| International Institute of Strategic Studies director John Chipman in London. (Reuters)
Brussels, Sept. 9 (Reuters): Iraq could build a nuclear bomb within months if it got fissile material from abroad, but its weapons of mass destruction capacity has declined since the 1991 Gulf War, a leading independent think-tank said today.
In a study released ahead of US President George W. Bush’s policy speech on Iraq on Thursday, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Baghdad did not have nuclear arms and probably lacked means to deliver its residual chemical and biological weapons effectively to cause massive loss of life.
Despite official denials, Iraq probably retains substantial stocks of toxins and biological growth media, as well as a few hundred tonnes of blistering mustard and nerve agents, and could resume producing both within weeks or months, the IISS said. The report, based on publicly available information, was released amid fierce international debate about a possible US-led war to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
It offered no clear support either to US hawks who argue that a preventive strike is an urgent necessity, or to those, mainly in Europe, who advocate continued containment of Iraq and the return of UN weapons inspectors.
“Either course of action carries risks. Wait and the threat will grow. Strike and the threat may be used,” said the London-based institute, which produces the respected annual handbook, The Military Balance”.
The United Nations ordered the total elimination of Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missile programmes after the Gulf War but Saddam defied the resolutions.
If weapons inspections were resumed, Iraq’s freedom of action to pursue weapons of mass destruction would be restricted but not eliminated, given Iraq’s record of deception and obstruction in the 1990s, the IISS said.
However, faced with an invasion, Saddam would have nothing to lose and might use chemical and biological weapons in missile attacks to draw Israel into the war or even through special forces or terrorist groups in the United States and its allies.
The IISS said there was no sign that Baghdad had the ability to produce fissile material or had acquired any from abroad.