Weapons hunters struggle to keep tabs on key Iraqi scientists

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Iraqi scientist who headed Saddam Hussein's long-range missile program has fled to neighboring Iran, a country identified as a state sponsor of terrorism with a successful missile program and nuclear ambitions, U.S. officers involved in the weapons hunt told The Associated Press.

Dr. Modher Sadeq-Saba al-Tamimi's departure comes as top weapons makers from Saddam's deposed regime find themselves eight months out of work but with skills that could be lucrative to militaries or terrorist organizations in neighboring countries. U.S. officials have said some are already in Syria and Jordan.

Experts long feared the collapse of Saddam's rule could lead to the kind of scientific brain-drain the United States tried to prevent as the former Soviet Union collapsed. But the Bush administration had no plan for Iraqi scientists and instead officials suggested they could be tried for war crimes.

"There are a couple hundred Iraqis who are really good scientists, particularly in the missile area," said Jonathan Tucker, a former U.N. inspector now with the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California. "In the chemical and biological areas, their work wasn't state of the art but it was good enough to be of interest to other countries."

"They could leave Baghdad tomorrow and we'd never know," said one senior official involved in the hunt. "Very few are obligated to tell us where they're going or what they're up to."

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