In addition, Kamil ordered that at least one set of all nuclear-related documents and some equipment be retained by a senior scientist.

It was not until the Iraqis were confronted with evidence and IAEA successfully seized EMIS components in June/July 1991 that the Iraqis admitted to the large enrichment program. Large quantities of EMIS equipment were unburied and delivered to IAEA for destruction later that year.

Even though the existence of their centrifuge enrichment program was known before 1991, the Iraqis did not fully declare its extent and maintained that it was only a limited research and development activity located at Tuwaitha, rather than Ar Rashidiyah. In 1991 the Iraqis also declared the planned centrifuge facility at Al Furat as under construction.

  • After the seizure of documents pertaining to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program in late September 1991, the Iraqis admitted to the existence of the Al Athir. The facility was destroyed by IAEA in April-June 1992.

Starting in 1992, MIC Director Husayn Kamil distributed PC-3 and EDC personnel and work centers around various military research and production facilities. The intention, according to one scientist from the pre-1991 nuclear program, was to keep researchers together in anticipation of a reconstituted nuclear weapon program.

Former PC-3 or EDC personnel working at the Pulse Power Research Center, which became Al Tahadi State Establishment in 1995, created an ion implantation lab with components from former IAEC and PC-3 projects (1994) and a rail gun experiment for air defense, which also used equipment from IAEC and PC-3 (1993-95).

Iraq resisted a more comprehensive disclosure of its nuclear program until after the defection of Husayn Kamil in August 1995, when a large collection of centrifuge and nuclear program documents and equipment was given to UNSCOM and IAEA. From that point onwards, the Iraqis appear to have cooperated and provided more complete information. The centrifuge program appears to have largely been declared, though a full set of documents delivered by German engineers was not supplied to IAEA inspectors.

Efforts that could preserve the progress and talent that had been developed up to the 1991 war included keeping the nuclear cadre engaged in a variety of projects, such as rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure. However, the nuclear program was ended and the intellectual capital decayed in the succeeding years. The economy had declined, and the talent had been focused on rebuilding the country as well as other military priorities. In some cases, extraordinary measures had to be taken to retain scientists, such as restricting foreign travel or seeking other jobs.

Recovery and Transition (1996-2002)

Iraq collaborated with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to produce a series of Full, Final, and Complete Disclosure (FFCD) statements, including a “final” presented to the IAEA in September 1996, which reported its review findings to the UN Security Council in October 1997. The IAEA concluded that it had a technically coherent picture of the pre-1999 nuclear weapons program, although it was troubled by the absence of centrifuge program documentation and there were gaps in knowledge about nuclear weapon design and development activities and the role of foreign assistance—the latter point also a reference to a pre-1991 offer by a representative of Pakistan’s A. Q. Khan to assist Iraq in developing nuclear weapons.

‘Abd-al-Tawab ‘Abdallah Al Mullah Huwaysh became director of the MIC in 1997 and appeared to bear no loyalty to the former nuclear program and IAEC personnel. He standardized salaries, eliminating the preferential pay differential given former PC-3 workers, and instituted measures to emphasize and monitor performance throughout MIC.

With the influx of funds from the Oil For Food (OFF) Program and later the suspension of cooperation with UNSCOM, Saddam’s attention began to return to the former employees of the Iraqi Nuclear Program. In the late 1990s, raises in salaries were given to the employees of both the MIC and the IAEC. New programs were initiated, which would employ the talent of former Iraqi Nuclear Program employees, and both the MIC and IAEC expanded. Joint programs with universities were started not only to support a deteriorating university system but also to encourage involvement in MIC and IAEC efforts, offering the opportunity to pass knowledge on to new generations of scientists.

After 1998, interest by Saddam in air defense stimulated projects involving a former nuclear researcher—including one project that had the prospect of supporting a renewed nuclear weapons effort. The IAEC started a rail gun project in 1999, and the MIC was sponsoring a rail gun project at Al Tahadi in 2000. Both projects, and other air defense projects at IAEC, had poor prospects for success as weapons. The IAEC rail gun effort—led by the former head of the pre-1991 nuclear weapons design and development effort, Khalid Ibrahim Sa’id—could, with significant further development, be useful for future nuclear weapons design and development research.

New departments were established in the Physics Department of the IAEC. While primarily supporting the IAEC rail gun project, a Technical Research Branchwith laboratories for high-speed imaging, flash X-ray, impact studies, electronics, and computingwas established in 2001 in newly created laboratories outside the gates of Tuwaitha. A new laser division was created in 1999, and other departments were modernized through purchases of new equipment. Efforts were made to expand ties to universities and train more students at IAEC. Procurements were made through MIC to improve the equipment at IAEC’s machine tool workshop.

Miscalculation (2002-2003)

In the year prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), MIC undertook improvements to technology in several areas that could have been applied to a renewed centrifuge program for uranium enrichment. These dual-use technologies included projects to acquire a magnet production line at Al Tahadi, carbon fiber filament winding equipment for missile fabrication at al Karama, and the creation of a new Department of Rotating Machinery at Ibn Yunis. All of these projects were created to improve specific military or commercial products, but the technologies could have help support a centrifuge development project. ISG, however, has uncovered no indication that Iraq had resumed fissile material or nuclear weapon research and development activities since 1991.


Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list