By Neil Tweedie
The Edinburgh-educated Iraqi nuclear scientist found with 3,000 pages of research documents insisted yesterday that the papers seized by United Nations inspectors were not evidence of a secret nuclear programme.
Faleh Hassan Hamza complained of Mafia-like tactics adopted by the UN and said he was prepared to go “line by line, word by word” through the documents that inspectors took from his home to demonstrate that they had “nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction”.
Exiled Iraqi scientists yesterday said Mr Hamza, 55, who obtained his PhD from Edinburgh University, was only a medium-level official in Iraq’s nuclear programme. But they disagreed over the significance of the documents found in his home.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said the documents had not previously been declared, and said they were still being analysed. However, it disclosed that they included information on Iraq’s attempts to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb by using lasers.
Hussain al-Shahristani, a former nuclear scientist jailed and tortured by Saddam’s henchmen after he refused to take part in the secret nuclear bomb project, said: “If the information is about experiments in laser enrichment carried out in the 1980s, it’s nothing new.
“The real significance is the fact that these documents were found in his home. It supports information we have received that Saddam has given orders for documents to be dispersed among scientists, members of the secret police and senior Ba’ath party officials.”
Imad Khadduri, an exile based in Canada who worked for the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission from 1968 until 1998 and knew Mr Hamza, said the information concerned was obsolete.
Mr Khadduri said it was ridiculous to suggest that Iraq had a functioning nuclear weapons programme. He added that all meaningful research had ceased following Iraq’s defeat in the 1991 Gulf war.
“I cannot believe that Hans Blix thinks he has got something here,” he said. “The information is years old. It’s been gone over before. He’s looking down the wrong end of his binoculars.”
Mr Khadduri said Mr Hamza carried out small-scale research into the use of lasers for uranium enrichment in the 1980s. He described Mr Hamza as a bit-part player in the Iraqi nuclear programme of the 1980s.
“Laser enrichment turned out to be a cul-de-sac. It wasn’t practical on an industrial scale. Hamza was a small fish – not a weapons researcher at all. Why they should go after him when he’s retired or whatever I do not know,” said Dr Khadduri.
Mr Hamza is just one of many Iraqi scientists educated at British universities. Dr Rihab Taha, widely known as “Dr Germ” for her leadership of Iraq’s quest for biological weapons, studied plant diseases at the University of East Anglia.
Her husband, Gen Amer Rashid, a former head of the military industrialisation commission, read engineering at Birmingham University. They met in New York.