“Saddam's Bombmaker” is Full of Lies
by Imad Khadduri
December 2, 2002
The book Saddam's Bombmaker, recently published by Khidhir Hamza, recounted the author's 22 years of experience with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC). Hamza exaggerated to a great extent his own role in the nuclear weapon program. As I personally know the author and have worked with him during these two decades, I wish to clarify the following untruths and misinformation that has been postulated by him in his book.
There is a huge difference between those who worked with the government for scientific and professional reasons despite being under the sharp sword of government security agencies, and those who try to hide their fear with a fig leaf. A few scientists who believed in their work realized the slippery road they were treading and tried to leave before and after the 1991 Gulf War. While some were able to flee Iraq, others, such as Dr. Al Shahrastsani (who was also charged with other offenses), ceased his work despite the penalty of death given to such rebellious actions.
But when the bells of fear first started to ring in Hamza's mind in 1974, when he prepared the first nuclear weapons project report at the request of the government, he decided to stay in Iraq until it was convenient for him to go abroad. In the '70s and '80s, it would have been much easier and less risky to leave, yet he wallowed in Iraq in nice Mercedes cars while attending scientific conventions with lavish stipends. He kept deluding himself, as he naively mentions in his book, that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IEAE) or the CIA would contact him and magically whisk him out of Iraq as if on a flying carpet.
Even though he was the head of the physics department in the nuclear research center for ten years during the seventies, his deep inner fear of radiation prevented him from ever entering the reactor hall or touching any scientific gadgets, probably due to his continual fear of an electric jolt that he experienced as a child, as his book mentions.
Hamza's aversion to scientific experimentation drove him to insist on working solely on the highly theoretical three-body-problem during the seventies, far removed from any of the initial work on fission that was carried on during that period at the Iraqi Nuclear Research Center. He did not, even remotely, get involved in any scientific research, except for journalistic articles, dealing with the fission bomb, its components or its effects. The testimony to this is the recorded archive of the IAEC for the seventies that point to the efforts of others in this field, and none to the self-proclaimed "bombmaker."
At the end of the seventies, he completely refused to take any responsibility in the Iraqi purchased French research reactor, and left that task to the great Egyptian scientist, Dr. Yehya El Meshad, who was assassinated by the Israeli Mossad in Paris in 1980.
After he again withdrew from any leadership responsibility for the nuclear weapon project which started in earnest in 1980 in direct response to the Israeli attack on the OSIRAK reactor, leaving it to one of Iraq's great physicists, Hamza was merely assigned the gaseous diffusion project. He did, in fact, spend some effort in buying the fine filters needed for that project, but his fear of entering the project hall was a cause of many hilarious puns.
In the mid eighties, Hamza was asked by Hussain Kamil to write a report on the progress of the weapon program to present to the government. In response to this report, the whole program was put under the control and guidance of Hussain Kamil himself in 1987. The pace of work accelerated immensely until 1991. However, during that time, the "bombmaker" was kicked out of the program at the end of 1987 for stealing a few air conditioning units from the building assigned to his project. This he conveniently omitted to mention in his book, but cited frequent travels abroad to garner assistance and equipment, while in fact he was an outcast to the project and did not attend any seminar or brainstorming sessions during that intense period.
The "bombmaker" did make a great deal in his book of his role in building the Al Atheer weapon manufacturing center during the late eighties, while in fact he was going in circles doing nothing at the Tuwaitha Research Center, as a mere has-been, and did not even have an office space in Al Atheer. He was, in fact, assigned the peripheral job of writing a report on the American Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) project and spent his time collecting whatever information was available in the library from newspapers and scientific journals. He spent all his time during these critical years in the library and, in 1989, was made a sort of consultant, still loosely attached to the IAEA, but also taught at a university two days a week, far removed from any bomb making.
In addition, he was thoroughly annoyed and bitter regarding the rejection by the CIA of his appeal for them to take him, through the auspices of the Iraqi National Congress representative in the north of Iraq, where he fled alone, leaving his family behind, in 1994. He pathetically thought that the CIA was not aware of his miniscule role in the bomb making, especially after the weapon program's scientific report fell in the hands of the IAEA inspectors in 1991. He claimed to be the container of secrets while in fact he was only regurgitating them. Worse than that, he claims in his book that the CIA, in 1995, fabricated a story published in an English newspaper of his submitting a report on the supposed continued Iraqi nuclear program just to ferret him out of his hiding place. Being a teacher at that time in a Libyan University is not a place to hide, to say the least.
The extent of his fear climaxed when the Iraqi government sent his son to Libya to persuade him to return. He repulsed his son's appeals and again scrambled to Europe, knocking desperately at the doors of the IAEA and the CIA, who again gave him the cold shoulder. But then, it is most probable, the CIA reconsidered his case in the light of the escape of Hussain Kamil to Jordan and his revelation of yet more hidden technical reports at his chicken farm in Iraq. The CIA thus hoped that Hamza might fill in some small gaps on information and took him under their wings, helping him and his family to settle in the U.S. under their protection and strings.
I can only recall the image of "the bombmaker" straggling for two decades during the seventies, eighties and early nineties with his tail between his legs, looking over his shoulders and running to whomever gave him a piece of bone with some meat on it, to then suddenly springing from his cocoon at the end of the nineties as a Don Quixote with an American mask. Brandishing his wooden sword in the small arena afforded to him by the CIA, he counted on the silence of his colleagues, either out of fear of the Iraqi security agencies or the blind cruelty of the American ones, to not expose his phony claims in his book, which may be rendered as a repayment to the CIA for their services to him. His appearances on the weekly American talk shows are truly a reflection of his present allegiances.
The reader might question the motive of my writing on this sensitive subject and the personal tack apparent in it. All I can say is that even if silence is gold, then not speaking out at this time against such fallacies is a stigma of cowards.
Imad Khadduri has a MSc in Physics from the University of Michigan (United States) and a PhD in Nuclear Reactor Technology from the University of Birmingham (United Kingdom). Khadduri worked with the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission from 1968 till 1998. He was able to leave Iraq in late 1998 with his family. He now teaches and works as a network administrator in Toronto, Canada. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared at Yellow Times.org