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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 August, 2004, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
Iraq 'ended nuclear aims in 1991'
Weapons inspectors in Iraq
No banned weapons have been found despite intensive searches
The head of Iraq's nuclear programme under Saddam Hussein has said Iraq destroyed its nuclear weapons programme in 1991 and never restarted it.

Jafar Dhia Jafar told the BBC sanctions and inspections worked in stopping the reconstitution of the programme.

He also said Iraq's chemical and biological weapons programmes were destroyed after the first Gulf War and never reactivated.

Mr Jafar ran Iraq's nuclear programme for nearly 25 years.

One of the most powerful arguments in the case for war on Iraq was the US and UK's claim Saddam Hussein was trying to restart his nuclear programme.

Equipment 'destroyed'

But Mr Jafar, whom the former Iraqi leader originally asked to build the country's nuclear bomb, said all nuclear development stopped in July 1991, under the orders of Saddam Hussein.

Jafar Dhia Jafar
There was no capability - there was no chemical or biological or any of what are called weapons of mass destruction
Jafar Dhia Jafar

He said he was probably a few years away from producing a nuclear bomb.

However, Iraq would not have had the resources under the sanctions regime to continue the programme, he said in his first broadcast interview - aired on BBC's Newsnight programme on Wednesday night.

He added the Iraqi leader had hoped that UN sanctions would be lifted soon, adding that Iraq's strategic aims became ineffective when the US and UK became its adversaries.

"We had orders to hand over the equipment to the Republican guards," Mr Jafar said.

"And they had orders to destroy the equipment that we handed over to them."


He said that everything was destroyed, such that the programme could not be restarted at the time - and that it never restarted.

Similarly, the country's chemical and biological weapons programmes were stopped and never reactivated, he said.

"There was no capability," he said. "There was no chemical or biological or any of what are called weapons of mass destruction." Some materials were never accounted for, giving weapons inspectors reason to believe that there were still some weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But Mr Jafar said that production figures were exaggerated, and the inspectors' estimates merely reflected the difference between existing materials and the inflated figures.

"That doesn't mean the material actually exists," he said.

Not coming clean

However, inspectors claim that it was the evasive behaviour of Mr Jafar himself and his failure to come clean about the programme that led them to believe that Iraq had to be hiding something.

Mr Jafar also says the British government's assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger is false.

He said Iraq already had a supply of uranium purchased there in the 1980s.

"We had 500 tons of yellow cake [uranium] in Baghdad so why would we get more?" he said.

He says he was approached by US intelligence to defect, but was never tempted.

He thought it was important for Iraq to have a nuclear deterrent and tried to achieve this aim for patriotic reasons, he said.

He remained in Iraq, fleeing to Syria just two days before Baghdad fell to coalition forces last year.

The BBC's Gordon Corera
"This man holds the key to what happened inside Iraq's nuclear weapons programme"


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