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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Biological Weapons Program
Iraq Survey Group Findings

In its 2004 report, the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) judged that in 1991 and 1992, Iraq destroyed its undeclared stocks of BW weapons and probably destroyed remaining holdings of bulk BW agent. Iraq retained some BW-related seed stocks until their discovery after Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). According to reports, after Iraq decided not to declare much of their BW capabilities at the conclusion of the Gulf War and consequently ordered all evidence of the program erased. Iraq declared that BW program personnel sanitized the facilities and destroyed the weapons and their contents. After picking up where UN inspectors left off, ISG's investigation left the possibility that the fragments of up to 25 bombs may remain undiscovered. Of these, any that escaped destruction would probably now only contain degraded agent. This finding greatly contrasts with the prewar intelligence that estimated Iraq's BW program to be larger than its pre-1991 program and to definately possess BW.

ISG, however, had doubts regarding Iraq's destruction of bacterial reference strains and isolates. According to Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha Al 'Azzawi, head of the bacterial program, she destroyed these materials in early 1992, but ISG can verify neither that the materials were destroyed nor the other details of Dr. Rihab's account. She maintains that she gave a small box containing no more than 25 vials of lyophilized bacterial pathogens, including those obtained from the American Type Culture Collection to the IIS in mid-1991 for safekeeping. Allegedly, Husam Muhammad Amin Al Yasin, who would eventually become the director of the National Monitoring Directorate (NMD), returned the box to her in early 1992. Husayn Kamil, then head of Iraq's WMD programs, ordered the strands destroyed, which Dr. Rihab claims she did.

ISG also concluded that the destruction of the Al-Hakam facility effectively marked the end of Iraq's large-scale BW ambitions. Al Hakam was Iraq's primary BW agent production facility, producing Bacillus anthracis, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens and simulant, Bacillus subtilis, for testing and ultimately, weaponization purposes. Any attempt to create a new BW program after 1996 would have encountered a range of major hurdles. The years following Desert Storm wrought a steady degradation of Iraq's industrial base: new equipment and spare parts for existing machinery became difficult and expensive to obtain, standards of maintenance declined, staff could not receive training abroad, and foreign technical assistance was almost impossible to get. Additionally, Iraq's infrastructure and public utilities were crumbling. New large projects, particularly if they required special foreign equipment and expertise, would attract international attention. UN monitoring of dual-use facilities up to the end of 1998, made their use for clandestine purpose complicated and risk laden.

Although ISG could not find evidence of any direct work on BW agents, ISG did uncover reports of secret laboratories run by the Iraqi Intelligence Services (IIS). IIS had been involved in Iraq's BW program from its inception in the 1970s, both providing protection and conducting research, so such a revelation would be in keeping with IIS's historical relationship with Iraq's BW program. There was information that suggested that up to 5 IIS laboratories operated in the greater Baghdad area at various times up until Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Some of the laboratories possessed equipment capable of supporting research into BW agents for military purposes, but ISG does not know whether this occurred although there is no evidence of it. The laboratories were probably the successors of the Al Salman facility, located three kilometers south of Salman Pak, which was destroyed in 1991, and they carried on many of the same activities, including forensic work. Although unconfirmed by ISG, reports from former IIS officials-a former IIS chemist and his former supervisor, the late Dr. Al Azmirli, stated that IIS was involved in the research and limited production of ricin for the development of a BW weapon. Reports also indicated that human experiments had been part of the IIS program. ISG estimated that IIS's interest was almost certainly based on its limited developed use as an assassination weapon.

Although much of Iraq's BW infrastructure had crubled over the course of time, it spent considerable effort to retain its knowledge-base for future BW production once sanctions were lifted. Unlike nuclear and chemical weapons programs, which require vast physical infrastructure, expensive equipment and substantial financial resources, human capital is the essential element of a national BW effort, for scientific research underpins all aspects of a developing BW program. Iraq made the most of a limited pool of qualified personnel to identify and develop the requisite cadre of skilled scientists and technical personnel. Many of the key scientists went to work for the National Monitoring Directorate (NMD). Others pursued advanced degrees in Iraq's universities or went into the private sector; or work at other government agencies, e.g., Tuwaitha Agriculture and Biological Research Center (TABRC); while at least some continued to conduct small-scale biological research and development in disperse locations under the control of the IIS.

Until Al Hakam's destruction in 1996, the facility had been transformed from the primary BW resarch facility into a civilian facility with the goal of preserving both Iraq' intellectual knowledge regarding BW and its dual-use equipment. Scientists sought to produce biopesticides and Single cell protein (SCP), specifically Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), which is simulant of anthrax. The Bt and SCP programs offered an effective justification that allowed Iraq to keep the Al Hakam site with its extensive equipment and skilled scientists in one place. The rationale for the use of a simulant is that it can be safely used for a variety of purposes such as to accurately assess production methods, storage conditions, weaponization parameters, and dispersal techniques. Many simulants can also be used for a variety of legitimate civilian activities and therefore provide cover stories for BW programs. ISG judged that the TABRC became the primary facility continuing B. thuringiensis research after Al Hakam's destruction in 1996, but ISG lacked evidence that this research was intended as a simulation for anthrax research. However, undeclared pieces of equipment including fermentors were found at TABRC by ISG and an important former anthrax production expert was reported to have worked routinely at the facility from 2000 to 2003, which made ISG suspicious of the true nature of the work done there.

Bt was also used to accomplish another goal for Iraq's BW program: to produce dry agent. Dry BW agent has both a longer shelf life and greater dispersion potential. Although dry agent is also compatable with civilian pesticide programs, the particle size achieved by Iraqi scientists - 1 to 10 micrometers - was too fine for agricultural work, according to ISG interviews, but perfect size for BW agents. ISG found no evidence, however, that this technique was intended for a BW program.

ISG judged that between 1991 and 1996 Iraq possessed an expanding BW agent production capability. From 1996 to OIF, Iraq still possessed small but significant dual-use facilities capable of conversion to small-scale BW agent production. ISG found no evidence that Iraq used this capability for BW production. Iraq maintained-and tried to improve where possible-a smaller, but capable, "legitimate" fermentation capability at agricultural and educational sites that could have been used to produce small but significant quantities of BW agent. After the destruction of Al Hakam, most, but not all, dual-use equipment was destroyed. At the Al Dawrah FMDV Plant, one 2,600-liter, two 3,500-liter, and one 236-liter fermentor as well as one 2,550-liter mobile tank were not destroyed under UN supervision in June 1996. ISG obtained a document that indicated 10 one cubic meter tanks were connected prior to 2000 to form a 10 cubic meter fermentation plant (location unknown). Another document indicates the delivery of an additional 13-14 such tanks in 1993.

Although no active BW program existed at Iraq's biological plants, ISG judged that a break-out production capability existed at one site, the State Company for Drug Industries and Medical Appliances, SDI, at Samarra. Since Iraq could relocate production assets such as fermentors, other sites with basic utilities could also be converted for break-out. A full program to include R&D and production or even just large scale production would require months rather than weeks to re-initiate in a break-out context. ISG assesses the SDI to have the fixed assets that could be converted for BW agent production within four to five weeks after the decision to do so, including utilities, personnel with know-how, and the equipment (with slight modifications) required. Media and additional less-skilled personnel could be obtained. ISG also judged the movable assets at the Al Dawrah FMDV Plant could provide the core of an alternative break-out capability at any other suitable site in Iraq, perhaps within 2 to 3 weeks after the decision to do so. If such a break-out were to take place, ISG judged that Bacillus anthracis (anthrax) would be the germ of choice, since antrax was the only BW in Iraq's historical arsenal.

ISG determined that the following elements of Iraq's pre-1991 BW program were not pursued after the Gulf War.

  • Bacillus anthracis ('Agent B' or anthrax) - a simulant, Bt, was researched under civilian auspices.
  • Clostridium botulinum (Botulinum toxin, 'Agent A')
  • Clostridium perfringens ('Agent G')
  • Brucella
  • Viral Program (smallpox details below)

Prewar Intelligence had assessed that there was an "even chance" that Iraq's BW program contained smallpox. Reports at the time indicated that Iraq had kept cultures during an outbreak in the 1970s and subsequently used those cultures for a BW agent. ISG concluded that Iraq had a pre-1991 intent to develop smallpox as a strategic viral BW agent and had the basic capability to work with variola major (smallpox). However, ISG collected no direct evidence that Iraq either retained or acquired smallpox virus isolates or proceeded with any follow up smallpox related research. ISG assesses, however, that Iraq did have the capability to conduct research into smallpox, if not in a manner up to Western BL-4 containment standards. Iraq possessed facilities such as the Al Dawrah Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine Plant and Al Razi Center had equipment that could potentially be used to work on high-risk agents such as smallpox. Iraq's work with and interest in Camel Pox, a virus similar to smallpox, led ISG to assess that camel pox R&D was a surrogate for smallpox research, analogous to the use of nonpathogenic Bacillus species and Bacillus anthracis. Although Dr. Hazim 'Ali's justifications for BW use indicated reactions against humans, ISG judged his explanation to be inconsistent with current and historical published scientific and medical knowledge.

Aflatoxin ('Agent C') and ricin were the two Biological agents ISG could not rule out for post-1991 research. Sources formerly involved with BW efforts indicate that Iraq at least continued research on aflatoxin throughout the 1990s. In 1994, a DGS forensics laboratory produced 150 ml of aflatoxin for testing on humans, according to a mid-level scientist who formerly worked in the BW program and visited the site. Ricin, as mentioned above, was indicated as part of the post-1991 BW effort by the IIS. In addition to IIS, ISG investigated the Al Tariq Facility - also known as Fallujah II - for alleged ricin production, owing to its production of castor oil. Castor beans, in addition to producing the oil used in Iraqi industrial activities, contain, in the bean mash, the toxin ricin. ISG did not find, however, evidence that the plant was intended for any purpose other than oil production.

ISG found no evidence that Iraq possessed, or was developing BW agent production systems mounted on road vehicles or railway wagons. It was also, however, unable to disprove the existence of such systems. Prior to OIF there was information indicating Iraq had planned and built a breakout BW capability, in the form of a set of mobile production units, capable of producing BW agent at short notice in sufficient quantities to weaponize. Although ISG has conducted a thorough investigation of every aspect of this information, it has not found any equipment suitable for such a program, nor has ISG positively identified any sites. No documents have been uncovered. Interviews with individuals suspected of involvement have all proved negative. To find out more about this topic, follow this link to Mobile BW Production Facilities.

Since the Gulf War, ISG judged that Iraq made no serious attempts to weaponize or disperse BW agents. Prewar intelligence assessed that the L-29 RPV program was intended for BW dissemination, as were other small UAV programs detected by U.S. intelligence. Although ISG assessed it likely that the L-29 was destined for CBW use, neither the Al-Musayara nor the Al Quds UAV programs were for CBW use.

ISG made progress understanding most of the unresolved issues, but a few vital areas remain outstanding. With the degradation of the Iraqi infrastructure and dispersal of personnel, it is increasingly unlikely that these questions will be resolved. Of those that remain, the following are of particular concern, as they relate to the possibility of a retained BW capability or the ability to initiate a new one.

  • ISG could determine the fate of Iraq's stocks of bulk BW agents remaining after Desert Storm and subsequent unilateral destruction. There was a very limited chance that continuing investigation might provide evidence to resolve this issue.
  • The fate of the missing bulk agent storage tanks.
  • The fate of a portion of Iraq's BW agent seed-stocks.
  • The nature, purpose and who was involved in the secret biological work in the small IIS laboratories discovered by ISG.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:43:28 ZULU