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Monday, August 3, 1998 Published at 22:44 GMT 23:44 UK

Special Report

Iraq's weapons of mass destruction

Since the end of the Gulf War in 1991, the United Nations has tried to uncover the true extent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, as well as its stock of long-range missiles. This is a UN assessment of Iraq's capabilities:

Nuclear weapons

Iraq came close to developing a workable nuclear device shortly before the Gulf War, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is optimistic that it has succeeded in shutting down potentially dangerous nuclear weapon projects. Indeed, on January 22, Russia called on the UN to adopt a resolution declaring Iraq free of nuclear weapons. However, this attempt was rebuffed by the UN Security Council.


UNSCOM has destroyed a variety of assembled, and non-assembled "supergun" components. Many of these were imported from the UK.


UNSCOM says the following have been destroyed:

  • 48 operational SCUD missiles
  • 6 missile launchers
  • 30 special warheads for chemical and biological weapons

Most of the equipment that Iraq has actually admitted to owning has been old and barely working. It is thought that Iraq could still be hiding as many as 16 proscribed missiles. UNSCOM says critical components and missile propellant are unaccounted for.

Chemical Weapons

[ image: Troops practise their reaction to a chemical attack]
Troops practise their reaction to a chemical attack
Iraq is known to have produced mustard gases and a deadly nerve gas called VX. In August 1988, Iraqi forces used both chemical and gas munitions against Kurdish civilians in the area around Halabja in Iraqi Kurdistan.

UNSCOM has also been investigating Iraqi interest in sarin and tabun.

On November 2, 1997, a British newspaper, The Observer, reported that the UN believed that Iraq was holding secret stocks of the lethal VX liquid nerve agent. The paper reported that UNSCOM was on the verge of uncovering the nerve agent when Saddam Hussein ordered US members of the team to leave.

UNSCOM says that it has destroyed:

  • 38,537 filled and empty chemical munitions
  • 480,00 tonnes of live chemical weapons agent
  • more than 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals
  • several hundred pieces of chemical weapons production equipment and related analytical instruments.

It believes 4,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals are still unaccounted for.

Biological Weapons

[ image: Protection used against chemical and biological weapons]
Protection used against chemical and biological weapons
It is Iraq's production of biological weapons - 'the poor man's nuke' - that is causing the UN the most concern. When UNSCOM was established, Iraq said that it had no biological weapons programme. However, it quickly became clear that this assertion was totally false.

UNSCOM has discovered that Iraq produced 19,000 litres of botulinum, 8,400 litres of anthrax, 2,000 litres of aflatoxin and clostridium.

In July 1995, Iraq finally admitted that it had sought to build an offensive biological warfare capability. In 1988 alone, it had imported 39 tonnes of growth for virulent agents such as anthrax and botulinum, only 22 tonnes of which could be satisfactorily accounted for in peaceful production. UNSCOM has destroyed much of the growth media, but it thinks as much as 17 tonnes is still unaccounted for.

UNSCOM says that it has destroyed:

  • the entire Al Hakam custom-built biological weapon production factory complex. The Iraqis claimed this was being used to produce animal feed.
  • a variety of biological weapons production equipment and materials

The mastermind behind Iraq's bio-weapons programme is thought to be Dr Rihab Taha. She has been dubbed 'Dr Germ' by western media. It is of some embarrassment to the UK Government that she took her Phd in plant toxins at the University of East Anglia between 1981-84.

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