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How close is Iraq to the bomb?

Hussein could be just months away from having nuclear weapons.

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A little over 20 years ago, the US strongly condemned Israel for bombing a nuclear reactor in Iraq that Israel claimed could have been used to produce nuclear weapons.

Now, the US is making the case – at home, at the UN, and abroad – to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein because he may be close to obtaining a nuclear bomb.

The about-face, of course, has been two decades in the making as the Iraqi regime has committed a multitude of transgressions, including the invasion of Kuwait and the discovery after the Gulf War that Iraq had been only six months away from producing a crude nuclear bomb. Then there were the ups and downs of the UN-mandated weapons inspections, and their abrupt end in 1998.

Although experts and intelligence officials say they can't tell for sure without examining the country's facilities, they say Iraq isn't likely to have a bomb at this point. Moreover, they say the Iraqi regime would be at least months away from getting one, even if the fissile material necessary to explode a nuclear device could be smuggled in.

Still, no one seems to doubt that the Iraqi leader is pursuing a nuclear bomb. "The reality here is that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction has been cumulative and unrelenting on the part of Iraq," says Anthony Cordesman, an Iraq specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In President Bush's speech at the UN last week, he laid out some of President Hussein's efforts to acquire either the fissile material or the parts needed to produce it.

• Iraq has the nuclear scientists and technicians necessary to build a weapon.

• It has the facilities necessary to complete the task, and recent satellite photos show increased activity around them.

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