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Iraq

Overview

Last Updated: July, 2017

Iraq today has no active nuclear, chemical, biological or ballistic missile programs, and is a member of all relevant nonproliferation treaties and regimes. Under the long dictatorship of former president Saddam Hussein, Iraq pursued every major category of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and used chemical weapons in attacks against military and civilian targets during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1989). Although Iraq dismantled its WMD programs under international pressure following the 1991 Gulf War, concern over Iraq reconstituting its WMD programs was a major justification for Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. [1] After the invasion, the Iraq Survey Group, an international team of investigators, concluded that Iraq had abandoned its nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs after the 1991 Gulf War, although Saddam had intended to recreate Iraq’s WMD capabilities once sanctions were lifted. [2]

In June 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) invaded Iraq from its bases in Syria, routing the Iraqi army and occupying much of northern and western Iraq, raising questions about the security of any of Iraq’s remaining nuclear or chemical materials. [3] As Iraqi and Kurdish forces have fought to regain territory lost in the invasion, several allegations of chemical attacks by ISIS have emerged. [4]

Nuclear

Iraq began limited work in the civilian nuclear field in the late 1960s. [5] In the early 1970s, then-Vice President and head of the Iraq Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC) Saddam Hussein ordered the establishment of a nuclear weapons program. [6] In 1981, Israel bombed the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, simultaneously drawing attention to Baghdad's nuclear ambitions and deepening Saddam’s commitment to develop a nuclear weapons capability. [7] By 1991 Iraq had a robust covert program that included a complete nuclear weapon design and roughly 36.3 kilograms of weapons-useable HEU in the form of research reactor fuel. [8] Following Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) undertook intrusive inspections and concluded by 1997 that Iraqi WMD weapons programs had been incapacitated. [9] IAEA inspectors left Iraq in 1998. Inspectors returned for a follow-up visit in November 2002, but were evacuated in March 2003 preceding Operation Iraqi Freedom. [10] In its comprehensive September 30, 2004 report following the U.S-led invasion, the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Saddam Hussein had ended Iraq's nuclear weapons program after the first Gulf War in 1991, and had not directed a coordinated effort to restart the program thereafter. [11]

Surviving Iraqi nuclear facilities, which were almost entirely destroyed during the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, are controlled by Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MST). Under the Iraq Nuclear Facility Dismantlement and Disposal Project, the United States and Iraq have worked jointly to eliminate threats from poorly controlled radioactive materials on Iraq’s territory. [12] The post-Saddam Iraqi government has thus far adhered to the nonproliferation regime, and in 2009 announced interest in developing a peaceful nuclear program. [13] In recognition of Iraq's adherence to the international nonproliferation regime, in 2010 the United Nations Security Council lifted post-Gulf War sanctions prohibiting Iraq from pursuing peaceful nuclear technology. [14] However, ongoing difficulty maintaining political and territorial control over sections of the country, particularly in the wake of attacks the ISIS, has tempered such central government ambitions.

In July 2014, ISIS reportedly seized nuclear materials from a scientific university in Northern Iraq. [15] Approximately 40 kilograms of uranium compounds were stored at Mosul University, a facility which was under ISIS control between mid-2014 and early 2017. However, the material would be difficult for ISIS to use in a weapon of any kind, as the uranium compounds are not believed to have included any enriched uranium. [16] In September 2014, the United States and Iraq signed a Joint Action Plan to bolster their cooperation in combatting the threat of nuclear terrorism. [17]

For more details, visit the Iraq Nuclear Page

Biological

Iraq began pursuing a biological warfare (BW) program in the 1970s but only began making tangible advances in offensive BW technology after the start of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. [18] Iraq's BW research covered lethal, incapacitating, and anti-plant agents, including botulinum toxin, Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), aflatoxin, ricin, Clostridium perfringens, hemorrhagic conjunctivitis virus, human rotavirus, camelpox virus, mycotoxins, and wheat cover smut. [19] In 1991, Saddam Hussein deployed 166 R-400 aerial bombs and 25 Al-Hussein missiles containing anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin in preparation for Operation Desert Storm, but did not use them in the conflict. In accordance with the Gulf War ceasefire agreement, Saddam Hussein ordered the destruction of Iraq's BW munitions and bulk agents in 1991, although the regime attempted to preserve a clandestine BW production capability. [20] Following the 1995 defection of Iraqi General Hussein Kamel, Iraq’s primary BW production facilities were destroyed under UN supervision. [21] After the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Iraq Survey Group determined that Iraq had dismantled its BW program in the 1990s. [22]

For more details, visit the Iraq Biological Page

Chemical

Iraq extensively used chemical weapons (CW) during the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988. [23] In 1988, Iraq mounted a massive chemical attack against the Kurdish town of Halabja, killing approximately 5,000 civilians. At the time of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Iraq possessed large stockpiles of the blister agent mustard, and the nerve agents tabun, sarin, cyclosarin and VX. [24] Iraq's CW infrastructure suffered extensive damage during the 1991 Gulf War, and by mid-1995 UN inspectors had largely completed verification and destruction of Baghdad's chemical stocks, munitions, and relevant production facilities and equipment. [25]

In late 2002, U.S. intelligence believed that Saddam had substantially reconstituted Iraq’s chemical weapons program, and that he might use CW to attack the United States or transfer CW to a terrorist group in order to indirectly attack the United States. [26] The George W. Bush Administration used this intelligence to make the case for war, with Secretary of State Colin Powell delivering a high-profile address to the UN Security Council on the danger of Iraq’s WMD programs. [27] The post-invasion Iraq Survey Group did not find any evidence of a reconstituted Iraqi chemical weapons program, although it found that Saddam “wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability” and “focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical weapons capabilities.” [28] While Iraq’s chemical weapons program was not active at the time of the invasion, several U.S. and Iraqi security personnel were injured by orphaned and abandoned chemical munitions in the years after the invasion, according to a 2014 New York Times report. [29]

Iraq became a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention in February 2009 and established a National Monitoring Directorate to ensure the country's full compliance with its obligations under the Convention. In its March 2009 initial declaration to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Iraq "declared two bunkers with filled and unfilled chemical weapons munitions, some precursors, as well as five former chemical weapons production facilities (CWPFs)." [30] One of these, the large Al Muthanna site near Tikrit, came under the control of ISIS in 2014. [31] Given the degraded state of the weapons stored at Al Muthanna, they would be very dangerous to handle or utilize for military purposes. [32] Although the Islamic State has likely not been able to utilize the chemical weapons remnants in Al Muthanna, there have been several alleged incidents of chlorine and sulfur mustard use in Iraqi territory controlled by ISIS. [33]

For more details, visit the Iraq Chemical Page

Missile

Iraq purchased numerous short-range Scud missiles and launchers from the Soviet Union beginning in the early 1970s. [34] These missiles were modified, produced indigenously, and used in both the Iran-Iraq and Persian Gulf wars under the names Al-Hussein or Al-Hijara. [35] UNMOVIC inspectors directed Iraq to destroy most of these missiles and related equipment under the post-Gulf War UN mandate. [36] From 1991 to 1998, working within the proscriptions of the UN cease-fire, Iraq developed various ballistic missiles with ranges of less than 150km, including the Al-Ababil and the Al-Samoud. [37]

Following the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, the Iraq Survey Group learned of Iraqi attempts to improve both its ballistic and cruise missile capabilities during the inspections hiatus between 1998 and 2002. Iraq’s most notable violations included a version of the Al-Ababil exceeding the permitted range, and two cruise missile programs to convert the HY-2 Seersucker anti-ship cruise missile into a land-attack system. [38] Iraq also attempted to convert S-75 Dvina (NATO: SA-2 Guideline) surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) to surface-to-surface missiles (SSMs) with proscribed range capabilities. [39] In order to avoid detection, Iraq engaged in secret negotiations to acquire missile technology from North Korea, Russia and non-state actors beginning in 1997, although with only limited success. By 2001, Iraq possessed two missile variants exceeding the 150km limit, the Al-Samoud II and the Al-Fatah. UNMOVIC began to destroy the missiles prior to the 2003 invasion, but incomplete inspections left the status of these missiles unclear. [40] Iraq became a member of the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC) in 2011, and the present Iraqi government has not declared an interest in reconstituting its missile programs. [41]

For more details, visit the Iraq Missile Page

Sources:
[1] U.S. Congress, Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002, 107th Congress, 16 October 2002, Public Law 107-243.
[2] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, No. 1, p. 24, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[3] "ISIS seizes former chemical weapons plant in Iraq," The Guardian, 9 July 2014, www.theguardian.com; Nichols, Michelle, "Iraq tells U.N. That 'terrorist groups' seized nuclear material" Reuters, 9 July 2014, www.reuters.com.
[4] Anthony Deutsch, “Exclusive: Samples Confirm Islamic State Used Mustard Gas in Iraq – Diplomat,” Reuters, 23 February 2016, www.reuters.com.
[5] Amos Perlmutter, Michael Handel and Uri Bar-Joseph, "Two Minutes over Baghdad," London: Frank Cass, 2003.
[6] Nuclear Control Institute, "Iraq's Crash Program to Build A-Bomb Should Come as No Surprise," 26 August 1995, www.nci.org.
[7] Bennett Ramberg, "Osirak and Its Lessons for Iran Policy," Arms Control Association, May 2012, armscontrol.org; Dan Reiter, "Preventive Attacks Against Nuclear Programs and the 'Success' at Osiraq," Nonproliferation Review, Vol. 12, No. 2, July 2005.
[8] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, No. 1, p. 24, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[9] IAEA, "Fourth Consolidated Report of the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency under Paragraph 16 or Resolution 1051 (1996)," S/1997/779, 8 October 1997, Iraqwatch.org.
[10] Nicolaas van Rijn, "Blix wants 'the real truth' about Iraq's weapons stash," The Toronto Star, 1 July 2003; James Bone, "UN Team to Hunt Missing Uranium" The Times of London, 22 May 2003; "What Happened to Saddam's Weapons of Mass Destruction?" Arms Control Association, September 2003, Armscontrol.org.
[11] "Key Findings," Iraq Survey Group Final Report, 30 September 2004, cia.gov. The Iraq Survey Group was a multinational force tasked by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency to investigate Iraqi CBRN weapons programs after the 2003 invasion.
[12] John Cochran, Jeff Daneels, Carleton Phillips and Ronald Chesser, "Iraq Nuclear Facility Dismantlement and Disposal Project," Department of Nuclear Safety and Security, IAEA, www.-ns.iaea.org.
[13] Martin Chulov, "Iraq goes nuclear with plans for new reactor programme," The Guardian, 27 October 2009, guardian.co.uk.
[14] "Resolution 1957: The situation concerning Iraq," United Nations Security Council Resolutions, 15 December 2010, unscr.com; UN Security Council, "Security Council Presidential Statement Welcomes Steps Taken by Iraq to Support International Non-proliferation Regime, Comply with Disarmament Treaties," Press Release SC/9871, 26 February 2010, www.un.org.
[15] Nichols, Michelle, "Iraq tells U.N. That 'terrorist groups' seized nuclear material" Reuters, 9 July 2014, www.reuters.com.
[16] Nichols, Michelle, "Iraq tells U.N. That 'terrorist groups' seized nuclear material" Reuters, 9 July 2014, www.reuters.com.
[17] Bureau of Public Affairs, “U.S. and Iraq Sign a Joint Action Plan to Combat Nuclear and Radioactive Smuggling,” U.S. Department of State, 3 September 2014, www.state.gov.
[18] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, "Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats," p. 346, Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment, 2005; UN Special Commission, "Report to the Security Council - S/1995/864," 11 October 1995, www.un.org.
[19] Wade Boese, "Unfinished Business in Iraq," Arms Control Association, April 2003, armscontrol.org; "Status of Verification of Iraq's Biological Warfare Programme," UNSCOM - Report to the Security Council, 25 January 1999, hosted by the Federation of American Scientists at fas.org.
[20] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 3, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[21] For examples of the unresolved BW verification issues under UNMOVIC, see "Anthrax Destruction Study" section of UN Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission, "Thirteenth Quarterly Report to the Security Council - S/2003/580," 30 May 2003, www.unmovic.org; "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 3, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[22] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 3, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[23] Stephen C. Pelletiere, "The Iran-Iraq War: Chaos in a Vacuum," p. 81. New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1992.
[24] Human Rights Watch, "Genocide in Iraq: The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds," July 1993, www.hrw.org.
[25] Jonathan B. Tucker, "Iraq Faces Major Challenges in Destroying Its Legacy Chemical Weapons," Center for Nonproliferation Studies, 4 March 2010, www.nonproliferation.org.
[26] Director of Central Intelligence, National Intelligence Estimate, Iraq’s Continuing Programs for Weapons of Mass Destruction, October 2002, Retrieved from the National Security Archive, http://nsarchive.gwu.edu.
[27] U.S. Department of State, “Secretary Powell at the UN: Iraq’s Failure to Disarm,” https://2001-2009.state.gov.
[28] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 3, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[29] C.J. Chivers, “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons,” The New York Times, 14 October 2014, www.nytimes.com.
[30] “Reports of the Technical Secretariat for the Purpose of Reviewing Documentation Related to the Recovery and Destruction of Iraqi Chemical Weapons,” Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, 19 November 2014, www.opcw.org.
[31] C.J. Chivers, “The Secret Casualties of Iraq’s Abandoned Chemical Weapons,” The New York Times, 14 October 2014, www.nytimes.com.
[32] "Daily Press Briefing: June 20, 2014,” U.S. Department of State, 20 June 2014, www.state.gov.
[33] Anthony Deutsch, “Exclusive: Samples Confirm Islamic State Used Mustard Gas in Iraq – Diplomat,” Reuters, 23 February 2016, www.reuters.com.
[34] "Amb. Richard Butler's Presentation to The UN Security Council," The Federation of American Scientists, 3 June 1998, www.fas.org.
[35] Joseph Cirincione, Jon Wolfsthal and Miriam Rajkumar, "Deadly Arsenals: Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Threats," p. 352, Washington, D.C.: The Carnegie Endowment, 2005; UNSCOM, "Report of the Secretary-General on the Activities of the Special Commission Established by the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paragraph 9 (b) (i) of Resolution 687 (1991)."
[36] Federation of American Scientists, "Ababil-100/Al Samoud," www.fas.org; United Nations Special Commission, "Third Report under Resolution 1051," S/1997/301, 11 April 1997, www.un.org.
[37] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 1, p. 24, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[38] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 2, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[39] "Iraq Paid North Korea $10 Million in Failed Missile Deal, Kay Says," Global Security Newswire, 6 October 2003, nti.org; "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, Vol. 2, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[40] "Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD," Central Intelligence Agency, No. 1, p. 24, 30 September 2004, www.cia.gov.
[41] "10th Regular Meeting of the Subscribing States to the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation," Hague Code of Conduct, June 3, 2011, hcoc.at; UN Security Council, "Security Council Presidential Statement Welcomes Steps Taken by Iraq to Support International Non-proliferation Regime, Comply with Disarmament Treaties," Press Release SC/9871, 26 February 2010, www.un.org.

Get the Facts on Iraq
  • Nuclear weapons program comprehensively dismantled by the IAEA from 1991 to 1997
  • Used chemical weapons against Iran and its Kurdish population during the 1980s
  • Pursued offensive biological weapon capabilities from 1985 until the 1990s

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2018.