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Iraqi scientist: Sanctions killed germ war program


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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's biological weapons program was shut down by economic sanctions in the 1990s and U.S. search teams are unlikely to find evidence of those efforts now, a leading program scientist said Monday.

The scientist, Nassir Hindawi, left Iraq's bio-weapons program in 1989, and one of his students -- Rihab Taha -- eventually became notorious as Iraq's leading biological weapons expert.

But Hindawi told CNN that Taha -- who was nicknamed "Dr. Germ" in the West -- didn't have the practical capability to advance the program.

Hindawi said economic sanctions imposed after the first Persian Gulf War effectively halted the program, and it probably could not have been reconstituted with whatever materials that remained from the previous years.

Before 1989, Iraqi researchers conducted experiments on animals with botulinum toxin, anthrax and gas gangrene, and managed to test weaponized forms of the toxins, Hindawi said.

The anthrax was developed as a liquid form, not a powder. Hindawi said he alone in Iraq had the knowledge to produce a powdered form of anthrax, but he never did it.

He said he did not believe in the program and therefore intentionally worked only at half his full potential. Scientists were coerced into working for the program, Hindawi said. If they refused, they risked harassment, loss of employment, and prison.

Hindawi's team originally tried to import special drying ovens to make powdered anthrax, but were told by manufacturers of the equipment that they would have to change the specific gravity of their material, and the team was apparently unsuccessful at doing that.

Hindawi said he kept another method for making powered anthrax -- one that does not require using dryers -- to himself.

He rejoined the biological weapons program in 1991 as the director of the Al-Hakam plant, which produced single-cell protein, according to the Iraqi government.

He said he was instructed to lie to United Nations weapons inspectors, who were then in Iraq to enforce terms of the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire.

The cease-fire required Iraq to give up its chemical and biological weapons, long-range missiles and efforts to develop a nuclear bomb.

Hindawi said he was told to say the plant was used only for peaceful purposes, when he knew it was a so-called dual-use facility that been used for weapons research.

The inspectors were not fooled, he said. The plant, which Iraqi officials said was built to provide animal feed, was destroyed under inspectors' supervision in 1996.

The advanced development of the Iraqi program was exposed by the defection of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, Hussein Kamal, to Jordan in 1995.

Though Kamal was nominally the director of the program, Hindawi called him an "idiot" who had only a limited understanding of science.

Hindawi was imprisoned in 1997 and 1998 by Saddam after he was accused of attempting to leave Iraq. At the time, he said, he was trying to go to Libya as a "steppingstone" to get to the United States, where he was educated, and where two of his sons live.

But he has surprisingly benign comments regarding Saddam, calling him "simple, generous, polite and respectful."

He said he met with the Iraqi leader after he left the biological weapons program and returned to a university job. He said Saddam held him by the shoulders and asked him if he was willing to be called back, if needed. Hindawi agreed.

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