Saddam Hussein’s air force has developed a more sophisticated delivery and detonation system for chemical weapons than previously known to United Nations inspectors, a former senior air force officer has told The Telegraph.
In an interview at a house in Amman in Jordan, where he has been hiding since he fled Baghdad last year, the former officer said that Baghdad was still pursuing the chemical armaments programme when he left Iraq – despite its insistence that it had abandoned its weapons of mass destruction project after the Gulf war.
“Ali” – The Telegraph knows his real name and former rank but promised not to disclose it in case his relatives still in Iraq are identified and punished – said that he was trained to handle binary-system bombs which mix lethal chemicals moments before detonation for maximum effect.
“Saddam will never surrender these weapons,” said Ali. “They are as much a part of his life as eating and drinking.”
His alarming claims, which indicate a clear breach of UN resolutions, will fuel fears that Saddam may use chemical weapons against American and British forces in the event of war.
United Nations weapons inspectors based in New York said yesterday that they would like to debrief the former officer urgently. “We would be interested in talking to this man,” said a spokesman for Unmovic, the weapons inspection agency.
Ali described in detail how the chemical bombs and sprays were fitted and operated, backing up his testimony with drawings and graphics, during clandestine meetings lasting several hours in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
“What he describes is a logical development of the techniques we know the Iraqis were working on,” said one former senior weapons inspector contacted by The Telegraph.
Another said: “If what he says can be confirmed then this is a very big discovery. It would be proof that Iraq has continued with the development of a new type of weapon.”
The chemical weapons previously known to inspectors were less advanced; their lethal contents mixed on the ground before the bombs were loaded on to planes.
At the time that Ali was trained, he was working at military bases at Habbaniya 50 miles west of Baghdad, and al-Qa’qa, 20 miles south of the capital.
He last witnessed the new bomb mechanism being tested – with water and oil rather than chemicals – at Habbaniya in 2000, after which the tests were switched to a different location. However, he said former colleagues with whom he remains in contact confirm that the programme is still running.
He said that the bombs were divided in two by an internal partition. When loaded with chemicals, there was a black liquid in one compartment and a yellowish one in the other.
The pilots were trained to hit a switch to open the partition when they approached their targets, allowing the two substances to combine and reach their greatest potency. A few seconds later, outer doors on the bottom of the weapon would open automatically, releasing the mixture.
Ali then drew a detailed diagram of another binary-system bomb, also divided by a partition that was designed to explode after its release in mid-air, again allowing the two substances to mix at the last moment. These weapons were intended for the Iraqi air force’s more modern jets, but an alternative delivery method was developed for slower planes such as Sukhoi-25s and for helicopters, he explained.