Iraq may still possess Scuds, nuclear bombs

NEW YORK — Iraq could still have Scud missiles capable of striking Israel and may even have three nuclear bombs, despite eight years of U.N. disarmament efforts.

Richard Butler, chairman of the U.N. Special Commission (UNSCOM) charged with Iraqi weapons inspections, raised that possibility on Wednesday of last week at a briefing sponsored by the Middle East Forum, a New York-based think tank that publishes the journal Middle East Quarterly.

He spoke one day after the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution delaying any possible review of sanctions against Iraq until Baghdad resumes cooperation with UNSCOM inspection activities. Iraq suspended such cooperation last month.

Butler refused to comment on an Israeli media report that Iraq is hiding three "technologically complete" nuclear bombs that lack only the fissile material to make them operational.

The Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported that the existence of the bombs was disclosed recently at a closed-door meeting of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy by Scott Ritter, a ranking member of the Iraqi inspection team who recently resigned from UNSCOM in protest.

Ha'aretz also reported that Iraq is believed to still have between five and 12 Al Hussein ballistic missiles and parts for another 25.

Butler said he would not comment on intelligence documents that might give the Iraqi government a precise idea of what information UNSCOM currently possesses about Baghdad's weapons capability.

The Ha'aretz report about nuclear-capable bombs and the possibility that Iraq still possesses Scuds capable of hitting Israel are important because they appear to indicate that Baghdad remains a greater potential threat to Israel than has generally been believed.

The prevailing view has been that most, if not all, of Iraq's Scud missiles were destroyed soon after the Gulf War ended in 1991, and that Baghdad's nuclear capability has been virtually, if not totally, eliminated.

Butler raised similar concerns about the threat to Israel a year ago, when he told the New York Times that Iraq may possess enough biological substances, such as anthrax or botulin toxin, to "blow away Tel Aviv."

Butler said last week that his team had asked the Iraqis for an accounting of some 300 tons of propellant that is used only with Scud missiles. The Iraqis first denied that the propellant still existed and then said that if it did, it would not matter since all missiles had been destroyed. To this day, Butler said, the Iraqis have not proven that the propellant had been destroyed.

"As long as Scud-specific fuel is retained," he said, "it points to the possibility that Scud missiles are retained."

The UNSCOM chief said his commission had accounted for 817 of the 819 Scud missiles that Iraq had imported from the former Soviet Union — leaving doubts about the whereabouts of the other two missiles. In addition, he said his commission had failed to obtain any information from Baghdad about any Scuds the Iraqis may have produced indigenously.