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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Iraq Survey Group Final Report


Laser Research in Iraq

The Iraqi government at the time of Operation Iraqi Freedom was supporting laser research and development work in military and industrial applications. ISG found no evidence of a renewed laser isotope separation (LIS) program to enrich uranium.

  • ISG believes that only a few Iraqi scientists have the knowledge and experience to recommence an LIS project. Furthermore, the technology and infrastructure to support an LIS program does not appear to exist in Iraq.

Laser Related Work After Desert Storm

After Operation Desert Storm, laser work that had been under way in the IAEC as part of an effort to enrich uranium in the 1980s was transferred to universities and to the MIC. The various laser projects conducted at these organizations allowed the Iraqis to retain much of their technical know-how in laser technology.

  • In 1992, Dr. Falah Hamza—the former head of pre-1991 research efforts to enrich uranium with lasers—asked Husayn Kamil to provide additional funding for the IAEC Laser group. Hamza claimed high-power lasers could be used for air defense as well as for enrichment, seeming to imply that there were other, valuable uses of lasers and laser technology in the Iraqi military and industrial complex. Husayn Kamil agreed to the additional funding, perhaps to learn if Hamza could further develop laser technology into a usable uranium enrichment method.
  • In 1993, an IAEC Optical Center was established at the University of Baghdad. Hamza’s laser project was transferred to the Optical Center, and Hamza became one of the Center’s Group Leaders.
  • In 1994, laser projects in Iraq were organizationally moved from the IAEC to the MIC and in 1997 were physically consolidated at the Laser Research Center. It was later named the Al-Razi State Company and became known as the Ibn Khaldun Laser Center. Al-Razi was co-located at the Alwiyah Drug Industrial Center Ibn Al Baytar.
  • According to the MIC Director Dr. Huwaysh, Al-Razi engaged the Technology University to assist in laser projects. The Dean of the Physics Department received a 6-million-dinar contract, which was the largest contract MIC had with a university professor. This occurred sometime after laser research was started at Al-Razi in 1997.
  • The former Minister of Education, Dr. Humam ‘Abd Al-Khaliq Abd Al-Ghafur, stated that the Dean of the Plasma and Laser Institute at Baghdad University, up until Operation Iraqi Freedom, was Dr. Nafi ‘Abd Al-Latif Tilfah and that the Baghdad University of Technology also conducted laser research. In October 2003, he stated that he was not aware of any nuclear-related research being conducted at these institutes.
  • According an interview with Dr. Nafi ‘Abd Al-Latif Tilfah, Dean of Baghdad University’s Institute for Laser and Plasma Studies in November, 2003, post-1991 laser research was conducted at several locations including the Baghdad University Institute for Laser and Plasma Studies, the Baghdad University of Technology, Mustansiriyah University, and at the Al-Razi Company. Tilfah stated, however, that he was not aware of any LIS-related laser work being conducted at these institutions.

A knowledgeable source indicated that some of the important team members of the 1980s LIS team were working on the development of a copper vapor laser (CVL) in 1997 at Al-Razi—a technology with potential applications to LIS. This work continued until mid-2002 with the successful development of a CVL designed to pump a dye laser. The CVL development effort was led by an Iraqi scientist, who successfully operated a CVL in March or April 2001. The scientist hosted a demonstration of the 10-watt CVL to MIC Director Huwaysh on 5 July 2002. The CVL system reportedly was placed into storage in 2002 in an adjacent underground facility. In April or May of 2003, the underground facility adjacent to the main Al-Razi facility was visited and found to have been looted, and equipment was missing. The Iraqi scientist stated that after the CVL demonstration he worked on a barium vapor laser up until Operation Iraqi Freedom.

  • The Iraqi scientist said LIS work was never done at Al-Razi. He also stated that Huwaysh expressly forbade such work and, therefore, no one would have attempted LIS. The Iraqi scientist also indicated he would have been aware of any such work at other facilities because he was the only laser researcher in Iraq with a functioning CVL.
  • The Iraqi scientist indicated no written reports were produced on the Al-Razi CVL work. Exploitation of documents from Al-Razi contains very few mentions of LIS or uranium isotope information, and no mention of the CVL development work has been found in these documents.

In the 1990s Iraq pursued various laser application. However, LIS and its nuclear application does not appear to have been part of this work.

  • According to one scientist, who started working at Al-Razi in 2002, laser work for military applications such as jamming, range finding, communications and guidance was being conducted at Al-Razi. Also, according to the same scientist, one group at Al-Razi was working on a carbon dioxide (CO2) laser for an antimissile defense project. This project reportedly was abandoned because of technical problems.
  • Laser work also was being done with Nd-YAG and Nd-Glass lasers at Al-Razi. Additionally, an investigation using hydrogen fluoride and deuterium fluoride lasers for an antimissile defense program was being studied.

Current Status and Future Potential

A few former LIS scientists remain in Iraq, but the equipment and facilities needed to reconstitute an LIS program are extremely limited. For example:

  • Following Operation Iraqi Freedom, the CVL that had been demonstrated to the MIC Director in mid-2001 was reportedly stolen from the underground facility in which it was placed. ISG was unable to determine the location or the current status of the CVL.
  • Although Al-Razi was not damaged during Operation Iraqi Freedom, it was heavily looted afterward.

Iraq’s Pre-1991 LIS Efforts

Beginning in 1981, Iraq committed significant resources to exploring the use of LIS techniques for enriching uranium. This work was prompted by then Vice President of the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, Dr. Humam ‘Abd Al-Khaliq ‘Abd Al-Ghafur. LIS techniques that were under development included atomic vapor laser isotope separation (AVLIS) and molecular laser isotope separation (MLIS).

These pre-1991 LIS efforts were under the auspices of the IAEC, rather than the PC-3. The LIS program was terminated in 1988.

  • The results of the 26th IAEA On-Site Inspection in Iraq led to the conclusion that the level of skills, equipment, and infrastructures available in Iraq was totally inadequate in the pursuit of any meaningful activity in LIS.
  • A report written by Dr. Faleh Hassan Hamza has revealed the results of the former Iraqi AVLIS effort were inconclusive—his team could not confirm that uranium was actually separated. The MLIS experiments successfully enriched sulfur but could not achieve repeatable results with uranium. Based on these experiments, Dr. Hamza wrote a review of the state-of-knowledge of LIS, concluding that Iraq had neither the technology infrastructure nor the capability to purchase the necessary equipment to achieve success with LIS. The laser work stopped in 1988.

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