Saddam Hussein’s efforts to obtain A-bombs with France and USSR’s help were brought to nothing
The situation around Iraq still gets the major attention of the world. Americans keep on insisting that Saddam has an A-bomb. The majority of other countries, including Russia, have nothing to do but to shrug their shoulders, saying that it is all bluff, a political game, and nothing more. Iraq is physically incapable of making an A-bomb. This can be done by the states that possess high technologies and the necessary scientific potential. This article is devoted to the events that shed some light on the arguments of the United States of America.
Back in 1981 senior Soviet officials entrusted the Foreign Ministry and KBG of the USSR with looking into the situation that occurred around Iraq back in those years. Experts concluded that Iraq possessed a lot of “excessive” money. They said that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein aspired to become the leader of the whole Arab world, which was a reason to declare war on Iran. The war was conducted with a view “to protect eastern borders of the Arab Fatherland” from the Islamic revolution in Iran. Soviet secret agents decided that Saddam was going to turn Iraq into the regional super-power with the help of the military force, first and foremost. To crown it all, the Soviet Union was informed that Iraq had achieved a considerable progress in the development of the weapons of mass destruction. Iraq planned to launch a French nuclear reactor in about six months. The reactor was capable of producing up to ten kilos of plutonium a year. Adequate specialists would make it possible for Iraq to manufacture three A-bombs already by 1983 (and five A-bombs by 1985). KGB agents concluded that Iraq was about to become the second nuclear power in the Middle East after Israel.
As a matter of fact, that information was not a piece of sensational news for the Soviet Union. The USSR leadership was aware of all those things. Furthermore, the Soviet government knew that Iraq conducted active negotiations with Italian and German firms, discussing a purchase of enriched uranium. Uranium used to be delivered to Baghdad from Brazil, Portugal and Niger. The war between Iran and Iraq gave another incentive to Saddam’s nuclear activities.
Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko was certain that the Iraqi nuclear weapon did not pose a danger to the USSR. Yet, he added that it would cause a lot of troubles for the USA and its ally, Israel. It was the Soviet Union that gave an opportunity to Iraq to taste the nuclear power. The governments of the USSR and Iraq signed an agreement on August 17, 1959. The document stipulated rendering technical assistance to Iraq in the construction of a small research reactor and an isotope laboratory. Oleg Grinevsky, the former chairman of the Mideast department of the Soviet Union Foreign Ministry recollects: “When we reported that to Nikita Kruschev, he grinned and said: “First we have the Chinese asking for bombs, now we have Arabs asking the same. We will get the headache after all. We will cooperate, but we will not give any bombs!” A small nuclear reactor of the 2000 kilowatts capacity started working 15 kilometers off the Iraqi capital in nine years. The reactor could not be used for producing the weapons of mass destruction: it was too small for that.
Saddam Hussein arrived in Moscow in April of 1975. He was the prime minister of Iraq at that time. Hussein signed several coordinated arms delivery contracts. However, the major goal of his visit was to expand the nuclear cooperation between Iraq and the USSR. Saddam asked for nuclear technologies and for a more powerful reactor. The USSR approved that on the whole, although there was a condition for that. The Soviet Union demanded that the new equipment should be subjected to the constant control of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This was something that Baghdad did not want at all. It goes without saying that the Iraqi prime minister was absolutely not happy about that. In September Saddam left for Paris with the same mission. The French were aware of the goal of his visit, so they took Saddam to their top secret object - Cadarache. That-era French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac offered Saddam a reactor, which was rather powerful for that time. In addition to the reactor, Chirac offered Hussein a laboratory with a yearly reserve (72 kilos) of 93% enriched uranium. Nothing was mentioned about IAEA guarantees, although that quantity of nuclear fuel was enough for producing several A-bombs, the capacity of which could be comparable to the one that was dropped on Hiroshima. The French definitely realized that offering the nuclear fuel and the reactor to Iraq was not a game. However, France eventually sacrificed that for the sake of three billion dollars. Paris thought that Iraq would not be able to extract plutonium without a very important component. Saddam did not ask for it, which meant that he was going to build just a network of nuclear power plants in his country. However, Baghdad turned out to be rather sly: in 1976 Iraq signed a contract with Rome to purchase that very missing component – the so-called hot chamber. This chamber is used to process radioactive ingredients of the nuclear fuel, extracting plutonium as a result.
The USSR was very unhappy to learn about the deal between Iraq and France. Foreign Minister Gromyko was very upset, when he read a paragraph of the official agreement, which ran: “All persons of Jewish nationality can not take part in the program either in Iraq or in France.” Gromyko concluded that an A-bomb was meant for Israel. Nevertheless, Moscow turned a blind eye on all those “mischievous” actions of the Iraqi leadership. Baghdad proclaimed the establishment of the socialist society. Iraq backed up the USSR internationally, it stood together with Moscow against Americans and Israelis. More importantly, Iraq paid really good money for conventional arms deliveries. The USSR received thirteen billion dollars of the defense export from Iraq since the second half of the 1970s until the end of the 1980s.
Baghdad’s nuclear ambition worried Tel Aviv a lot. The Israeli intelligence managed to determine the real goals of Saddam’s visit to the Soviet Union and France. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had a secret conversation with Defense Minister Igal Alon. The general informed the head of the Israeli government of the Iraqi nuclear program. The defense minister said that Iraq agreed upon acquiring a 500-megawatt nuclear reactor from France; a group of young Iraqi physicists left for Paris and Rome to study there; best Arab technical specialists already worked in Baghdad. Mossad established control over almost all Iraqi nuclear power scientists, both abroad and in Baghdad. Mossad intelligence developed an operation to destroy French reactors before they could reach Iraq. Israeli agents spent 18 months, tracing the execution of the Iraqi order at a French nuclear concern. In the beginning of April 1979, they managed to obtain the information that two nuclear reactors were ready to be shipped to Iraq. Several “tourists” with Belgian passports arrived in France, met in a previously agreed place, rented two trucks, and then left for a French port to pick up reactors. Three more men joined the group of “tourists” soon after that. They managed to get into the warehouse, where the reactors were stored, and fixed bombs right on them. The story was over with a very powerful blast, which made 300 thousand hours of working on reactors (they cost $17 million) a complete waste of time – they were destroyed.
Israel found out in two weeks that Prime Minister Jacques Chirac promised Saddam Hussein to produce new reactors at the expense of France. A large group of Iraqi scientists arrived in France to work and to study in special nuclear power institutions. Mossad started tracing and spying on brightest scientists. First of all, Israel offered them to cooperate. If they refused, they were found dead soon after that (murdered or poisoned and so on). As a matter of fact, every step of an Iraqi nuclear specialist was watched very carefully: Iraqi agents spied on them together with Israeli ones.
Yaha al-Meshad, the laureate of the Egyptian nuclear power committee prize, the largest Arab nuclear scientist was found dead on June 13th, 1980 in one of Paris hotels. One version said that he was assassinated by a Mossad agent, while the other one said that it was done by the Iraqi counterintelligence. This mess of explosions and assassinations in the offices of pro-Iraqi companies lasted until the autumn of 1980. They had only one goal – to warn the West against the nuclear cooperation with Iraq. A lot of firms refused from dealing with Saddam but they were not French firms.
A new reactor was built and then delivered to Iraq without any problems by September of 1980. It was installed next to a Soviet reactor at a newly built nuclear center. Iraqi troops transgressed the Iraqi border after that, which was the start of the war between Iraq and Iran, which lasted for eight years. Iran tried to bomb Iraqi reactors, although Iranian planes were basically shot down by the Iraqi anti-missile defense. Saddam Hussein hurried French specialists. The reactor was supposed to be launched in July of 1981. The French asked Hussein to adjourn the launch until September. Saddam agreed and took all the works under his personal control. He was 100% sure that plutonium will make Iran surrender. Furthermore, it would be possible to change the situation in the Middle East with the help of an A-bomb. Saddam thought that Iraq would be considered as powerful as Israel, and the whole Arab world would dance to Saddam’s tune.
The Israeli government was certain that if Iraq was going to have an A-bomb, it would be used not against Iran, but against the Jewish state. However, the military intelligence, Mossad, the defense ministry of Israel were all against bombing the reactor. As they claimed, Israel would lose a lot of friends, while Egypt would break the peace treaty, and Iran and Iraq would unite against Israel. The adversaries of the bombing idea offered to show the diplomatic influence on Iraq. If that was not going to work, they suggested using wreckers or secret service agents in Iraq.
In the middle of October of 1980, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had a meeting with senior defense officials of his government. The agenda of the meeting included only one question – what should be done about the Iraqi reactor. The prime minister stressed out that diplomacy could not do a thing about it, while the world community exercised its inactivity about the problem. Raphael Eitan, the head of the Israeli military headquarters, put forward three answers. First of all, he suggested that there should be a group of blasters delivered to the object for destroying it. His second suggestion was about entrusting the whole operation to Mossad agents. Finally, Eitan said that Israel might use its Air Force for bombing the French reactor, keeping the Soviet one intact. The first two variants were rejected, while the third one was slightly modified. As it was decided, Israeli planes would fly to Iraq via Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria. The participants of the session agreed upon Eitan’s arguments. However, the final decision was supposed to be made by the prime minister. Several hours later, the prime minister decided to bomb the reactor. The operation was called “Babylon.”
The French reactor was totally destroyed by the Israeli aviation on June 7th, 1981. Then there was the war in the Persian Gulf. The American aviation leveled almost every Iraqi object, where weapons of mass destruction might be produced. International inspectors started working in Iraq, although they have not managed to find the nuclear fuel yet.
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov
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