Khidhir Hamza: Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi weapons program
Dr. Khidhir Hamza was educated in the United States, then was deceptively persuaded to return to Iraq by Saddam Hussein, where for over 20 years he was forced to work at developing an atomic weapon. In 1994, he defected to the U.S. Embassy in Hungary. Dr. Hamza now works as a consultant to the U.S. Department of Energy, and is the author of "Saddam's Bomb Maker: The Terrifying Inside Story of the Iraqi Nuclear and Biological Weapons Agenda." Hamza joined the CNN.com chat room to discuss the Iraqi weapons program and Saddam Hussein
CNN: As a nuclear scientist educated at MIT, how did you end up returning to Iraq and working for Saddam Hussein?
HAMZA: I was teaching at Florida State University in 1969 when I was contacted by one of his pointmen here who was enrolled as a student, although he was too old to be a student. He told me that if I don't go back, there could be problems for my family. I was enticed to go back this way.
CNN: How did Hussein intend to use the weapon, once it was completed?
HAMZA: Saddam has a whole range of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear, biological and chemical. The nuclear program is his primary weapon, and that would give him the ability to use the biological and chemical better. According to German intelligence estimates, we expect him to have three nuclear weapons by 2005. So, the window (actually, he's being careful right now), will close by 2005, and we expect him then to be a lot more aggressive with his neighbors and encouraging terrorism, and using biological weapons. Now he's using them through surrogates like al Qaeda, but we expect he'll use them more aggressively then. There could also be the angle of him using nuclear weapons through surrogates also, if he can achieve it.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is it possible that Saddam or Iraq is supplying the terrorist with the biological agents that are being found in different parts of our country as well as the world?
HAMZA: I believe he [could be]. There are several points that indicate that the biological agents used are of the more sophisticated kind, and that a state is behind it. The states that produce anthrax and the required specs that can be used to spread the disease widely, say in the powder form, very few states can do that. The others are not U.S. antagonists, like Russia, some of the European countries, and the U.S. So it could only be that Iraq is the state behind supplying that expertise, which is the same thing as producing the anthrax spores. There are also many biologists that inspected the Iraq programs, like Dr. Richard Spertzel, including Richard Butler, the head of ANSCAM. There are several experts, not just me, who have detailed knowledge, who are pointing fingers toward Iraq, too.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: How many Iraqis support Saddam Hussein?
HAMZA: I don't believe many. I think most Iraqis have suffered so long under Saddam, that if there is a supported opposition that can go into Iraq, they will defect to it and go against the regime. That happened in 1991, when Saddam lost 14 of 18 provinces in Iraq. Only the lack of support to the insurrection or rebellion helped Saddam to crush it with his tanks, and the U.S. allowed him to fly military helicopters to crush the insurrection, and he used that opportunity to crush his enemies. We believe now that the situation is even worse, and that Saddam has cut food rations to the north and south. In the north, the UN took over, and started supplying the Kurds with part of the money generated by the oil for food program, so the Kurdish region is a little better off, because of the UN and U.S. assistance.
However, there is no such program in the south, which is the majority of the population, and Saddam already cut rations in the south, especially the rural areas. The Iraqi opposition believes that any small nucleus of army, U.S. trained, will be able to take over in the south, because they're already in a desperate situation. All it needs is U.S. air support to prevent what happened in 1991, and that is Iraqi tanks, Saddam's tanks, and heavy artillery, bombarding the areas of the rebels.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Did the U.S. succeed in getting rid of many of his weapons over the years the teams were there?
HAMZA: This is a false security. The security of taking a number of equipment from a state and destroying them, leaving the total infrastructure, the knowledge base, the scientist, the military structure intact, only means that the state will just rejuvenate its program, especially a state with huge resources, like Iraq. The whole structure of the biological program is there. What the U.S. destroyed is some of the product, biological agents, some fermenters, and some dryers, which can be replaced very easily, and most of them actually through local engineering capability.
Much of the precision machinery, computer-controlled machines that can machine anything you want, are already there. They were not delivered to the inspectors, so Iraq can easily, and probably already did, remake the destroyed equipment and put them in place, but in different locations than those the inspectors knew. So, we believe it was a false security to just destroy a few pieces of equipment, and take away some of the weaponized agents, and believe that's it. The scientists are there, the agents are there, and most of the infrastructure is there in addition to Saddam's network of purchasing agents and front companies that can smuggle back into Iraq the needed critical parts.
CNN: You were in Iraq for 24 years. Describe personal encounters with Hussein.
HAMZA: I met him a few times, and he is not what he seems on TV. In private, he is an abrupt, overbearing bully. There is not much nice about him in private. All you see is the arrogance of power, in the true sense. He knows that you have to do everything he says, and he's not nice about it. So, one limits encounters, usually. I used to deal with him through his son-in-law, mostly, though despite his reputation of a bloody butcher, he was much nicer to work with in person. He was my boss. [Saddam Hussein] is really the sole dictator, the ultimate power. He's under pressure, he's tired, edgy, nervous. Meeting him is not a pleasure in any sense of the world. He keeps his smiles for TV appearances, and there is nothing nice about him in private.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: If America could just do one thing in Iraq, what would you like see happen?
HAMZA: I would like to see the Iraqi opposition better trained, some two or three thousand persons, trained and sent back into south Iraq, and supported by U.S. Air Force, no U.S. troops, just Air Force, doing what it is doing now, but a little more intensely. By watching Saddam's troop movement and making them stay in their box, is all that's required right now. Just send the Iraqi opposition trained militia, and support them there. That's the only thing we need now. That's the official position right now of the Iraqi opposition, they want to be supported this way, with some resources provided, say food and some equipment. Minimal cost opposition. Much less than is being done in Afghanistan right now, for instance. This way, the U.S. would eliminate the major terrorist government in the Middle East right now, probably the world.
CHAT PARTICIPANT: Who is Saddam's successor?
HAMZA: Saddam's successor right now is designated to be his younger son, Qussay. His oldest son, Uday, has been put aside and relegated to the control of the media. He controls the Iraqi media. He has a newspaper, magazine, and a TV channel. He speaks in the name of the government. Actual control of the special security organization, Saddam's body guards, is now headed by Qussay. Through this, he controls all Iraqi military and intelligence services, and the military industry. So he's in control of the nuclear, biological and chemical weapons programs. He is as vicious as his father, even more if that's possible. He's been doing the actual killing when he goes out on forays against rebellious areas. He surrounds towns, kills everybody. He's been experimenting with all kinds of control mechanisms, such as blockading areas from getting food and supplies. He's doing the real dirty work for the government right now, and it's his government. He's the heir to the throne in Iraq. It's a monarchy of some sort...in reality.
CNN: Do you believe there is any link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein? If so, should the U.S. resume attacks on Iraq in the name of stopping terrorism?
HAMZA: I think there are several links between Osama and Saddam. The Iraqi ambassador in Turkey, Hajazi, visited Afghanistan, and met with Osama and his associates. He's a powerful figure in Iraq. There are several reported meetings between him and Osama's associates. Osama was sighted in an Iraqi hotel in 1996, by the lawyer for Arkan, the Serbian leader. [Regarding] the reported sighting by the Czech intelligence of Mohammed Atta, and the Iraqi intelligence agent -- to do this meeting, Atta had to drive from Germany and Czechoslovakia, a long drive, meet him, and go back. Which means it was an important meeting for supplies, coordination. It couldn't have been by accident.
Many other meetings were reported between Osama associates and Iraqi intelligence. There are reports by Iraqi defectors of bin Laden's people being trained in Iraqi terrorist camps. They are credible stories, because they don't contradict each other. They confirm each other in types of training, places, the people trained. In a covert operation like this, you don't expect much more information. There will be no smoking gun. All sightings confirm a multi-layered coordination between Saddam and bin Laden, in terms of training, support, and supplies. That could have included anthrax.
CNN: Do you have any closing comments to share with us?
HAMZA: Just that this is the new probably type of war the U.S. will be waging. The U.S. is too powerful to fight directly by terrorists like Saddam. [They] tried once and failed miserably, in the Gulf War. So the efforts and energies of people like Saddam will be channeled to these types of dirty terrorist acts. We believe that the best way to deal with it is eliminating the source, not chasing after the foot soldiers, but not just limited to chasing soldiers. Go to the source. Even in Afghanistan, the U.S. goal should be to remove the Taliban group that supported bin Laden, and get a new government, and not leave the situation unresolved.
CNN: Thank you for joining us today
HAMZA: Thank you very much.
Khidhir Hamza joined the chat room via telephone from Virginia and CNN.com provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, October 22, 2001 at 1 p.m. EDT.
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