Fifteen months ago in these pages I reviewed a book by Khidhir Hamza, who called himself 'Saddam's bombmaker'. At the same time I assessed the now notorious government dossier of September 2002 on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, together with the more restrained document published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies. I said that Hamza's evidence, which he had submitted to the US Senate, was carefully tailored nonsense: Iraq did not possess 'ten tons of uranium and one ton of slightly enriched uranium . . . enough for three nuclear weapons', as he testified, but five hundred tons of uranium - enough for 140 nuclear weapons. All five hundred tons were harmless, however: it would have needed to be enriched from around 1 per cent to at least 90 per cent uranium-235, before it could be used for weapons. Hamza told the Times that 'the number of pirated centrifuges' - to enrich the uranium - 'that Baghdad has been able to produce, and the rapidity with which the reprocessing programme is being undertaken', were the reasons for urgent action by the UK and US. But the pirated centrifuges were a figment of Hamza's imagination: there were no centrifuges in place enriching uranium, and there was no centrifuge assembly plant. The September dossier alleged that Iraq had imported aluminium tubes for centrifuge production, but these were revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to be rocket parts. Not only that: experts in the US and UK intelligence services knew that Iraq was manufacturing copies of the Italian Medusa 81 rocket and that the dimensions of the aluminium tubes matched the specifications of the rocket to a fraction of a millimetre.
LRB 19 February 2004 | PDF Download