Hamza’s war

By Gordon Prather

Dr. Khidir Hamza, who claims to have been a “Director General” of the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, says the Iraqis have secretly reconstituted their highly-enriched uranium (HEU) production facilities and have enough HEU to make several nukes.

Furthermore, Hamza doubts the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will be able to find the well-hidden revitalized Iraqi nuke program. To remove the Iraqi nuke threat to the U.S., Hamza says we’ll have to invade and occupy Iraq.

The IAEA inspectors have continued to have limited access to Iraqi “declared” nuclear sites all along, and have been studying satellite photos of the facilities they destroyed at other sites in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Nevertheless, the IAEA’s assessment of Iraq’s clandestine nuke program is unchanged from December 1998:

    There were no indications to suggest that Iraq was successful in its attempt to produce nuclear weapons. Iraq’s explanation of its progress towards the finalization of a workable design for its nuclear weapons was considered to be consistent with the resources and time scale indicated by the available program documentation.

    Iraq was at, or close to, the threshold of success in such areas as the production of HEU through the EMIS process, the production and pilot cascading of single-cylinder sub-critical gas centrifuge machines, and the fabrication of the explosive package for a nuclear weapon.

    There were no indications to suggest that Iraq had produced more than a few grams of weapons-grade nuclear material through its indigenous processes.

    There were no indications that Iraq otherwise clandestinely acquired weapons-usable material.

    All the safeguarded research reactor fuel was verified and fully accounted for by the IAEA and removed from Iraq.

    There were no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.

The “single-cylinder sub-critical gas centrifuge machines” the IAEA refers to are first-generation aluminum-rotor machines. In his address to the U.N., President Bush cited attempts within the past 14 months by the Iraqis to acquire thousands of specialized aluminum tubes to be proof that the Iraqis are attempting to reconstitute their uranium enrichment program, in defiance of U.N. resolutions.

However, according to Hamza, the Iraqis had long ago decided to pursue third-generation composite-rotor machines that German engineer Karl Schaab showed them how to build and operate back in 1989:

    Our engineers videoed as it was put up, so they could build identical ones. Then he [Schaab] also provided 130 classified documents and charts detailing every aspect of the construction. When the [IAEA] inspectors took away the original centrifuge, we already had the know-how. I believe there are probably hundreds of copies today.

When the IAEA told German authorities what Schaab had done, they prosecuted him. Schaab pled guilty in 1998. But Schaab was able to avoid serious jail-time because gas centrifuge technology was, and is, “dual-use.” Furthermore, during the Iran-Iraq war, Saddam got lots of Western help.

One cannot fault the IAEA for not “detecting” the Iraqi clandestine nuke program, since it was based on the acquisition of “undeclared” dual-use technology which – prior to the Gulf War – they had no right to inspect.

Incidentally, what Hamza claimed Schaab did is not what the evidence shows Schaab did. Schaab merely built Iraq a laboratory-scale centrifuge-rotor test stand to test prototype composite-rotors he designed and built.

According to Schaab, the Iraqis he dealt with weren’t capable of even dynamically “balancing” composite rotors, much less constructing them, themselves. Schaab had to go to Iraq to show them how to do it. The Iraqis never even addressed the much more difficult problem of dynamically balancing the rotors in a centrifuge cascade.

Nor were the Iraqis able to achieve the “hard” vacuum needed for proper operation of a gas centrifuge. Apparently they didn’t have the cryogenic “molecular sieve” absorption pumps found in almost every college physics lab. Schaab doubted that the Iraqis would ever be able to build thousands of third-generation gas centrifuges, much less get them to operate in cascades.

Saddam spent billions of dollars to develop nukes. The Iraqis bought anything and everything but had trouble getting anything to work without outside help. The Iraqi report on their attempts to make a radiological dispersal device reads like a Looney Tunes script.

Hamza claims that he and the Iraqis really were competent and deliberately concealed their competency from foreign scientists and engineers like Schaab and from the IAEA inspectors. Perhaps, but it would be folly to invade Iraq on the basis of Hamza’s claims. Let’s hear what the IAEA inspectors have to say, first.