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From the Publisher* "Indispensable one...Expertly organized and packed with telling vignettes, it is never less than riveting." (The New York Times Book Review, October 31, 2004)
What was really going in Iraq before the American invasion last year? Iraq's nuclear weapons program was on the threshold of success before the 1991 invasion of Kuwait - there is no doubt in my mind that we could have produced dozens of nuclear weapons within a few years - but was stopped in its tracks by United Nations weapons inspectors after the Persian Gulf war and was never restarted. During the 1990's, the inspectors discovered all of the laboratories, machines and materials we had used in the nuclear program, and all were destroyed or otherwise incapacitated.
By 1998, when Saddam Hussein evicted the weapons inspectors from Iraq, all that was left was the dangerous knowledge of hundreds of scientists and the blueprints and prototype parts for the centrifuge, which I had buried under a tree in my garden.
In addition to the inspections, the sanctions that were put in place by the United Nations after the gulf war made reconstituting the program impossible. During the 1980's, we had relied heavily on the international black market for equipment and technology; the sanctions closed that avenue.
Another factor in the mothballing of the program was that Saddam Hussein was profiting handsomely from the United Nations oil-for-food program, building palaces around the country with the money he skimmed. I think he didn't want to risk losing this revenue stream by trying to restart a secret weapons program.
Over the course of the 1990's, most of the scientists from the nuclear program switched to working on civilian projects or in conventional-weapons production, and the idea of building a nuclear bomb became a vague dream from another era.
So, how could the West have made such a mistaken assessment of the nuclear program before the invasion last year? Even to those of us who knew better, it's fairly easy to see how observers got the wrong impression. First, there was Saddam Hussein's history. He had demonstrated his desire for nuclear weapons since the late 1970's, when Iraqi scientists began making progress on a nuclear reactor. He had used chemical weapons against his own people and against Iran during the 1980's. After the 1991 war, he had tried to hide his programs in weapons of mass destruction for as long as possible (he even kept my identity secret from weapons inspectors until 1995). It would have been hard not to suspect him of trying to develop such weapons again.
The Western intelligence services and policy makers, however, overlooked some obvious clues. One was the defection and death of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamel, who was in charge of the unconventional weapons programs in the 1980's.
As my boss, Mr. Kamel was a brutal taskmaster who forced us to work under impossible deadlines and was the motivating force for our nuclear effort. The drive for nuclear weapons began in earnest when he rose to a position of power in 1987. He placed a detail of 20 fearsome security men on the premises of our centrifuge lab, and my staff and I worked wonders just to stay out of his dungeons. But after he defected to Jordan in 1995, and then returned months later only to be assassinated by his father-in-law's henchmen, the nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs lost their top promoter.
In addition, the West never understood the delusional nature of Saddam Hussein's mind. By 2002, when the United States and Britain were threatening war, he had lost touch with the reality of his diminished military might. By that time I had been promoted to director of projects for the country's entire military-industrial complex, and I witnessed firsthand the fantasy world in which he was living. He backed mythic but hopeless projects like one for a long-range missile that was completely unrealistic considering the constraints of internatio