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http://news.ft.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=FT.com/StoryFT/FullStory&c=StoryFT&cid=1059479813161&p=1012571727172 Iraqi scientists say N-programme ended long ago By Charles Clover in Baghdad Published: September 14 2003 20:39 Throughout 12 years of sanctions and weapons inspections, Iraqi nuclear scientists who denied the existence of a nuclear weapons programme were accused of being bought and threatened into silence by the Iraqi regime. Now, at last, they are free to talk without fear of reper- cussions and they are still saying the same thing - that the programme was scrapped long ago. "It was surprising to hear these things from the Americans, that we could build a nuclear bomb in six months, while meanwhile we were sitting here scrounging for a screwdriver," says a scientist who formerly headed a department in "Bomb Design Group Four", and who asked not to be named. Now that he is free to talk without fear of the regime, he admits that he and his colleagues were instructed to lie to United Nations inspectors about Iraq's nuclear weapons programme for about four years, starting when the inspectors arrived in 1991, until the defection of Hussein Kamel, head of weapons programmes and Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, in 1995. For the past seven years, he says,they have been telling the truth: that Iraq's nuclear weapons programme was shut down following the 1991 Gulf war and never restarted. "Before [Hussein Kamel's defection], we had had to sign a declaration that we cannot tell inspectors anything about the true aims of the programmes. Otherwise we were liable for dangerous repercussions," he says. "Afterwards, we had to sign another declaration: if we don't tell the truth and hand over all the documentation, then we will be punished." He said the equipment that was not destroyed in the 1991 war was tracked down and eliminated by inspectors from the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency during the first few years of UN sanctions on Iraq. If what the scientist says is true, it will further undermine pre-war claims by the US government that Iraq's nuclear programme was an imminent threat. While the IAEA inspections found little to contradict Iraq's claim the programme was defunct, the US continued to sound the alarm before the war over Iraq's nuclear capability. "We have no indication that Saddam Hussein has ever abandoned his nuclear weapons programme," said Colin Powell, US secretary of state, to the UN Security Council on February 5. "On the contrary, we have more than a decade of proof that he remains determined to acquire nuclear weapons." However, not all scientists appear to have followed the instructions to hand over prohibited equipment, either because of personal decisions or because they were singled out as exceptions. Mahdi Obeidi, a nuclear scientist, told inspectors in May he had buried parts for a gas centrifuge under his rose garden at the request of Qusay Hussein, son of the dictator. IAEA investigators said the burial was evidence that the programme had not been restarted but US officials said this might have indicated a plan to begin the nuclear programme again after sanctions were lifted. "I honestly don't know what [Mr Obeidi] was thinking," says the scientist, who believes his former colleague to be outside Iraq now. One thing that still puzzles experts is why Mr Hussein should have gone to such lengths to prevent scientists from travelling outside Iraq and not to co-operate more with the inspections if Iraq had nothing to hide. The scientist says one reason is the number of Iraqi defectors who, he says, made exaggerated claims to US authorities. On July 31 2002, Khidir Hamza, a former nuclear scientist who defected to the US in 1994, told the US Senate foreign relations committee: "With a workable design and most of the needed components for a nuclear weapon already tested and in working order, Iraq is in the final stages of putting together its enrichment programme to enrich enough uranium for the final component needed in the nuclear core." The scientist dismisses Mr Hamza's information as untrue. "To tell the truth, we all thought the reason these defectors made these claims was because the Americans made them do it," he says. Mr Hamza, who has apparently returned to Baghdad, could not be reached for comment. Others have speculated that many Iraqi defectors had trumped up their own importance and claims to become more attractive candidates for asylum in the US. According to news reports, the Central Intelligence Agency has begun an investigation into whether it was duped by bogus defectors. __________________________________ Do you Yahoo!? Yahoo! SiteBuilder - Free, easy-to-use web site design software http://sitebuilder.yahoo.com _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email email@example.com All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk