While the United States continues to see Iraqi attempts to upgrade civilian facilities that could be used in superweapons programs, a CIA report on proliferation released this week says the intelligence community has no “direct evidence” that Iraq has succeeded in reconstituting its biological, chemical, nuclear or long-range missile programs in the two years since U.N. weapons inspectors left and U.S. planes bombed Iraqi facilities.
“WE DO NOT have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since Desert Fox to reconstitute its Weapons of Mass Destruction programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely,” said the agency in its semi-annual report on proliferation activities, referring to the December 1998 U.S. attacks on Iraq. U.N. inspectors left the country just before the bombing began.
“We assess that since the suspension of U.N. inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its CW [chemical weapons] and BW [biological weapons] programs within a few weeks to months. Without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so,” the report said.
Specifically, the CIA said Iraq has rebuilt some of the factories bombed two years ago, facilities the United States believed could be turned from industrial and commercial production to weapons production. Moreover, in the 10 years since the end of the Gulf War, Iraq has made great strides in industrial production of chemical weapon precursors, the report said.
“Iraq has rebuilt key portions of its chemical production infrastructure for industrial and commercial use, as well as its missile production facilities. It has attempted to purchase numerous dual-use items for, or under the guise of, legitimate civilian use.”
Dual-use material, which is under varying degrees of regulation, includes materials that have legitimate commercial value but which can also be used in weapons production. That could include anything from aerospace parts to chemicals used as paint solvent.
Regarding biological weapons, the CIA report states that Iraq is apparently hiding a continuing program.
“Iraq continues to maintain a knowledge base and industrial infrastructure that could be used to produce quickly a large amount of BW agents at any time, if needed,” according to the CIA.
Moreover, U.S. intelligence believes that Iraq is making good progress in its attempt to develop a cruise missile-like system for delivering weapons of mass destruction, based on the Czech jet trainer, the L-29.
“It is believed that Iraq may have been conducting flights of the L-29, possibly to test system improvements or to train new pilots. These refurbished trainer aircraft are believed to have been modified for delivery of chemical or, more likely, biological warfare agents,” the report said.
As for the nuclear weapons program, Iraq’s reconstitution capabilities remain limited.
“We believe that Iraq has probably continued low-level theoretical R&D associated with its nuclear program. A sufficient source of fissile material remains Iraq’s most significant obstacle to being able to produce a nuclear weapon,” the CIA said.