The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Iraq’s WMD Scientists in the Crossfire
In any discussion of Iraq's future, the reconstruction of basic infrastructure is central to the successful recreation of the state. This infrastructure should apply not only to conventional manifestations, such as oil, water, and electricity, but also human resources. Iraq is in danger of experiencing a "brain drain" due to increased targeting, kidnapping, and emigration of scientists, including those who might have worked on the country's WMD programs. Such developments compromise the country's ability to become self-sufficient. Various theories exist as to who is responsible for the currently inhospitable climate for academics and technocrats in Iraq, and the specific reason behind such actions. Regardless of the origin of these emerging threats, for the sake of future reconstruction projects and programs, additional measures should be taken in order to assure the security of this subset of Iraqi human capital. This issue brief will examine what efforts are being made in the region to retain scientific expertise in Iraq, which specific threats the scientists currently face, why certain scientists were in detention facilities, the question of their accountability for Saddam's scientific and WMD programs, trends of scientist emigration, and recommendations for the resolution of these issues.
Iraq is currently at the onset of the crucial process of rebuilding many different aspects of its society since Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. The country's resources are now more important than ever in helping to bolster the new Iraq. Oil tends to be the topic of choice among politicians and the media, yet many other resources have significant roles to play in reconstruction as well, specifically human resources. Without these, the leadership necessary to guide the critical rehabilitation of infrastructure is lacking. Aside from the political realm, the spheres of academia, research, medicine, and science must retain the human resources that existed in the country prior to the war, and utilize scientific minds for sustainable development projects. An alarming trend toward acts of violence directed specifically at these Iraqi citizens poses another barrier to progress in the rebuilding of the country. Reports of attacks and kidnappings by insurgents, extended detainment by coalition forces, as well as a growing tendency toward outward emigration to neighboring Middle Eastern countries and abroad of Iraqi scientists all contribute to the increasing urgency of this issue.
Using past examples of scientific and academic brain drain that have occurred in post-war climates, such as the aftermath of the Cold War and WWII, it is possible to understand why issues facing Iraqi scientists are in the forefront in the region. Iraqi scientists currently reside in a certain type of purgatory. Most of their livelihoods originate from coalition-related programs. However if they decide to work for what is perceived by most in Iraq as an "invading force," they also become a prime target for the insurgency and those opposed to the new government. This is among the foremost reasons that current proposals and projects designed to utilize the Iraqi scientific community have not been as successful as was originally hoped.
A few scientific programs that give the Iraqis some degree of personal agency in their own reconstruction efforts have emerged. As of April 2004, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) proposed a project for Nonproliferation Coordination and Direction with Iraqi Ministries/WMD Scientist Retention/MIC WMD Personnel Redirection with a projected budget of $102- 113.4 million between the fiscal years of 2003-2006. Additionally, the Bureau of Nonproliferation within the U.S. Department of State pledged roughly $2 million toward the creation of the Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry. Though these amounts have been pledged, it is difficult to track the exact dollar amount that has gone towards actually retaining and employing Iraqi scientists.
In June 2005, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) held a workshop in Amman, Jordan to train Iraqi scientists in depleted uranium measurement techniques. The seminar was a result of a UNEP plan initiated in September 2004 to work towards containment of potentially contaminated sites. Because of the difficulty of carrying out clean-up projects in an unstable environment, such programs have not been implemented. Dr. David Kay, a weapons inspector for the United Nations from 1983 to 1992, and leader of the United States' Iraq Survey Group (ISG) until January 2004, indicates the difficulties of implementing programs for the scientists "when such programs are hindered by a lack of security throughout the entire country." At the time of the conference, 150 scientists had been trained for these types of rebuilding measures by the UNEP alone. Yet if current trends of academic insecurity persist, Iraq will have a significantly depleted pool of intellectuals from which to draw in order to bring these programs to fruition.
Universities are struggling as well. Raad Rahdi, a physics professor at Baghdad University and graduate of the University of Michigan's doctoral program, appeals to the international community. "We hope that we can bring our Ph.D. students to the same standard as the US or Britain, they are the future of this country….We are your brothers. We graduated from your universities. Now we need your help." Later in his interview with The Guardian, Rahdi spoke of scientific conditions under Saddam and UN sanctions as compared to the current conditions under the coalition forces. "They promised to rebuild Iraq. But it hasn't happened here… I can only conclude that they lied. We are the best university in Iraq. Imagine what the others are like."
While assistance in the form of government programs such as the Nonproliferation Coordination and Direction with Iraqi Ministries/WMD Scientist Retention/MIC WMD Personnel Redirection, United Nations programs, as well as international attention drawn to the plight of Iraqi academics at universities is necessary, additional hazards exist for the highly educated in the new Iraq. Whether they are employed by institutions viewed negatively by opposition groups or called upon to assist with the coalition investigation into past WMD programs, scientists are faced with the very real possibility of unemployment, incarceration, kidnapping, and murder.
The physical safety of Iraqi scientist and academics alike are in danger due to their increased vulnerability to attack outside of the Green Zone. While detainment by coalition forces at Camp Cropper, a coalition-run high value detention site, is a threat that many have experienced first-hand, the danger posed by the insurgency also undoubtedly plays upon the minds of those asked to cooperate with the coalition or the Iraqi government, especially during the search for WMD. To illustrate, Dr. Kay states in an interview with CNN: "We've been honest about the threats that scientists have been under. We've had one scientist who was killed immediately after talking to us, another who took six bullets, and it's amazing to me he wasn't killed; others who report continuing threats."
Statistics on the increasing number of academics, doctors, and scientists who have been subject to the insurgency's attacks abound. The Iraqi Health Ministry formed the Committee for Countering Abductions of and Threats to Iraqi Scientists and Physicians in May 2005 to address this very issue. The ministry was prompted to do so after the publication of a report stating that over a two-year period, 25 physicians had been murdered, while more than 300 others of varied specialties in the scientific realm had been abducted. The same day the report was released, media carried reports that unidentified gunmen attacked a group of scientists studying the swamp areas of southern Iraq. Five male scientists were kidnapped, while the females were released. In September of 2005, Ahmed Moosa, an engineering professor at the University of Technology in Baghdad related an account that at least 58 professors, 150 medical doctors, and dozens of scientists from different ministries and institutes in Iraq have been targeted and killed since April 2003 to date. The Ministry of Higher Education has its own statistics on the subject, announcing in September of 2005 that 146 university professors had been assassinated in the past two years.
While many have thought that the targeting of scientists had been limited to those with connections to weapons programs under Saddam's regime, it is clear from these statistics that various groups, insurgency or otherwise, are interested in killing and kidnapping academics of not only different scientific specialties, but disciplines as well, as some of these professors teach Arabic language and history as well. Haroun Muhammad, an Iraqi political analyst based in London, believes the academics have fallen prey to Iranian-backed militias that believe these professors taught information determined by Saddam's government, and therefore should be held responsible for such subjective inaccuracies.
Although the killings and kidnappings are indicative of the insurgency, the question of who exactly is targeting the scientists is also up for debate. An Iraqi nuclear scientist, Imad Khadduri, expressed doubt when asked whether or not he believed the insurgency was largely behind the attacks. "The insurgency? What good would it be for them? Who would benefit? … Do not waste too much energy on this." Dr. Khadduri's comments insinuate that perhaps there are other forces at work behind the current trend of targeting scientists, and a blanket-campaign of blaming the insurgency for every act of violence in Iraq is not an accurate means of getting to the source of the problem. The prevailing opinion among ex-inspectors who had been involved with UNSCOM and the ISG is that any persons known to be cooperating with the Coalition or the new Iraqi government are targets because of their affiliation. Dr. Kay brings up the possibility that working academics can be seen as "cash cows," in that they are most likely collecting money from the rebuilding process. "Kidnapping and ransom demands are economically motivated acts. Scientists are professions that are believed to possess wealth, much like other civil servants." Since the Insurgency also uses kidnapping for economic gain, this too could be a reason as to why the highly educated are often the subjects of abduction.
David Albright, a former weapons inspector in Iraq and current head of the U.S. Institute for Science and International Security, advocates a shift in the coalition's policy of trying to retain the scientists in Iraq; instead he argues that Washington should "shift the program to getting people out." Commenting on the reasons for the dangers that the technocrats are facing, a former U.S. Department of State official working with scientific programs in Iraq says "the most common explanation is that they've shown an interest in working with the coalition." This added disincentive creates a challenging position for both the scientists and coalition forces, who are attempting to use scientific expertise for reconstruction purposes, learn from sources close to weapons programs, retain an academic element in the new Iraq, and prevent a mass exodus of Iraqi nationals out of the country due to a lack of security. While the scientists are wary of becoming a prime target for the insurgency, stories abound of ill-treatment by the coalition as well. The controversy over the detainment of scientists known to be associated with the Ba'ath regime and recent release of Dr. Huda Ammash and Dr. Rihab Taha give the issue of coalition treatment of scientists a role in the discussion as well.
Lately the U.S. and other coalition forces in Iraq have come under criticism for the handling of prisoners in Iraqi detention centers, some of which housed Iraqi scientists accused of working for the Ba'ath regime. First-hand accounts tell of the plight of Iraqi scientists, both during Saddam's reign and currently in the hands of the coalition. In the Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) on Iraq's WMD, Charles Duelfer of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) and Special Advisor to the DCI, states his opinion on some of the scientists that he came into contact with:
The tragedy of Iraq is perhaps best seen on the individual level. I have known many of their most senior technocrats and political leaders for over a decade… They are some of the best and the brightest the country has produced. How they dealt with the moral dilemmas of pursuing careers in a Regime like Saddam's is difficult to understand. Some clearly did so with relish and happily reaped the rewards that were bestowed. Others, with better intentions, had limited options, given the nature of the regime. Through the accident of birth, they were placed in circumstances most of us are never tested by…The new Iraq could benefit from the talents of some of these technocrats… Many Iraqis over many years tried hard to explain Iraq and these programs to me. This was not easy for them and carried substantial risk. I am grateful to them beyond words.
Later in the report, Duelfer illustrates the difficulties that arose in questioning scientists that were believed to have knowledge on WMD in Iraq:
A second difficulty was the lack of incentive for WMD program participants to speak with ISG investigators. On the one hand, those who cooperated risked retribution from former Regime supporters for appearing to assist the occupying power. On the other hand, there was substantial risk that the Coalition would incarcerate these individuals. Hence, for the most part, individuals related to Iraqi WMD tried to avoid being found. Even long after the war, many Iraqi scientists and engineers find little incentive to speak candidly about the WMD efforts of the previous Regime. This is exacerbated by their life-long experience of living with the threat of horrible punishment for speaking candidly.
The concerns that Duelfer raises in his report demonstrate the dilemma that many scientists in Iraq are currently facing. While they might not have received fair treatment by Saddam's regime and its supporters, they also now face potential persecution by the coalition. Their fears may not be unfounded. In early 2004, officials at Camp Cropper, the compound where most Iraqi scientists were held for alleged connections to the Ba'ath party, released the body of Mohammad Munim al-Izmerly, a chemistry professor…His remains were accompanied by a death certificate citing "natural causes" as the reason for death. After the family of al-Izmerly called for an autopsy, it was revealed that the 65 year-old scientist's death was caused by brainstem compression resulting from a blunt trauma injury, most likely a blow to the head. The U.S. military has remained silent on the issue.
Another incident that brought attention to conditions at Camp Cropper and the situation of Iraqi scientists occurred when Dr. Rod Barton, former special advisor to the ISG and expert in chemical and biological weapons, spoke out against their detainment. He described in an interview the beaten state in which many prisoners had arrived at Camp Cropper, and the "bleak" conditions of their detainment. While Barton did not report having witnessed any beatings personally, he says he "believed some prisoners had been physically 'softened' up before they arrived in an induction process known as 'purgatory.'"
Up until late December of 2005, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, who is known best by the misnomer of 'Mrs. Anthrax,' had been detained at Camp Cropper as well. Despite continuous calls from former American arms inspectors for the release of Iraqi weapons scientists since the invasion and capture of Ba'athists and technocrats alike, Ammash had been held since May of 2003 without charges. Her lawyer, Badih Aref said in August of 2005 that he had not been allowed to have any contact with his client since her arrest over two years previously. The Advancing Science Serving Society (AAAS) Science and Human Rights Program created a case study on Ammash's situation, calling international attention to her detention. She had been dubbed number 53 on the U.S. military's list of the 55 most wanted Iraqi officials due to her believed responsibility for manufacturing anthrax weapons within the government's biological weapons program, of which no evidence has been found to date. She was also known to be one of the only women within Saddam's inner circle of the top 18 members of the council that ran the Ba'ath party. Her title on the U.S. military's 53rd card was "Youth and Trade Bureau Chairman."
Both Ammash's lawyer and the AAAS lobbied for her release, citing failing health due to breast cancer as additional reason for bringing international attention to her story. The scientist's field of research focused primarily on after-affects of contamination in the environment due to depleted uranium left by U.S. attacks in the Gulf War of 1991. She published works entitled "Toxic Pollution, the Gulf War, and Sanctions," "Impact of Gulf War Pollution in the Spread of Infectious Diseases in Iraq," and "Electromagnetic, Chemical, and Microbial Pollution Resulting from War and Embargo, and Its Impact on the Environment and Health." In July 2005, Dr. David Kay and Charles Duelfer of the ISG called for the release of between 8-10 "high-value detainees" upon the completion of their inspection for unconventional weapons; Dr. Rod Barton who had also been a member of the ISG specifically referred to Ammash when declaring it "outrageous" that these scientists remained in custody. "Huda (Ammash) is there accused of restarting the bioweapons program in the mid-1990s. And there was no such program." Ammash was released without charge December 19, 2005 from Camp Cropper, along with another scientist, Dr. Rihab Rashid Taha, previously known as "Dr. Germ."
These examples of coalition treatment of Iraqi scientists present a challenge to nonproliferation experts within the government, who are dismayed that the initial task of contacting many of the scientists was allocated to military personnel, rather than government agencies wishing to interview them for their investigatory purposes. Many scientists thought to be central to the alleged Iraqi weapons programs fled the country or hid after being pursued by the military, hampering the exploration of Iraqi WMD programs. Officials claim they are much more successful in their quest to gain the confidence of scientists and intelligence on their programs when they distance themselves from coalition military activities.
The questions of how dangerous these "high-value" scientist detainees are, and whether or not they should be held accountable for their work under the Ba'ath regime remain in debate. A vast dichotomy exists between administration officials and weapons inspectors who have been in contact with Iraqi scientists throughout the duration of the investigation. In an address to the Committee on International Relations in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Bolton, then under secretary for arms control and international security, outlined what he believed to be the greatest threats remaining in Iraq:
The biggest threat that we now face from Iraq's defunct WMD program is from the scientists and technicians who developed these weapons. We are very concerned that other rogue states or terrorist organizations will hire and offer refuge to these WMD experts, and we are taking steps to prevent this expertise from finding its way to other WMD programs. Planning also is now underway in the inter-agency for an effort to redirect Iraqi scientists and other WMD personnel to full-time civilian employment once the exploitation phase is over. This effort will provide WMD personnel an alternative to emigration and give the US a means to keep tabs on their whereabouts in Iraq.
Scott Ritter, a former weapons inspector for UNSCOM in Iraq disagrees with the notion that Iraqi scientists working under the Ba'ath regime should be held accountable for their actions. Drawing a parallel between the Ba'ath party of Iraq and the Communist party of the USSR, he states:
It is the same situation that people faced living in the Soviet Union. If they wanted to go to school or do anything at all, they had to become Communists, but they weren't really Communists…. Iraq had a weapons program, and Saddam ordered scientists to work on it- they had little choice in the matter. They should be held no more accountable than other scientists around the world that have worked on similar projects.
The example of Dr. Hussein Shahristani can be held up as a likely motivator for reluctant scientists called upon by Saddam to participate in illicit weapons programs. While working for the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission, Shahristani was approached and ordered to develop a nuclear weapon in the late 1970s. Upon his refusal, citing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as reason for his disinclination, the scientist was imprisoned, kept in solitary confinement, and tortured as a result of his unwillingness to go along with Ba'ath demands. For 11 years he remained in prison; such a fate was standard for those who attempted disobedience in the face of Saddam and his regime.
The opinion of Dr. Kay differs slightly from that of Ritter's. While he does not believe that those incarcerated should be targeted due solely to their position or work as scientists, he does contend that senior officials in the Ba'ath party should be given fair trials in order to determine whether or not they are to be held accountable for their actions.
In contrast to the above statement by John Bolton, both Kay and Ritter dismiss the notion that these scientists present a threat in their ability to bring weapons know-how to surrounding countries or rogue nations. Kay points out that it would be much easier to tap the A.Q. Khan network, which is much further advanced than any technology Iraq ever possessed in the nuclear realm. Iraqi technology can no longer be considered advanced, as most of the surrounding countries are in general more advanced in nuclear, chemical, and biological agents. Ritter alludes to the fact that Iraqi scientists had not previously produced efficient or advanced products in nuclear, chemical, or biological programs, so the transfer of their current expertise is not a concern. While he contends that the scientists are not a security threat, the former UNSCOM inspector maintains it is morally irresponsible to go to war under the premise of curtailing WMD holdings, then do nothing about the scientific knowledge that still exists.
The implications of the detention and threat to the security of these Iraqi scientists present a significant barrier to the successful reconstruction of Iraq. A similar threat was posed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union as well as many of its weapons programs, which left many of the former weapons scientists without employment. The Nunn-Lugar program, sponsored by U.S. Senators Sam Nunn and Richard Lugar, has provided up to $1 billion a year since the fall of the Soviet Union for programs dedicated to safeguarding WMD material, distributing more than $600 million to projects employing over 58,000 former Soviet scientists. These programs include bird flu research in Siberia and fuel-cell power plants. Going as far back as World War II, the United States developed Operation Paperclip, in which 700 German scientists were transported with their families to the United States for the purpose of keeping them from defecting to the Soviet Union. Some of these scientists went on to work for American nuclear and missile projects.
The Mustansiriya University in Baghdad reports numerous killings of professors; the dean of the engineering college tracks a significant jump in the number of professors applying for sabbaticals. The threat originates not just from the armed insurgency; with the growing divide between Sunni and Shi'a students, professors and academics are wary of anyone whom they might offend with a bad grade. Dr. Ja'afar Dhia Ja'afar, once the head of Iraq's nuclear program, immigrated to the United Arab Emirates, following the pattern of many scientists that have exiled themselves to neighboring countries due to superior offers of employment, fear of being targeted by the insurgency or coalition detention or harm. A scientist who had once been involved in the reconstruction of basic infrastructure in Iraq after the Gulf War of 1991, Ja'afar is an example of the type of expertise that is necessary to rectify the current situation in Iraq. He was a main player in the rebuilding of oil refineries and the electricity sector under Saddam, which were reconstructed and working again very quickly.
Scott Ritter brings up a relevant point in that the difference between post-war Iraq in 1991 and post-war Iraq of 2006 is the ability of those in charge to provide timely reconstruction of basic infrastructure to Iraqi citizens. He states:
Saddam was extremely successful in running the country because of the ample reservoir of technocrats at his disposal. While he had people such as Ja'afar, accomplished scientists capable of swiftly rebuilding damaged public services such as water and electricity, the new Iraqi government and coalition forces are lacking in such resources, and therefore not nearly as successful in the reconstruction of Iraq. The vital contingent of human academic resources is currently simply not available.
The programs and initiatives that the United States has implemented in Russia in order to prevent the loss of scientists can be used as a model for actions that might be taken in Iraq in order to counter the current trend of scientist emigration from Iraq. The situation in Iraq is complicated by the insurgency. Other complications include the common perception of coalition forces and possible mistreatment within detention centers of not only Ba'ath officials, but scientists as well. Though they tend to be targets for those opposed to the new Iraq, many actors within the coalition still believe that their knowledge poses a potential threat if they defect to surrounding 'rogue' countries such as Iran and Syria.
As much as Iraq's natural resources are necessary for its future economic success, human resources are an essential part of the reconstruction process. The sort of double jeopardy from both the insurgency and the coalition that Iraqi scientists and academics may face in conjunction with the scarcity of funding for scientific employment and research make for a harsh environment within the borders of the stressed country. Recognition of this issue is the first action needed to counter the effects Iraq is experiencing from the loss and lack of security of these individuals. The recent release of Drs. Ammash and Taha is a good first effort and it illustrates an effort on the coalition's behalf toward discerning between Ba'athists and those who were merely doing what was required of them. Their releases had strategic value as well, in that they were a means to placating the Sunni faction within Iraq prior to the elections in January. With greater emphasis placed on security and programs for the employment of these former WMD scientists, Iraq can expedite bringing the notion of an independent and flourishing state to fruition. Such realization is in the interest of the American project in Iraq and is an important prerequisite to the future sustained development of this war-torn nation.
 Michael Roston, "Redirection of WMD Scientists in Iraq and Libya: A Status Report," RANSAC Policy Update (April 2004), p. 3.
 "Jordan: Iraqi Scientists Attend Seminar on DU Measurement Techniques," Global News Wire, June 1, 2005.
 Dr. David Kay, telephone conversation with author, November 15, 2005.
 Luke Harding, "The Best University in Iraq. Imagine the Rest," Guardian, September 25, 2004.
 "Interview with David Kay," CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, October 5, 2003.
 "Iraq Forms Committee to Protect Physicians, Scientists," Al-Sharqiyah (Baghdad), May 11, 2005.
 "Five Iraqi Scientists Kidnapped," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, May 11, 2005.
 Richard Stone, "Iraqi Science: In the Line of Fire," Science Magazine, Vol. 309, September 30, 2005.
 Ahmed Janabi, "Everyone is a Target in Iraq," Al-Jazeera, September 21, 2005.
 Dr. Imad Khadduri, e-mail correspondence with author, December 10, 2005.
 Dr. David Kay, telephone conversation with author, November 15, 2005.
 Jim Giles, "Iraqi Killings Prompt Calls for US to Evacuate Weapons Scientists," Nature, Vol. 429, May 13, 2004.
 Central Intelligence Agency, Charles Duelfer, Comprehensive Report of the Special Advisor to the DCI on Iraq's WMD (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2004), Acknowledgements, September 12, 2004. p. 1-2.
 Duelfer, Scope Note. P. 3.
 Charles J. Hanley, "Ex-Inspectors Urge Release of Iraqi Scientists; Probers Silent on Battered Chemist," Associated Press, July 17, 2005.
 Peter Beaumont, Paul Harris and Antony Barnett, "Inside Secret Saddam Prison." London Observer, May 22, 2005.
 "Inspectors Call," Global Security News Wire, July 18, 2005.
 "Mrs. Anthrax's Lawyer Pleads for a Meeting," United Press International, August 29, 2005.
 "Iraqi Scientist Being Held Without Charges or Trial," American Association of the Advancement of Science Human Rights Action Network, August 11, 2005.
 Charles Hanley, "Former Inspectors Want Release of Iraqi Scientists," Associated Press, July 17, 2005.
 Jim Giles, "Iraqi Killings Prompt Calls for US to Evacuate Weapons Scientists," Nature Publishing Group, May 13, 2004.
 US House of Representatives, Committee on International Relations, Testimony of John R. Bolton, Washington, D.C. 20515-0128, June 4, 2003, p. 3.
 Scott Ritter, telephone conversation with author, January 5, 2006.
 Dr. David Kay, telephone conversation with author, November 15, 2005.
 Scott Ritter, telephone conversation with the author, January 5, 2006.
 Kurt Pitzer, "Dangerous Minds," Mother Jones, August 21, 2005.
 Richard Stone, "Iraqi Science: In the Line of Fire," Science Magazine, Vol. 309, September 30, 2005.
 Scott Ritter, telephone conversation with author, January 5, 2006.
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