updated 3/9/2004 10:21:55 AM ET 2004-03-09T15:21:55

Iraq was three years away from producing a nuclear bomb before the 1991 Gulf War, the No. 2 Iraqi scientist on the secret atomic program said Tuesday.

Noman Saad Eddin al-Noaimi, a former director-general of Iraq’s nuclear program, told the Associated Press the Iraqis were able to produce less than 2.2 pounds of highly enriched uranium before the program was halted. It is estimated that a bomb would require at least 22 pounds.

“Producing the appropriate amount would have required at least two more years, under normal circumstances,” he said. “Putting that substance into a weapon could have taken an additional year,” he said on the sidelines of a Beirut meeting on the repercussions of the Iraq invasion.

Al-Noaimi, who retired in the late 1990s, cautioned that other scientists may have different estimates on how close Saddam Hussein was to having a nuclear bomb.

“This is my personal estimation. Others could be more optimistic or more pessimistic, but my personal assessment is that we were two to three years away from that, if everything went according to the required level and speed,” he said.

Examining the history of Iraq’s nuclear program, Al-Noaimi co-authored a paper with Jafar Dhia Jafar, the father of Iraq’s nuclear bomb program. The scientists presented their paper Monday to the conference, declaring that most Iraqi nuclear facilities were damaged or destroyed in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf war. They said scientists, engineers and technicians involved in the program dispersed after the war and the program was dismantled on Saddam’s orders.

Building "The Bomb"Iraq, which lost the 1991 Gulf War to a U.S.-led international military coalition that ousted Saddam’s forces from Kuwait, had to throw open its doors to U.N. inspectors mandated with destroying Baghdad’s chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and the programs to develop them.

Al-Noaimi and Jafar said Iraq never revived its nuclear weapons program.

A British intelligence dossier made public in September 2002, as U.S. and British leaders were building their case for war against Iraq, maintained that if U.N. sanctions against Iraq were lifted, Saddam could develop a nuclear weapon in one to two years.

However, the International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iraq’s nuclear program was in disarray before last year’s war and was unlikely to be able to support any active effort to build atomic weapons.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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