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Saddam secretly funded Pakistan A-bomb

Saddam secretly funded Pakistan A-bomb

Author: Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Publication: The Hindustan Times
Date: December 26, 2002
URL: http://www.hindustantimes.com/news/181_126626,0005.htm

Saddam Hussein was an active partner in Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme not just once, but twice. Iraq funded Pakistan's clandestine nuclear weapons project in the early 1980s in return for uranium-enrichment technology. A decade later, the two were back in bed. This time they were busy trading money for an A-bomb design.

Pakistani nuclear spy, Abdul Qadeer Khan, stole the blueprints for a simple uranium-enrichment centrifuge made of aluminium from a Netherlands firm where he was working in the 1970s and 1980s. India became suspicious when the same technology then popped up in Iraq and was used by Baghdad from 1987 to 1989.
Citing Dutch media, the Indian embassy in the Netherlands sent a report to New Delhi in September 1991 quoting Khan's Dutch assistant, Frits Veerman, as saying: "Those lethal ultra-centrifuges in Iraq are purely Dutch. Khan first saw to it that Pakistan could grab them. Later his institute supplied blueprints to Baghdad."

In the late 1980s an investigation by Indian intelligence concluded Iraq had helped fund Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme in return for the centrifuge technology. Besides cold cash, the report said, the two Sunni Muslim countries' shared an interest in containing revolutionary Shia Iran. Teheran was covertly funding Shia militants in both countries.

K. Santhanam, head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses and a person who tracked Iraqi-Pakistani nuclear cooperation in the 1980s, suspects Pakistan turned to Iraq because it needed outside money as its atom bomb project carried a $ 6 to 8 billion off-budget price tag. Islamabad, he points out, had earlier turned to Libya and the United Arab Emirates for money.

Analysts believe Iraq probably channelled money to Pakistan through the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, a now-defunct Pakistani bank later beset by scandals over its illegal money transfers. Indian sources say it is likely part of the payment was also in the form of petroleum shipments.

Iraq and Pakistan eventually abandoned aluminium centrifuges as unreliable. Both were later to acquire maraging steel centrifuges from a renegade German scientist.

The Iran-Iraq war, says Santhanam, forced Baghdad to put its nuclear weapons programme on a "maintenance budget" for much of the late 1980s.

By 1990 Iraq was back in the black market for bombs. But this time it wanted the blueprint for a functioning nuclear warhead.

Iraq already had a cumbersome, Hiroshima-type atomic bomb design. Saddam Hussein wanted a smaller bomb that could fit on the top of a Scud missile.

The man who offered to sell Iraq one was A.Q. Khan.

According to a report written in 1998 by West Asian expert Yossef Bodansky: "One of the Iraqi documents retrieved after the [1991] war includes a scrawled footnote describing an offer made to Iraqi intelligence by an unidentified Pakistani offering to establish contacts with 'senior figures in Pakistan's nuclear programme who were willing to help President Saddam Hussein's regime to manufacture a bomb."

A memo found by UN inspectors from Section B15 of Iraqi intelligence to Section S15 of Iraq's nuclear weapons directorate was explicit. It said Baghdad has received a proposal from "Pakistani scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan" to help Iraq "manufacture a nuclear weapon."
Iraq admitted to the UN inspection regime that Khan made the offer, but insists it turned it down for fear it was a US sting operation. Pakistan, for its part, insists Khan never made the offer. Not many believe either claim.

Khan publicly denied he had ever "set foot on Iraqi soil." But B. Raman, ex-head of RAW's Pakistan desk, says one "reliable" source had informed Indian intelligence that Khan had gone to Baghdad at least once.

Western intelligence believes one of Khan's deputies acted as the primary middleman between the two countries. Santhanam says India had evidence that there was much "too-ing and fro-ing" between Baghdad and Islamabad on the nuclear front at this point. US proliferation expert Gary Milholin, who spoke with UN inspectors, says they were also certain that Baghdad accepted Khan's offer.

A UN probe failed because Pakistan refused to cooperate. The UN was not allowed to meet Khan. Islamabad announced that it had held its own investigation and cleared Khan of any wrongdoing. No surprise, say Indian officials, as Khan has never been a nuclear freelancer. He has always acted as a nuclear courier at Islamabad's behest, they say.
In September this year Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote that Western intelligence sources had told him that they were certain "Pakistani nuclear scientists visited Iraq, and Iraqis visited Pakistan's safeguarded enrichment plant at Kahuta."

What it is certain is that Iraq did get a smaller bomb design. Tellingly, say experts like Milholin, the new Iraqi design is one with a "flying tamper" - a device that helps compact a nuclear explosion. Such a tamper exists in Pakistan's most-recent bomb design.

Indian and Western sources believe Pakistan hastily severed its nuclear trade with Iraq once the US went to war with Iraq over Kuwait.

Baghdad did not benefit as much as it wanted to from its atomic alliance with Pakistan. It received a faulty centrifuge technology in the 1980s. And though the Pakistani nuclear design was functional, the UN inspections of the 1990s had destroyed Iraq's uranium- enrichment machines and its stock of enriched uranium. The bulk of the centrifuges the UN destroyed were made of maraging steel. Interestingly, the US accused Iraq in September this year of spending the last 14 months trying to buy thousands of aluminium tubes. Washington said the tubes were for centrifuges. This seems to indicate that Iraq, realizing buying maraging steel tubes would immediately arouse suspicion, tried to get some nuclear fodder using the older centrifuge technology it had bought from Pakistan in the 1980s. Baghdad may have hoped that the more innocuous aluminium tubes would slip through UN sanctions.

Evidence of a double nuclear trail from Baghdad to Kahuta is clear but not clinching. But many in New Delhi believe Pakistan has reason to be worried at what dirty secrets will be found amid the rubble of a post-Saddam Iraq.

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