Monday, September 30, 2002
CONTACT: Steven Dolley





Washington---The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) continues to misstate the degree of success it achieved on dismantling Saddam Husseins covert nuclear-bomb program during nuclear inspections in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, according to an analysis by the Nuclear Control Institute (NCI), a non-proliferation research and advocacy center.


IAEAs recent claims that they have neutralized [Iraqs] nuclear-weapon program and destroyed all their key buildings and equipment related to weaponization are patently false, and the Agencys own inspection reports prove it, said Steven Dolley, NCI research director.


On September 26, IAEA challenged a statement by President Bush that the IAEA had concluded Iraq was six months away from acquiring nuclear weapons in 1998. An IAEA spokesman stated that no such IAEA report existed.[1] The Agency also took issue with the conclusion of a report by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), released earlier this month. The IISS report posited that if Iraq were to obtain fissile material from abroad --- steal it or buy it in some way --- we certainly believe [Saddam] has the ability to put together a nuclear weapon very quickly, in a matter of months.[2]


In response, IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky declared


I dont know where they [IISS] have determined that Iraq has retained this much weaponization capability because when we left in December 98 we had concluded that we had neutralized their nuclear-weapons program. We had confiscated their fissile material. We had destroyed all their key buildings and equipment.[3]


Additionally, on September 30 IAEA spokesperson Melissa Fleming claimed that, prior to the inspectors withdrawal in late 1998, IAEA had uncovered Iraqs secret nuclear program, and we dismantled it. We were successful last time. If we get unfettered access, we will be successful again.[4] 

For IAEA to claim that they neutralized Saddams nuclear weaponization capability is dangerously inaccurate, and muddies the waters of the Iraq debate, said Dolley. Since 1997, the Agency has operated under the assumption that Iraq could successfully fabricate a working nuclear bomb if they managed to acquire a sufficient amount of fissile material. The Agencys latest statement correctly points out that no one outside Iraq knows the current status of Iraqs nuclear-bomb program, in large part because there have been no inspections in nearly four years. But for IAEA to suggest that it completely eliminated Iraqs weaponization capability prior to 1998 is irresponsible in the extreme. The Agency should recant this statement. 

Several Iraqi nuclear weapons facilities and much equipment were indeed dismantled or destroyed by U.N. inspectors between 1991 and 1998. However, substantial and significant issues about Iraqs ability to reconstitute its nuclear weapons program remained unresolved when the inspectors left the country.  

Dolley, citing IAEAs own inspection reports as documentation, said: Iraq has never surrendered to inspectors its two completed designs for a nuclear bomb, nuclear-bomb components such as explosive lenses and neutron initiators that it is known to have possessed, or almost any documentation of its efforts to enrich uranium to bomb-grade using gas centrifuges, devices which are small and readily concealed from reconnaissance.[5] 

Moreover, IAEA has previously conceded that Iraqs weaponization R&D---small-scale technical research devoted to the design of a nuclear bombs components---is not readily detected by means of inspections. IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei stated in 1998 that no matter how comprehensive the inspection, any country-wide verification process, in Iraq or anywhere else, has a degree of uncertainty that aims to verify the absence of readily concealable objects such as small amounts of nuclear material or weapons components.[6]  

The IAEAs own guidelines for the safeguarding of highly enriched uranium and separated plutonium gives the conversion time for transforming these materials into weapons components as on the order of seven to ten days or one to three weeks, depending on the form the materials are in (metal, oxide or nitrate) when the materials are acquired by means of diversion or theft.[7] Thus, Iraq could be capable of producing a nuclear weapon in less than a month with sufficient diverted or stolen fissile material if it has managed to fabricate and conceal all of the non-nuclear components of a weapon.  

IAEAs recent statement that the Agency had neutralized [Iraqs] nuclear-weapons program suggests that by 1998, IAEA had effectively eliminated Iraqs ability to weaponize---that is, to manufacture and assemble the components needed for a working nuclear bomb, lacking only fissile material (plutonium or highly enriched uranium) to fuel it. This is simply not the case, and IAEAs own previous findings directly contradict this claim. IAEAs plans for ongoing monitoring in Iraq (discontinued in December 1998 when the inspectors left the country and were not allowed to return) were, as Director-General ElBaradei noted in June 1998, predicated on the assumption that Iraq has the technical ability to design and construct a nuclear weapon and takes into account the large intellectual resource in Iraq in the corps of scientists and engineers who worked in Iraq's clandestine nuclear program.[8]  

The Agencys own October 1997 review of its inspections in Iraq concluded that "Iraqi programme documentation records substantial progress in many important areas of nuclear weapon development, making it prudent to assume that Iraq has developed the capability to design and fabricate a basic fission weapon, based on implosion technology and fueled by highly enriched uranium."[9]  

More information about Iraqs nuclear-weapons program is available on NCIs website Saddam and the Bomb at

[1] Joseph Curl, Agency Disavows Report on Iraq Arms, Washington Times, September 27, 2002. President Bush does appear to be mistaken on this point. NCI knows of no IAEA report claiming that Iraq was within six months of the bomb in 1998. The Agency did conclude in October 1997 that as of 1991, prior to the Gulf War, Iraq was within a few years of acquiring the capability to enrich bomb quantities of uranium, using either electromagnetic isotope separation (EMIS, or calutrons) or gas centrifuges. IAEA, Fourth Consolidated Report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency under Paragraph 16 of Security Council Resolution 1051 (1996), October 8, 1997, S/1997/779, p. 47. However, that IAEA estimate was based on Iraqs nuclear assets prior to Operation Desert Storm and on subsequent weapons inspections, which together destroyed or dismantled Iraqs known uranium-enrichment infrastructure. 

[2] John Chipman, IISS Strategic Dossier-Iraqs Weapons of Mass Destruction: A Net Assessment, IISS, September 9, 2002. Some media stories on the IISS report featured headlines that Iraq was months away from the bomb, an inaccurate interpretation of this finding, which was nothing new but rather a reiteration of what had been known for years about Iraqs technical progress in nuclear bomb design. See Steven Dolley, Iraq and the Bomb: The Nuclear Threat Continues, Nuclear Control Institute, February 19, 1998, available online at; and New Nuclear Inspections in Iraq: Key Issues, Nuclear Control Institute Backgrounder, September 26, 2002, available at 

[3] Quoted in Curl, Agency Disavows Report on Iraq Arms, op cit note 1.

[4] Quoted in William Kole, Inspectors Seek Open Access in Iraq, Associated Press, September 30, 2002.

[5] See Iraqs Nuclear Weapons Program: Unresolved Issues, Nuclear Control Institute, May 12, 1998, available online at


[7] IAEA, IAEA Safeguards Glossary, 1987 Edition, p. 23 & Table II, p. 24.


[8] Ibid.


[9] S/1997/779, pp. 61-62.