Middle East References
January 8, 2004
Britain Says U.S. Planned to Seize Oil in '73 Crisis
January 2, 2004 - New York Times
Britain Says U.S. Planned to Seize Oil in '73 Crisis

LONDON, Jan. 1 — The United States government seriously contemplated using military force to seize oil fields in the Middle East during the Arab oil embargo 30 years ago, according to a declassified British government document made public on Thursday.

The top-secret document says that President Richard M. Nixon was prepared to act more aggressively than previously thought to secure America's oil supply if the embargo, imposed by Arab nations in retaliation for America's support for Israel in the 1973 Middle East war, did not end. In fact, the embargo was lifted in March 1974.

The declassified British memorandum said the United States considered launching airborne troops to seize oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi, but only as a "last resort."

President Nixon's defense secretary, James R. Schlesinger, delivered the warning to Lord Cromer, the British ambassador in Washington at the time. In the document, Lord Cromer was quoted as saying of Mr. Schlesinger, "it was no longer obvious to him that the United States could not use force."

The seizure of the oil fields was "the possibility uppermost in American thinking when they refer to the use of force," the memorandum said.

The potential for such a military action was taken so seriously by British intelligence services that a report was written listing the most likely scenarios for the use of American force in the Middle East and the consequences of each. The report, dated Dec. 12, 1973, was titled "UK Eyes Alpha" and was sent to Prime Minister Edward Heath.

The memorandum was one of hundreds of documents released by Britain's National Archives under a law that makes government papers public after 30 years. Details of the document were reported on Thursday by The Washington Post.
The exchange between Mr. Schlesinger and Lord Cromer came on the heels of the war between Israel and Egypt and Syria that began in October 1973. As retaliation for American support for Israel in the war and in an effort to sway world opinion, Arab members of OPEC imposed the oil embargo.

The embargo led to petroleum shortages around the world and to sharp increases in the price of gas in the United States.
As recounted by Lord Cromer, Mr. Schlesinger told him the United States was unwilling to abide threats by "underdeveloped, underpopulated" countries.

The document did not rule out the possibility that Washington would consider pre-emptive strikes if Arab governments, "elated by the success of the oil weapon," began issuing greater demands.

"The U.S. government might consider that it could not tolerate a situation in which the U.S. and its allies were in effect at the mercy of a small group of unreasonable countries," the document said.

As outlined in the memorandum, military action would be relatively straightforward: two brigades were estimated to be needed to seize the Saudi oil fields and one each for Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. In the case of Abu Dhabi, the Americans might ask for British military cooperation.

The greatest threat would arise in Kuwait, the document said, "where the Iraqis, with Soviet backing, might be tempted to intervene."

The British warned in their assessment that any occupation of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi might have to last as long as 10 years. The use of force would also alienate Arab countries and irritate Moscow, although a military confrontation with the Soviet Union would be unlikely, the document said.

Discontent among Western allies was also cited as a possible consequence of military action. "Since the United States would probably claim to be acting for the benefit of the West as a whole and would expect the full support of allies, deep U.S.-European rifts could ensue," it said.

A separate document, also just released, illustrated Mr. Heath's profound anger toward Mr. Nixon, when the American president failed to inform the British prime minister he was putting American forces on a global nuclear alert during the Middle East war.

Mr. Heath went so far as to suggest that Mr. Nixon issued the alert in an attempt to deflect attention away from Watergate, which was in full swing in the fall of 1973.

"An American President in the Watergate position apparently prepared to go to such lengths at a moment's notice without consultation with his allies," Mr. Heath wrote in the second document, adding that there was no "military justification" for putting American forces on a nuclear alert at the time.

The alert was ordered after Leonid I. Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, warned that he might send Soviet troops into the Middle East after Israel crossed the Suez Canal.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

The following is Commentary on the above article by Ray Close, who was CIA beaureau chief in Saudi during the 1970s - now retired.

"Many of you will have seen the New York Times and Washington Post articles. These are my personal comments, which I am sharing today with a number of British and American friends and formner colleagues who were, like me, witnesses to the events of that critical period.

May the Good Lord save us all from our own stupidity and arrogance in the year ahead!

Ray Close
It has always been typical of James Schlesinger to make grandiose pronouncements that later appear, on closer examination, to have been deliberately overstated, as if intended simultaneously to provoke his listeners and inflate his own importance. Back in the 1970's, Schlesinger started doing this, I believe, partly because he observed his rival Henry Kissinger doing exactly the same thing, and he was jealous that Henry was taken more seriously than he. As Kissinger has always cultivated a manner of speaking and an accent that he thinks contribute to his self-image as a giant among statesmen, on the scale of a Metternich or a Churchill, so Schlesinger likewise adopts studied attitudes and makes provocative statements, bluntly expressed and often bordering on the "uncouth" (see below) that he hopes will convey an impression of superior wisdom and awesome intellect. Both he and Kissinger are what the French call "poseurs".

The Schlesinger conversation with Cromer in 1973 strikes me as a classic example of this behavior and its unfortunate consequences.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that American military planners in 1973-74 were developing a contingency plan to take over the Saudi Arabian and Gulf oilfields. These contingency plans were real, and they were serious. But they were contingency plans that any prudent government might have formulated under similar circumstances.

It must be pointed out, of course, that some prominent American political commentators and military analysts were publicly advocated outright military intervention at the time, based on the same reasoning favored by neo-cons in the Pentagon today --- namely, that America should employ its overwhelming military power once and for all to ensure the permanent availability of reliable and �fairly� priced energy supplies. I suspect that these views were deliberately encouraged in some cases by Schlesinger and Kissinger, imagining themselves to be extraordinarily deft at manipulating the judgments and resulting actions of less intelligent mortals. (Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, another poseur of the Richard Perle variety, who was already advertising himself as Washington�s premier military counselor to the great and powerful, was perhaps the most outspoken advocate of this strategy in 1973-74, but he was certainly not alone.)

However, all that having been said, Prime Minister Ted Heath�s fear that President Nixon was actually planning to invade Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, basing his concern on Schlesinger�s statements to British Ambassador Lord Cromer in Washington, puts the case much too strongly, and should not go into the history books as an accurate description of real U.S. intentions at that time. It was a regrettable misinterpretation of American bombast, albeit in a critically important situation, and risked potentially very serious consequences. However, in the interests of historical accuracy (and realistic evaluation of similar circumstances, current and future), we need always to remember, and give appropriate weight to, the �poseur factor�. It is still very much alive in Washington today, and remains, unfortunately, an important ingredient of the culture of American public policy.

Ray Close
The Saudi Paradox
By Michael Scott Doran
From Foreign Affairs, January/February 2004


When an attack on a residential compound in Riyadh killed 17 people and wounded 122 in early November 2003, U.S. officials downplayed the significance of the incident for Saudi Arabian politics. "We have the utmost faith that the direction chosen for this nation by Crown Prince Abdullah, the political and economic reforms, will not be swayed by these horrible terrorists," said Deputy U.S. Secretary of State Richard Armitage, in Riyadh for a visit.

But if any such faith existed, it was quite misplaced. Abdullah's reforms were already being curtailed, the retrenchment having begun in the wake of a similar attack six months earlier. And despite what was reported in the American press, an end to the reforms was exactly what the bombers and their ideological supporters hoped to accomplish. To understand why this is the case -- and why one of Washington's staunchest allies has been incubating a murderous anti-Americanism -- one must delve into the murky depths of Saudi Arabia's domestic politics.

The Saudi state is a fragmented entity, divided between the fiefdoms of the royal family. Among the four or five most powerful princes, two stand out: Crown Prince Abdullah and his half-brother Prince Nayef, the interior minister. Relations between these two leaders are visibly tense. In the United States, Abdullah cuts a higher profile. But at home in Saudi Arabia, Nayef, who controls the secret police, casts a longer and darker shadow. Ever since King Fahd's stroke in 1995, the question of succession has been hanging over the entire system, but neither prince has enough clout to capture the throne.

Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a crisis. The economy cannot keep pace with population growth, the welfare state is rapidly deteriorating, and regional and sectarian resentments are rising to the fore. These problems have been exacerbated by an upsurge in radical Islamic activism. Many agree that the Saudi political system must somehow evolve, but a profound cultural schizophrenia prevents the elite from agreeing on the specifics of reform.

The Saudi monarchy functions as the intermediary between two distinct political communities: a Westernized elite that looks to Europe and the United States as models of political development, and a Wahhabi religious establishment that holds up its interpretation of Islam's golden age as a guide. The clerics consider any plan that gives a voice to non-Wahhabis as idolatrous. Saudi Arabia's two most powerful princes have taken opposing sides in this debate: Abdullah tilts toward the liberal reformers and seeks a rapprochement with the United States, whereas Nayef sides with the clerics and takes direction from an anti-American religious establishment that shares many goals with al Qaeda.


The two camps divide over a single question: whether the state should reduce the power of the religious establishment. On the right side of the political spectrum, the clerics and Nayef take their stand on the principle of Tawhid, or "monotheism," as defined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the eponymous founder of Wahhabism. In their view, many people who claim to be monotheists are actually polytheists and idolaters. For the most radical Saudi clerics, these enemies include Christians, Jews, Shi`ites, and even insufficiently devout Sunni Muslims. From the perspective of Tawhid, these groups constitute a grand conspiracy to destroy true Islam. The United States, the "Idol of the Age," leads the cabal. It attacked Sunni Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq, both times making common cause with Shi`ites; it supports the Jews against the Sunni Muslim Palestinians; it promotes Shi`ite interests in Iraq; and it presses the Saudi government to de-Wahhabize its educational curriculum. Cable television and the Internet, meanwhile, have released a torrent of idolatry. With its permissive attitude toward sex, its pervasive Christian undertones, and its support for unfettered female freedom, U.S. culture corrodes Saudi society from within.

Tawhid is closely connected to jihad, the struggle -- sometimes by force of arms, sometimes by stern persuasion -- against idolatry. In the minds of the clerics, stomping out pagan cultural and political practices at home and supporting war against Americans in Afghanistan and Iraq are two sides of the same coin. Jihad against idolatry, the clerics never tire of repeating, is eternal, "lasting until Judgment Day," when true monotheism will destroy polytheism once and for all.

The doctrine of Tawhid ensures a unique political status for the clerics in Saudi Arabia. After all, they alone have the necessary training to detect and root out idolatry so as to safeguard the purity of the realm. Tawhid is thus not just an intolerant religious doctrine but also a political principle that legitimizes the repressiveness of the Saudi state. It is no wonder, therefore, that Nayef, head of the secret security apparatus, is a strong supporter of Tawhid. Not known personally as a pious man, Nayef zealously defends Wahhabi puritanism because he knows on which side his bread is buttered -- as do others with a stake in the repressive status quo.

In foreign policy, Nayef's support for Tawhid translates into support for jihad, and so it is he -- not Abdullah -- who presides over the Saudi fund for the support of the Palestinian intifada (which the clerics regard as a defensive jihad against the onslaught of the Zionist-Crusader alliance). On the domestic front, Nayef indirectly controls the controversial Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV), the religious police. The CPVVP came under withering attack in March 2002 when its men reportedly used batons to beat back schoolgirls as they tried to flee from a burning dormitory. The girls, so the story goes, failed to cover themselves in proper Islamic attire before running from the flames, and the religious police then mindlessly enforced the laws on public decency. More than a dozen girls were trampled to death in the incident. It is impossible to say whether the story is true in all respects, but considerable evidence indicates that the CPVPV did in some manner hamper rescue efforts. Nayef, however, flatly denies that the religious police did anything wrong.


If Tawhid is the right pole of the Saudi political spectrum, then the doctrine of Taqarub -- rapprochement between Muslims and non-Muslims -- marks the left. Taqarub promotes the notion of peaceful coexistence with nonbelievers. It also seeks to expand the political community by legitimizing the political involvement of groups that the Wahhabis consider non-Muslim -- Shi`ites, secularists, feminists, and so on. In foreign policy, Taqarub downplays the importance of jihad, allowing Saudis to live in peace with Christian Americans, Jewish Israelis, and even Shi`ite Iranians. In short, Taqarub stands in opposition to the siege mentality fostered by Tawhid.

Abdullah clearly associates himself with Taqarub. He has advocated relaxing restrictions on public debate, promoted democratic reform, and supported a reduction in the power of the clerics. Between January and May 2003, he presided over an unusually open "national dialogue" with prominent Saudi liberals. Two separate petitions established the essential character of the discussion: the National Reform Document, which offered a road map for Saudi democracy, and Partners in the Homeland, a call by the oppressed Shi`ite community for greater freedoms. The first endorsed direct elections, the establishment of an independent judiciary, and an increased public role for women. Its drafters also took pains to express respect for Islamic law. The clerics were not mollified, but this affront to their sensibilities was as nothing compared to the Shi`ite petition, which, in their eyes, issued straight from the bowels of hell.

The Saudi religious establishment is viscerally and vocally hostile to Shi`ism. Although Shi`ites constitute between 10 and 15 percent of the population, they do not enjoy even the most basic rights of religious freedom. Nevertheless, in an unprecedented move, the crown prince met with their leaders and accepted their petition. The controlled Saudi press did not publish the petition or even report on it, but Abdullah's move sent ripples of discontent through the Saudi religious classes.

By floating the "Saudi Plan" for Arab-Israeli peace -- traveling to Crawford, Texas, to debate the measure with President George W. Bush in April 2003 -- and accepting the notorious Shi`ite petition, the crown prince has sided resolutely with the backers of Taqarub against the hard-line clerics. To a Western eye there is no inherent connection between Abdullah's domestic political reform agenda and his rapprochement policies toward non-Muslim states and Shi`ite "heretics." In a political culture policed by Wahhabis, however, they are seen to be cut from the same cloth.


While Abdullah has signaled friendship with the West, Nayef has encouraged jihad -- to the point of offering tacit support for al Qaeda. In November 2002, for example, he absolved the Saudi hijackers of responsibility for the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In an interview published openly in Saudi Arabia, he stated that al Qaeda could not possibly have planned an operation of such magnitude. Nayef perceived an Israeli plot instead, arguing that the attacks aroused so much hostility to Muslims they must have been planned by the enemies of Islam. This statement not only endorsed the clerics' paranoid conspiracy theory, but, more important, sent a message that the secret police saw no justification for tracking down al Qaeda.

The case of the Saudi cleric Ali bin al-Khudayr helps explain Nayef's stance. A close associate of al Qaeda, al-Khudayr is known as a leader of the takfiri-jihadi stream of Islamic radicalism -- that is, as someone quick to engage in takfir, the practice of proclaiming fellow Sunnis guilty of apostasy (a crime punishable by death).* After September 11, he issued a fatwa advising his followers to rejoice at the attacks. Depicting the United States as one of the greatest enemies that Islam has ever faced, he chided those who had misgivings about the deaths of so many innocent civilians, listing a number of American "crimes" that justified the attacks: "killing and displacing Muslims, aiding the Muslims' enemies against them, spreading secularism, forcefully imposing blasphemy on peoples and states, and persecuting the mujahideen."

Al-Khudayr was eventually arrested by Nayef's security services, but only after the May 2003 suicide bombings in Riyadh that killed 34 people -- when the cleric's brand of extremism began to threaten the political status quo. Until then, he had been allowed to operate freely and spread his violent anti-Americanism without constraint. Why? Because along the way he helped terrorize critics of the religious establishment. For Nayef, Wahhabi vigilantism is useful in keeping reformers in check.

Saudi journalist Mansur al-Nuqaydan, for example, is an open critic of the hard-line clerics. An ex-Islamic extremist himself, he went to jail in his youth for rooting out idolatry by firebombing a video store. The combination of his personal background, his mastery of the clerics' idiom, and his clear and unflinching support for Taqarub makes him particularly threatening to the religious establishment. Consequently, the extremists have singled him out for special treatment.

Along with some associates, al-Khudayr accused al-Nuqaydan of apostasy, pointing to the text of an interview in which the journalist committed the crimes of "secular humanism" and "scorn for religion, its rites, and devout people." Particularly incriminating, claimed the clerics, was al-Nuqaydan's conviction that "we need an Islam reconciled with the other, an Islam that does not know hatred for others because of their beliefs or their inclinations. We need a new Reformation, a bold reinterpretation of the religious text so that we can reconcile ourselves with the world." On the basis of this expression of Taqarub he was sentenced to death, with the edict posted publicly on al-Khudayr's Web site. For five months, the authorities did nothing. In a regime where openly practicing Shi`ism can land you in jail for years, al-Khudayr's period of freedom speaks volumes. So long as the cleric was limiting his activities to inciting violence against Americans and intimidating reformers, Nayef had no argument with him.

Around the same time that al-Khudayr was arrested, on the other hand, al-Nuqaydan lost his job and soon after was barred from writing or traveling abroad -- a casualty of a parallel crackdown on the reform movement. For Nayef, whose chief concern is to protect the status quo, there is nothing puzzling about this juxtaposition. Al-Khudayr ran afoul of him when bombs targeting the regime started going off, but al-Nuqaydan also represented something of a threat to the Saudi elite. Nayef himself does not take overt responsibility for the persecution of the reformers, but the hand of the secret police is barely hidden from view.

The sequence of events is now familiar. Either without warning or in response to a complaint by a prominent cleric, a critic of the religious establishment loses his job. His employers subsequently refuse to comment. Islamic extremists then issue a death threat to the unemployed man over the phone or on the Internet. In 1999, for example, an associate of al-Khudayr's issued a fatwa against the Saudi novelist Turki al-Hamad, who later signed the National Reform Document. Partly as a result, al-Hamad received a slew of death threats. He and his family were also harassed by the CPVPV. The novelist turned to Abdullah for help, receiving a sympathetic hearing and an offer of physical protection. By offering only bodyguards, however, Abdullah tacitly admitted that he could not control the shadowy parts of the government that belong to his half-brother.


In the aftermath of September 11, informed American opinion concluded that Osama bin Laden had attacked "the far enemy" -- the United States -- in order to foment revolution against "the near enemy" -- the Saudi regime. Subsequent events have confirmed that al Qaeda does indeed use the war with the United States as an instrument against its domestic enemies. Yet the tacit cooperation between Nayef and al-Khudayr shows that the relationship between al Qaeda and the Saudi royal family is more complex than most people seem to think.

To better understand how al Qaeda reads Saudi Arabia's political map, one can turn to the work of Yusuf al-Ayyiri, a prolific al Qaeda propagandist who died last June in a skirmish with the Saudi security services. Just before his death he wrote a revealing book, The Future of Iraq and the Arabian Peninsula After the Fall of Baghdad, which gives a good picture of how al Qaeda activists perceive the world around them.

According to al-Ayyiri, the United States and Israel are the leaders of a global anti-Islamic movement -- "Zio-Crusaderism" -- that seeks the destruction of true Islam and dominion over the Middle East. Zio-Crusaderism's most effective weapon is democracy, because popular sovereignty separates religion from the state and thereby disembowels Islam, a holistic religion that has a strong political dimension. In its plot to denature Islam, al-Ayyiri claims, Zio-Crusaderism embraces three local allies: secularists, Shi`ites, and lax Sunnis (that is, those who sympathize with the idea of separating religion from state). Al Qaeda's "near enemy," in other words, is the cluster of forces supporting Taqarub.

The chief difference between the ways al Qaeda and the Saudi religious establishment define their primary foes is that the former includes the Saudi royal family as part of the problem whereas the latter does not. This divergence is not insignificant, but it does not preclude limited or tacit cooperation on some issues. Although some in the Saudi regime are indeed bin Laden's enemies, others are his de facto allies. Al Qaeda activists sense, moreover, that U.S. plans to separate mosque and state constitute the greatest immediate threat to their designs and know that the time is not yet ripe for a broad revolution. So al Qaeda's short-term goal is not to topple the regime but to shift Saudi Arabia's domestic balance of power to the right and punish supporters of Taqarub.

The politics surrounding the suicide bombings in Riyadh last May show how the interests of al Qaeda and the Saudi religious establishment overlap. Working together, they managed to turn a terrorist attack on Americans into a political coup against Americanizers. Right after the attack, the Saudi authorities called for public assistance in capturing 19 suspects, whose names and pictures were published in the press. In response, al-Khudayr and two like-minded clerics issued a statement claiming that the accused were not terrorists but "pious and devout" men and "the flower of the mujahideen." The statement claimed that the Saudi authorities, acting on U.S. orders, were using the suicide bombings as a pretext for persecuting fighters who had "participated in the jihad against the malevolent Crusaders in Afghanistan" and "distinguished themselves with courage and heroism in the battles in the Tora Bora mountains." The clerics called on the population to disobey the regime's request for help and pronounced that any assistance to the police would constitute aid to the United States in its war against Islam. The statement urged other Saudi clerics to step forward and support the beleaguered mujahideen.

Responding to this call, 33 activist clerics who had already formed a group called the Internal Front Facing the Current Challenges lobbied the government on the basis of a statement that reads like a contract for a new alliance between the Saudi dynasty and the Wahhabi religious establishment. The statement worked with al-Khudayr's basic premise -- that the Saudis, in deference to their foreign masters, had grown hostile to jihad. But it changed the tone of the discussion. Whereas al-Khudayr had focused on the need to wage jihad against the Americans, the clerics emphasized the need to wage jihad against the Americanizers -- a reference to the enemy at home.

The statement drew a causal link between the movement for liberal reform and religious extremism. On the one hand, it admitted that religious extremism exists in Saudi Arabia and called for it to be restrained. Yet it also blamed extremism on the creep of "reprehensible practices" -- a euphemism for the growing public legitimacy of the Taqarub reform agenda. The Internal Front essentially offered Abdullah a tradeoff: if he would curtail the reformers' activities, then the clerics would provide Islamic legitimacy for a government crackdown on the takfiri-jihadis, al Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

To make these demands more explicit, the Internal Front's leader, Salman al-Awda, posted an additional statement on his Web site attacking the aggressively reformist newspaper al-Watan. (The newspaper's name means "the homeland," but religious conservatives refer to it as "al-Wathan," meaning "the idol.") According to the statement, the publication's staff was little better than agents of the Americans working against Islam -- "Thomas Friedmans in Saudi garb."

The reformers at al-Watan had concluded that the terrorist attacks vindicated the principle of Taqarub and mistakenly assumed -- like many in the West -- that the Saudi authorities had no choice but to dismantle those institutions that promote Tawhid. Emboldened by a general mood of public outrage, they began to publish articles criticizing the entire Wahhabi edifice. One cartoon in particular enraged the religious establishment. It depicted a suicide bomber wearing a belt of dynamite next to a cleric wearing a belt of fatwas. The caption read, "Those who issue fatwas and manifestos inciting terror are themselves terrorists."

But al-Watan failed to take the full measure of its enemy. Having a good argument is one thing; controlling the secret police is another. One week after the bombing, a journalist had the temerity to ask Prince Nayef if the bombing meant that the CPVPV would be restructured: "As a Saudi," Nayef snarled, "you should be ashamed to be asking this question." One week later, al-Watan's editor, Jamal Khashoggi, was fired. He now resides in London.


It is often claimed that the recent growth of anti-Americanism in the Middle East has been due to U.S. policies themselves. The fact that the suicide bombing of an American compound in Riyadh turned into a crackdown on Saudi reformers and that the bombings continued even after the announcement of a U.S. troop withdrawal, however, should give us pause. These events strongly suggest that the jihad against the United States is actually a continuation of domestic politics by other means. The Saudi religious classes and al-Qaeda use it to discredit their indigenous enemies, who, given half a chance, would topple the clerics from power.

If Saudi clerics do indeed preach a murderous anti-Americanism because they fear their domestic rivals, then certain implications follow for U.S. foreign policy. Washington cannot afford to ignore what Saudis say about each other, because sooner or later the hatreds generated at home will be directed toward the United States.

This is particularly true of the Shi`ite question in Saudi politics. Radical Sunni Islamists hate Shi`ites more than any other group, including Jews and Christians. Al-Qaeda's basic credo minces no words on the subject: "We believe that the Shi`ite heretics are a sect of idolatry and apostasy, and that they are the most evil creatures under the heavens." For its part, the Saudi Wahhabi religious establishment expresses similar views. The fatwas, sermons, and statements of established Saudi clerics uniformly denounce Shi`ite belief and practice. A recent fatwa by Abd al-Rahman al-Barrak, a respected professor at the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University (which trains official clerics), is a case in point. Asked whether it was permissible for Sunnis to launch a jihad against Shi`ites, al-Barrak answered that if the Shi`ites in a Sunni-dominated country insisted on practicing their religion openly, then yes, the Sunni state had no choice but to wage war on them. Al-Barrak's answer, it is worth noting, assumes that the Shi`ites are not Muslims at all.

This sectarian hatred that the clerics preach bears directly on the United States. Projecting their domestic struggle onto the external world, Saudi hard-liners are now arguing that the Shi`ite minority in Saudi Arabia is conspiring with the United States in its war to destroy Islam. Thus al-Ayyiri, the al-Qaeda propagandist, argued that the Shi`ites have hatched a long-term plot to control the countries of the Persian Gulf. As part of this conspiracy, the Shi`ite minorities in Sunni countries are insinuating themselves into positions of responsibility so as to function as a fifth column for the enemies of true Islam. "The danger of the Shi`ite heretics to the region," he states, "is not less than the danger of the Jews and the Christians."

Many other clerics warn of a Shi`ite-U.S. conspiracy. Safar al-Hawali, for example, a prominent cleric and member of the Internal Front, wrote a long and vituperative response to the Shi`ite petition Abdullah accepted. Al-Hawali characterized the petition as an attempt by the Shi`ite minority to tyrannize the Sunni majority. Throughout history, al-Hawali wrote, the Shi`ites have conspired with the foreign enemies of the Sunnis: in the thirteenth century they aligned with the Mongol invaders; today they conspire with the Americans. If the Saudi authorities meet the demands of the Shi`ite petitioners, al-Hawali continued, one of two outcomes would result: Shi`ite government or a secular state.

All this might sound like the product of an addled brain, but it is not as detached from political reality as it seems. The Saudi clerics and al Qaeda base their political analysis of the Shi`ites on two assumptions: that Wahhabism is true Islam and that it must have a monopoly over state policy. From this perspective, the various forces promoting Taqarub, both domestic and foreign, are indeed in cahoots to upend the status quo. The Shi`ites offer an alternative notion of Islamic community and history, they tend to cluster in strategically key regions, they share bonds with co-religionists beyond the borders of their country, and they have political interests that coincide with those of Sunni reformers. These attributes would allow the Shi`ites to form a powerful political bloc should a participatory political system ever emerge. And offering them even minor political concessions now would be dangerous, the clerics say, since other sects and other regional identities would clamor for political representation and soon overwhelm the system.

Beneath the conspiracy theory, therefore, lurks a very sober struggle over real political and economic interests. The clerics hope to place the Shi`ites in a kind of political quarantine, making it all but unthinkable for Sunni reformers in Saudi Arabia to form alliances with them. The reams of anti-Shi`ite material on Saudi religious Web sites are marked by three persistent charges: that the Shi`ites are agents of Iran, allies of the United States, and close associates of the Jews. The last accusation merits particular attention.

Isaac Hasson, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, has identified what he calls a "neo-Wahhabi campaign against the Shi`ites, which aims to demonize them by comparing them to the Jews." Traditional Wahhabi teachings, for example, include the medieval Sunni myth that it was actually a Jewish convert to Islam, Abdullah bin Saba, who invented Shi`ism. This means Shi`ism has a kind of Jewish dna flowing through it. New attributes borrowed from modern antisemitism, such as the notion of a Jewish plot for world domination, have been grafted onto this charge. In the neo-Wahhabi campaign that Hasson has identified, therefore, Shi`ism is simultaneously an offshoot of Judaism, the natural ally of Zio-Crusaderism, and an inveterate generator of grand plots to destroy Sunni Islam.

The clerics' anti-Shi`ite campaign traces, on a communal scale, the same pattern as the threats that al-Khudayr directed against al-Nuqaydan. Just as the radical clerics pass death sentences on individual reformers, so the Saudi religious establishment periodically threatens the Shi`ites with genocide. In his refutation of the Shi`ite petition, for example, the cleric Safar al-Hawali warned the Shi`ites about the dangers of overreaching. If they were actually to succeed in establishing a secular state, he argued, the result would be a civil war, and "if the [Sunni] majority gets riled, it will act -- a matter that could lead to the complete annihilation of the [Shi`ite] minority." This thinly veiled threat carried even greater significance for having been published on the Web site of another cleric and anti-Shi`ite firebrand, Nasir al-Umar, who has urged the government to fire Shi`ites from all positions of responsibility in the country. Al-Umar has also insisted that the government must find "a quick solution" to the Shi`ites' demographic domination of the eastern province, a proposal that can only be described as an incitement to ethnic cleansing.

Rather than shutting such inflammatory voices down, Prince Nayef finds it convenient to keep them on the streets: al-Umar runs a mosque as a government employee and operates an attractive Web site. By giving clerics such as al-Umar privileged platforms from which to spread their doctrines, Nayef gets the best of both worlds. To foreign critics, he can distance himself from al-Umar's extremism, claiming that the cleric speaks only for himself; at home, meanwhile, he can reap the benefit of al-Umar's threats, which strike terror into Shi`ite hearts.

Al-Umar's booklet promoting ethnic cleansing was written almost a decade ago, before the notion of a U.S.-Shi`ite conspiracy gained traction. The fall of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, however, has made him pay closer attention to this putative relationship. He has thus returned to his pet theme of a grand Shi`ite plot but reshaped the story in light of the new political reality to include a prominent U.S. role. In a lecture he gave last April, he depicted the United States as the "nursemaid" of global terrorism. For 30 years, he stated, Washington has been supporting terror around the world, something that went largely unrecognized until the war in Iraq. The war also demonstrated clearly "the strength of the bond between America and the Shi`ite heretics," who allied with each other in order to destroy the Sunnis.

Any analysis of the causes of anti-Americanism in Saudi Arabia has to account for people such as al-Umar. Many factors lead him to preach a deep hatred of America, but three are most significant: a deep loathing of Shi`ites, an ingrained habit of associating them with hostile external powers, and fears about the future position of Wahhabi clerics in the Saudi political system. No conceivable shift in U.S. policy would affect any of the three.


Last year's suicide bombings in Riyadh forced Prince Nayef to crack down on extremists inside Saudi Arabia. As a consequence, the Saudi security forces have clashed repeatedly with militants, arresting hundreds of activists and confiscating large caches of weapons. In Washington, these operations have helped to support the view that the Saudis have, once again, become our close allies. After receiving a wake-up call in May and a reminder in November, so the story goes, the Saudis have come back around to play their role as the strategic partner of the United States.

In late November, this optimistic view was reinforced when Ali al-Khudayr recanted on prime-time television. Speaking from jail, he renounced entirely his radical stance on takfir and jihad. It is impossible to say whether this about-face was sincere, coerced, or part of a political bargain, but the Saudis are treating it as a great victory against extremism. To emphasize the point, they even allowed Mansur al-Nuqaydan to publish his columns again. Although this is certainly a positive development, the roots of Saudi unrest extend beyond the contest between these two figures. The thousands of disgruntled young men who looked to al-Khudayr for guidance are still angry, and the central question of whether to reduce the power of the clerics remains locked in controversy.

As the case of Nasir al-Umar demonstrates, the domestic Saudi conflicts that originally generated anti-American feeling are still in operation. Moreover, indications suggest that, despite the recent crackdown, al Qaeda and the establishment Saudi clerics still share a strong sense of the common enemy.

Consider, for example, a statement that Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Najdi, an al Qaeda spokesman, issued in early October 2003. What preoccupied him was not the Saudi security services' crackdown on al Qaeda but the rise of the Shi`ites in Iraq:

We call openly on our brothers, all the mujahideen in Iraq, to kill the Sunni clerics who befriend the Americans, because those clerics are infidel apostates; and to kill every satanic Shi`ite Ayatollah who befriends the Americans -- first among them the satanic Ayatollah Muhammad Bahr al-Ulum and those like him. Likewise we demand from the Shi`ite youth that they return to the book of God and the Sunna of Muhammad.

Al Qaeda's nightmare scenario is that the Americans and the Iraqi Shi`ites will force Riyadh to enact broad reforms and bring the Saudi Shi`ites into the political community. There is no question that many hard-line Saudi clerics share precisely the same fears. Even before the United States attacked Afghanistan, Saudi clerics preached the doctrine of a Jewish-American conspiracy to destroy Islam. Now that American forces have unshackled the Iraqi Shi`ites, it would be naive to expect those clerics to take a more benign view of U.S. intentions.

The Saudi religious establishment's views regarding the American-Shi`ite conspiracy are not simply an internal Saudi matter. They legitimize the daily attacks on American soldiers in Iraq's "Sunni Triangle," as well as attacks such as the anti-Shi`ite suicide bombing in Najaf last August. The dazed onlookers who crowded around the rubble in Najaf immediately asked themselves one question: Who did it? "Wahhabis," cried one group. "Baathists," cried another. If Washington maintains business as usual with Riyadh, it will not be long before the Iraqi Shi`ites will conclude that the United States covertly supports the Wahhabi bombers who blow up their mosques -- just as they concluded, after the events of 1991, that the United States supported Saddam Hussein against them.

Nonetheless, changing the situation will be difficult, because the United States has limited means of muting the anti-Shi`ism and anti-Americanism that the clerics espouse. Getting Riyadh to divorce itself from radical Wahhabism will be as great a task as getting the Soviet Union to renounce communism. Clearly, there are forces in the kingdom who would be willing to support the efforts of a Saudi Gorbachev, but it is not clear when or whether one will appear.

Wahhabism is the foundation of an entire political system, and everyone with a stake in the status quo can be expected to rally around it when push comes to shove. In Iraq, as odious as the regime of Saddam Hussein was, it still enjoyed a social base of support in the center of the country, and the opponents of the old system were -- and remain -- fragmented and leaderless. In Saudi Arabia, Washington faces a similar problem. The United States has no choice but to press hard for democratic reforms. But the very attempt to create a more liberal political order will set off new disputes, which will inevitably generate anti-American feelings. Saudi Arabia is in turmoil, and -- like it or not -- the United States is deeply involved. As Washington struggles to rebuild Iraq it will thus find, once again, that its closest Arab ally is also one of its most bitter enemies.

*Al-Khudayr's sympathies with al Qaeda are apparently reciprocated. Following the cleric's arrest in May 2003, the London-based Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih reported that Osama bin Laden had warned the Saudi authorities not to hurt him. Bin Laden, the report claimed, labeled al-Khudayr "our most prominent supporter." Should any harm come to him, al Qaeda's response would be "commensurate with the sheikh's high standing with us, ... We will not issue a statement on the matter other than one dripping with blood."

Copyright 2003 by the Council on Foreign Relations, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


Iraq's Arsenal Was Only on Paper
Since Gulf War, Nonconventional Weapons Never Got Past the Planning Stage
By Barton Gellman

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 7, 2004; Page A01

BAGHDAD -- Of all Iraq's rocket scientists, none drew warier scrutiny abroad than Modher Sadeq-Saba Tamimi.

An engineering PhD known for outsized energy and gifts, Tamimi, 47, designed and built a new short-range missile during Iraq's four-year hiatus from United Nations arms inspections. Inspectors who returned in late 2002, enforcing Security Council limits, ruled that the Al Samoud missile's range was not quite short enough. The U.N. team crushed the missiles, bulldozed them into a pit and entombed the wreckage in concrete. In one of three interviews last month, Tamimi said "it was as if they were killing my sons."

But Tamimi had other brainchildren, and these stayed secret. Concealed at some remove from his Karama Co. factory here were concept drawings and computations for a family of much more capable missiles, designed to share parts and features with the openly declared Al Samoud. The largest was meant to fly six times as far.

"This was hidden during the UNMOVIC visits," Tamimi said, referring to inspectors from the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission. Over a leisurely meal of lamb and sweet tea, he sketched diagrams. "It was forbidden for us to reveal this information," he said.

Tamimi's covert work, which he recounted publicly for the first time in five hours of interviews, offers fresh perspective on the question that led the nation to war. Iraq flouted a legal duty to report the designs. The weapons they depicted, however, did not exist. After years of development -- against significant obstacles -- they might have taken form as nine-ton missiles. In March they fit in Tamimi's pocket, on two digital compact discs.

The nine-month record of arms investigators since the fall of Baghdad includes discoveries of other concealed arms research, most of it less advanced. Iraq's former government engaged in abundant deception about its ambitions and, in some cases, early steps to prepare for development or production. Interviews here -- among Iraqi weaponeers and investigators from the U.S. and British governments -- turned up unreported records, facilities or materials that could have been used in unlawful weapons.

But investigators have found no support for the two main fears expressed in London and Washington before the war: that Iraq had a hidden arsenal of old weapons and built advanced programs for new ones. In public statements and unauthorized interviews, investigators said they have discovered no work on former germ-warfare agents such as anthrax bacteria, and no work on a new designer pathogen -- combining pox virus and snake venom -- that led U.S. scientists on a highly classified hunt for several months. The investigators assess that Iraq did not, as charged in London and Washington, resume production of its most lethal nerve agent, VX, or learn to make it last longer in storage. And they have found the former nuclear weapons program, described as a "grave and gathering danger" by President Bush and a "mortal threat" by Vice President Cheney, in much the same shattered state left by U.N. inspectors in the 1990s.

A review of available evidence, including some not known to coalition investigators and some they have not made public, portrays a nonconventional arms establishment that was far less capable than U.S. analysts judged before the war. Leading figures in Iraqi science and industry, supported by observations on the ground, described factories and institutes that were thoroughly beaten down by 12 years of conflict, arms embargo and strangling economic sanctions. The remnants of Iraq's biological, chemical and missile infrastructures were riven by internal strife, bled by schemes for personal gain and handicapped by deceit up and down lines of command. The broad picture emerging from the investigation to date suggests that, whatever its desire, Iraq did not possess the wherewithal to build a forbidden armory on anything like the scale it had before the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

David Kay, who directs the weapons hunt on behalf of the Bush administration, reported no discoveries last year of finished weapons, bulk agents or ready-to-start production lines. Members of his Iraq Survey Group, in unauthorized interviews, said the group holds out little prospect now of such a find. Kay and his spokesman, who report to Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet, declined to be interviewed.

Poxes and Professors

On Dec. 13, as a reporter waited to see the dean of Baghdad University's College of Science, two poker-faced men strode into the anteroom. One was an ex-Marine named Dan, clad in civilian clothes, body armor, a checkered Arab scarf and a bandolier of eight spare magazines for his M-16 rifle. The other identified himself to the receptionist only as Barry.

He asked to see the dean, Abdel Mehdi Taleb, immediately. Dan preceded Barry into Taleb's office, weapon ready, then stood sentry outside.

According to Taleb, Barry asked -- once again -- about the work of immunologist Alice Krikor Melconian. For months, Taleb said, the Americans had sent scientists and intelligence officers to investigate the compact, curly-haired chairman of the university's biotechnology department.

Three Iraqi scientists said U.S. investigators asserted they have reason to believe Melconian ran a covert research facility, location unknown. In July, colleagues said, Melconian emerged from her office with a burly American on each arm and was placed into the back seat of a car with darkened windows. U.S. investigators held her for 10 days in an open-air cell and then released her.

Described by associates as shaken by her arrest, Melconian said she has done no weapons research and knows of no secret labs. "I have never left the university," she said. "I have nothing more to say about this. I do not want to make any more trouble."

Like others on campus, and at a few elite institutes elsewhere, Melconian remains under scrutiny in part because investigators deem her capable of doing dangerous biological research. Investigators said they are casting a wide net at Iraq's "centers of scientific excellence" in an effort to confirm intelligence that is fragmentary and often lacks essential particulars.

Kay's Iraq Survey Group, which has numbered up to 1,400 personnel from the Defense Department, Energy Department national laboratories and intelligence agencies, is looking for biological weapons far more dangerous than those of Iraq's former arsenal. A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, published in October 2002, said "chances are even" that Iraqi weaponeers were working with smallpox, one of history's mass killers. It also said Iraq "probably has developed genetically engineered BW agents."

As the Associated Press first reported, a scientific assessment panel known as Team Pox returned home in late July without finding reason to believe Iraq possessed the variola virus, which causes smallpox. Even so, interviews with Iraqi scientists led to a redoubled search for work on animal poxes, harmless to humans but potentially useful as substitutes for smallpox in weapons research.

Rihab Taha, the British-educated biologist known in the west as Dr. Germ, has generally been described by U.S. officials as uncooperative in custody since May 12. But according to one well-informed account of her debriefing, she acknowledged receiving an order from superiors in 1990 to develop a biological weapon based on a virus. That same year, a virologist who worked for her, Hazem Ali, commenced research on camelpox.

If truthful and correctly recounted, Taha's statement exposed a long-standing lie. Iraq's government denied offensive viral research. One analyst familiar with the debriefing report, declining to be identified by name or nationality, said investigators believe that Taha's remarks demonstrate an intent to use smallpox, since camelpox resembles no other human pathogen.

"Hearing that from the lips of the people involved is kind of like that MasterCard commercial: 'Priceless,' " the analyst said.

There is no corresponding record, however, that Iraq had the capability or made the effort to carry out such an intent.

Taha, according to the same debriefing account, said Iraq had no access to smallpox. Ali's research halted after 45 days, with the August 1990 outbreak of war in Kuwait, and did not resume. And Taha, like all those in custody, continues to assert that biowar programs ceased entirely the following year.

Chimeras, Science Fiction

More alarming even than Taha's statement, investigators said, were highly classified indications that Iraq sought to produce a genetically altered virus. Australian scientists reported in 2001 that an apparently innocent change in mousepox DNA transformed the virus into a rampant killer of mice. Investigators spent months probing for evidence that Iraq sought to master the technique, then apply it to vaccinia -- a readily available virus used to inoculate against smallpox -- and finally to smallpox itself.

Survey group scientists discovered no sign of pox research save at the Baghdad College of Veterinary Medicine, which declared the work to U.N. inspectors in 2002. Researchers there were manipulating the viruses that cause goatpox and sheeppox, in well-documented efforts to develop vaccines. U.S. investigators arrested Antoine Banna, the Cornell-trained dean, but soon released him. Much the same result followed a probe of avian virus research at the Ghazi Institute.

"It was legitimate research, but if they wanted to swing the other way they had some of the wherewithal to do that," said an analyst apprised of the results.

When investigators paid a call on Noria Ali, a genetic engineer who wears the head cover and long robes of an observant Muslim, "they said they knew there was [genetic] research on these viruses, and we had secret labs for this work," Ali said.

Ali acknowledged a history that attracted suspicion. In 1990, she said, Rihab Taha ordered her to build a genetic engineering lab at Iraq's principal bioweapons research center. The Special Security Organization warned her that "any person who talks about his work will be executed," Ali said. But Iraq's invasion of Kuwait left the lab unfinished, an account confirmed by U.S. and European experts.

"We could have done a lot in this lab, but the fact is that this lab never existed," Ali said.

The survey group's most exotic line of investigation sought evidence that Iraq tried to create a pathogen combining pox virus with cobra venom. A 1986 study in the Journal of Microbiology reported that fowlpox spread faster and killed more chickens in the presence of venom extract. Investigators received a secondhand report that Iraq sought to splice them together.

Such an artificial life form -- created by inserting genetic sequences from one organism into another -- is called a "chimera," after the fire-breathing monster of Greek mythology commingling lion, serpent and goat.

"They have asked about developing some kind of chimera, a pox with snake-venom gene," said Ali Zaag, dean of the university's Institute for Biotechnology. "You have seen our labs. For us, these capabilities are science fiction."

Investigators also searched for what one of them termed "starter sets" of pathogens, laboratory samples that could be used for later production. For each suspected weapon, the investigators carried a supply of "labeled antibodies," a classified technology used in field kits that resemble home pregnancy tests. "We didn't find anything, so certainly not anything engineered," a coalition scientist said.

Team Pox, as the group of investigators dubbed itself, eventually dropped the chimera investigation.

"You've got to learn to walk before you start running," said a European government scientist who studied Iraq's biological programs last year. "The evidence we have about the virus program is they hadn't started to walk yet."

Recently, Zaag said, the chimera hunt resumed. This time the investigators are intelligence officers. Their approach, Zaag said, is "We'll give you a few more days to reveal something, and then we'll have to take you." Spokesmen for the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency declined requests for interviews.

What 'the Traitor' Knew

Late last month, fresh evidence emerged on a very old question about Iraq's illegal arms: Did the Baghdad government, as it said, rid itself of all the biological arms it produced before 1991? The answer matters, because the Bush administration's most concrete prewar assertions about Iraqi germ weapons referred to stocks allegedly hidden from that old arsenal.

The new evidence appears to be a contemporary record, from inside the Iraqi government, of a pivotal moment in Baghdad's long struggle to shield arms programs from outside scrutiny. The document, written just after the defection of Saddam Hussein's son-in-law on Aug. 8, 1995, anticipates the collapse of cover stories for weapons that had yet to be disclosed. Read alongside subsequent discoveries made by U.N. inspectors, the document supports Iraq's claim that it destroyed all production stocks of lethal pathogens before inspectors knew they existed.

The defection of Hussein Kamel was a turning point in the U.N.-imposed disarmament of Iraq in the 1990s. Kamel, who had married one of Saddam Hussein's daughters, Raghad, and controlled Baghdad's Military Industrial Commission, told his Western debriefers about major programs in biological and nuclear weaponry that had gone undetected or unconfirmed. Iraq was forced to acknowledge what he exposed, but neither inspectors nor U.S. officials were sure Kamel had told all there was to tell.

A handwritten Iraqi damage report, composed five days after the defection, now suggests that Kamel left little or nothing out.

The author is Hossam Amin, then -- and until his April 27 arrest -- the head of Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate. As liaison to the inspectors he provided information and logistical support, but he also concealed the government's remaining secrets.

Sufiyan Taha Mahmoud, who was private secretary to Amin in 1995, said in an interview that Amin flew into a rage when he learned Kamel had slipped across the border to Jordan. "It was as if he was hit with a hammer," Mahmoud said.

Five days later, Amin dispatched a six-page letter to the president's son Qusay.

The person who provided a copy to The Washington Post had postwar access to the presidential office where he said he found the original. Iraqis who know Amin well and experienced government investigators from the United States and Europe, who analyzed the document for this article, said they believe it to be authentic. They cited handwriting, syntax, contemporary details and annotations that match those of previous samples. Markings on the letter say that Qusay read it, summarized it for his father and filed it with presidential secretary Abed Hamid Mahmoud.

Just before his "sudden and regrettable flight and surrender to the bosom of the enemy," Amin wrote, "the traitor Hussein Kamel" received a detailed briefing on "the points of weakness and the points of strength" in Iraq's concealment efforts.

Amin then listed, in numbered points, "the matters that are known to the traitor and not declared" to U.N. inspectors.

Inspectors knew Iraq tried to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon, but not, Amin wrote, about the "crash program" to fabricate a bomb with French reactor fuel by 1991. They knew Iraq made biological toxins, but not that it put them in Scud missile warheads. There were major facilities -- Dawrah Foot and Mouth Disease Institute, a centrifuge factory in Rashdiya, and the Al Atheer bomb-fabrication plant -- whose true purposes were unacknowledged to inspectors.

Shortly after Amin sent the letter, Kamel's debriefings and subsequent inspections exposed every item in Amin's catalogue.

Until now, Kamel's debriefers suspected that "maybe he decided to keep something for himself," said Ali Shukri, a Jordanian military officer who debriefed Kamel on behalf of the late King Hussein, speaking in an interview in Amman. After reading Amin's letter in silence and then rereading it, Shukri looked up and said Kamel had held back nothing.

The most significant point in Amin's letter, U.S. and European experts said, is his unambiguous report that Iraq destroyed its entire inventory of biological weapons. Amin reminded Qusay Hussein of the government's claim that it possessed no such arms after 1990, then wrote that in truth "destruction of the biological weapons agents took place in the summer of 1991."

It was those weapons to which Secretary of State Colin L. Powell referred in the Security Council on Feb. 5 when he said, for example, that Iraq still had an estimated 8,500 to 25,000 liters of anthrax bacteria.

Some things Amin's letter did not say may also be meaningful. If Iraq had succeeded in spray-drying anthrax spores to extend their life and lethality, that would have been among the most important secrets of its wide-ranging weapons program. The letter did not speak of it. The letter also enumerated Baghdad's nuclear secrets, but mentioned nothing to suggest Iraq manufactured unknown parts of an "implosion device" to detonate uranium.

There was only one important thing, Amin said, that Hussein Kamel did not know: some of the locations where Iraq hid its library of arms research. That supports long-standing suspicions that Iraq held back portions of a knowledge base that could speed revival of development and production one day.

A U.S. intelligence official, who was provided with a copy of Amin's letter for comment, said the government would not discuss it in detail. He said an initial check of records "suggests that we have not previously seen the letter." Without the original and an account of its origins, he said, government analysts "cannot verify the authenticity of the letter." He added, "It is plausible and, from a quick scan of it, presents no immediate surprises."

'The Stupid Army'

Thair Anwar Masraf, an affable project engineer, made an appointment last summer to see an investigator from David Kay's survey group. He had information, he said in an interview, that might help the Americans interpret two trailer-mounted production plants found near Mosul in April and May.

"I waited more than one hour in the Palestine Hotel," Masraf said. "He did not show up."

Masraf watched with curiosity, in coming months, as the Bush administration touted its discovery of mobile germ-weapon factories.

A joint study released May 28 by the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency called the trailers "the strongest evidence to date that Iraq was hiding a biological warfare program." Two days later, in Poland, President Bush announced: "For those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong. We found them."

When Iraqi engineers told investigators that the discovered trailers were meant for hydrogen, the CIA dismissed the "cover story."

By July, with contrary evidence piling up, Kay described the trailer episode as a "fiasco." He told BBC Television, which broadcast the tape Nov. 23: "I think it was premature and embarrassing."

Even so, Kay's October report to Congress left the question unresolved. Kay said he could not corroborate a mobile germ factory, but he restated the CIA argument that the trailers were not "ideally suited" for hydrogen.

Had Masraf found Kay's investigator at the Palestine Hotel, he said he would have explained that Iraq actually used such trailers to generate hydrogen during the eight-year war with Iran. Masraf and his former supervisor at the Saad Co. said Masraf managed a contract to refurbish some of the units beginning in 1997.

According to the two men, Iraq bought mobile hydrogen generators from Britain in 1982 and mounted them on trucks. The Republican Guard used one type, Iraq's 2nd Army Corps another.

Iraqi artillery units relied on hydrogen-filled weather balloons to measure wind and temperature, which affect targeting. Munqith Qaisi, then a senior manager at Saad Co. and now its American-appointed director-general, said the trailers used a chemical -- not biological -- process to make hydrogen from methanol and demineralized water.

The feature that analysts found most suspicious in May -- the compression and recapture of exhaust gases -- is a necessity, Masraf said, when gas is the intended product.

In the late 1990s, the Republican Guard sent some of its trailers for refurbishment at the Kindi Co. The 2nd Army Corps signed a similar contract with Saad Co. Masraf said the first units were finished in 2001, including the two discovered by coalition forces around Mosul.

Qaisi's account may also clear up an unexplained detail from the May 28 intelligence report: traces of urea in the reaction vessel aboard one of the trailers. Qaisi said the vessels corroded badly because Iraqi troops disregarded strict orders to use only demineralized water.

"The stupid army pissed in it, or used river water," he said.

Said's Last Experiment

On Thursday, Dec. 11, a rumpled man with a high, balding crown arrived late for work at the University of Technology. In his unpainted office, about the size of a family sedan, electrical fixtures drooped from cement walls.

Sabah Abdul Noor once moved among the nation's elites. He played a part in the most ambitious undertaking of Iraqi industrial science: creation from scratch, and largely in secret, of the wherewithal to design and manufacture an atomic bomb. When the 1991 Gulf War intervened, an Iraqi bomb was -- informed estimates vary -- six months to two years from completion.

Abdul Noor watched as that multibillion-dollar enterprise was reduced to slag under the cutting torches of U.N. inspectors, who arrived under Security Council mandate after Iraq's defeat in Kuwait. Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Abdul Noor said, U.S. forces have been questioning him for indications that the nuclear program was secretly revived.

"I have just come from such an interview," he said, apologizing for the hour. "They didn't give names. They did not say where they were from. I am kept as long as they wish to keep me."

What the Americans want to talk about, almost always, is Khalid Ibrahim Said.

Until 1991, Said was going to be the man who built Iraq's atomic bomb. Other leading figures were responsible for uranium enrichment. Said led the team -- "PC-3, Group 4," in Iraq's cryptic organization chart -- that would form 40 pounds of uranium into a working nuclear device. Abdul Noor was Said's powder metallurgist.

Said died on April 8 when Marines opened fire on his moving car near a newly established checkpoint. His loss grieved Kay's nuclear investigators, who had many questions for him. When they came across Said's last experiment, the late bomb designer moved to the center of their probe.

Said spent his final days in a warehouse filled with capacitors and powerful magnets. He and his team were building what they described -- in a mandatory disclosure to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- as a "linear engine." The purpose, Iraq declared, was air defense.

The machine in Said's warehouse was more commonly known as a "rail gun." It used electromagnetic pulses to accelerate a small object to very high speed.

When U.S. investigators arrived, they found the gun had been "shooting an aluminum projectile at an aluminum target plate like the skin of an airplane," said an analyst who reviewed their report. But rail gun technology is thought to be decades from use in a practical weapon, and investigators believed Said might have something else in mind.

Impact of an extremely high-velocity projectile in a target chamber, they said, might be used to measure the behavior of materials under pressures that compare to a nuclear implosion. Such "equation of state" experiments, as physicists call them, could be applied to nuclear warhead design. When the U.S. nuclear team looked closely at that question, however, it "saw no evidence of equation of state work" with the rail gun, according to an authoritative summary of the team's report.

A sad look crossed Abdul Noor's face when he tried to explain his bafflement at suspicions that Iraq had secretly rebuilt -- "reconstituted," as the Bush administration put it in the summer and fall of 2002 -- a nuclear weapons program. He and his colleagues still know what they learned, Abdul Noor said, but their material condition is incomparably worse than it was when they began in 1987. "We would have had to start from less than zero," he said, with thousands of irreplaceable tools banned from import. "The country was cornered," he said. "We were boycotted. We were embargoed. The truth is, we disintegrated."

Of his late friend Said, Abdul Noor said: "I don't know what was in his heart. Probably he wanted to return to [nuclear weapons work] one day. That is in the category of dreams."

A common view among investigators today is that Said had the motive but not the means. One Western physicist who knew Said well said the rail gun enabled Said to maintain his team and "hone their skills on diagnostics, flash X-ray cameras, measuring very high speeds, and measuring impacts of ramming things together." The physicist added, "It's basic science. There's no relation to actual [bomb] design and fabrication."

Some investigators have yet to be convinced. They continue to look for warhead research in the guise of the rail gun.

"Today they were asking me that again," Abdul Noor said. "I was not on the same wavelength. I could see they were not pleased with me."

Red on Red on Blue

There is another explanation for the rail gun, according to one man who worked on it and does not want to be named. It was, he said, a deception operation against Saddam Hussein.

Hussein resented U.S. air patrols over "no-fly zones" where Iraqi aircraft were forbidden in northern and southern Iraq. After trying for years to challenge the patrols, another Iraqi said, "we had yet to scratch the wing of one American F-15."

Said gave the president an answer involving futuristic technology. He was a good enough applied physicist to understand the long odds against success, Said's anonymous colleague said, but the project earned him favor, prestige and a substantial budget.

In every field of special weaponry, Iraqi designers and foreign investigators said, such deceit was endemic. Program managers promised more than they could deliver, or things they could not deliver at all, to advance careers, preserve jobs or conduct intrigues against rivals. Sometimes they did so from ignorance, failing to grasp the challenges they took on.

Lying to an absolute ruler was hazardous, Iraqi weaponeers said, but less so in some cases than the alternatives. "No one will tell Saddam Hussein to his face, 'I can't do this,' " said an Iraqi brigadier general who supervised work on some of the technologies used in the rail gun.

David Kay's survey group has turned up other such cases. Analysts are calling the phenomenon "red-on-red deception," after the U.S. practice of using red to stand for enemy forces and blue to stand for friendly ones. In some cases, they said, "red on red" amounted to "red on blue" -- because Western intelligence collected the same false reports that fooled Hussein.

Sufiyan Taha Mahmoud, who worked for Iraq's National Monitoring Directorate throughout its 12 years, said spurious programs also led to needless conflict with U.N. arms inspectors.

"They couldn't build anything," Mahmoud said of overpromising weaponeers, "but they had to hide the documents because they related to prohibited activities."

Secrecy and a procurement system based on smuggling, Iraqi scientists said, abetted those who inflated their reports.

George Healey, a Canadian nuclear physicist and longtime inspector in Iraq, said entire programs were devised, or their design choices distorted, in order to siphon funds.

"They had a system to graft money out of oil-for-food," he said, referring to the U.N. program that supervised Iraqi exports and imports after 1991. "What you had to have was a project -- the more expensive the better, because the more you can buy, the more you can graft out of it. You'd have difficulty believing how much that explains."

Intertwined with internal deception, many analysts now believe, was deception aimed overseas. Hussein plainly hid actual programs over the years, but Kay, among others, said it appears possible he also hinted at programs that did not exist.

Hans Blix, who was executive chairman of UNMOVIC, the U.N. arms inspection team, said in a telephone interview from Sweden that he has devoted much thought to why Hussein might have exaggerated his arsenal. One explanation that appeals to him: "You can put a sign on your door, 'Beware of the dog,' without having a dog. They did not mind looking a little bit serious and a little bit dangerous."

Defectors who sold false or exaggerated stories in Washington, Iraqi and American experts said, layered on still another coat of deception.

"You end up with a Picasso-like drawing -- distorted," said Ali Zaag, the Baghdad University biotechnologist.

'Long Pole in the Tent'

One line of thought in the survey group now, as it constructs a narrative of the Iraqi threat, is that the Baghdad government set out to revive its nonconventional programs in sequence. Instead of beginning with "weapons of mass destruction" -- nuclear, biological or chemical -- Iraq began with the means to deliver them .

"Missiles are very significant to us because they're the long pole in the tent," Kay told "BBC Panorama." "They're the thing that takes the longest to produce. . . . The Iraqis had started in late '99, 2000, to produce a family of missiles that would have gotten to 1,000 kilometers [625 miles]."

Kay was referring to Tamimi's work, though the designer and details have not been made public before. If reached, a 625-mile range would have menaced Tel Aviv, Tehran, Istanbul, Riyadh, the world's richest oil fields and important U.S. military installations from Turkey to the Persian Gulf.

When that might have happened -- or whether -- is difficult to forecast. Of all Iraq's nascent programs, Tamimi's was among the most advanced. A closer look at its prospects helps answer a question common to all four fields of forbidden arms: Was the country capable of carrying out the presumed intentions of its leader?

Tamimi is a man of robust self-esteem, but he expressed no confidence about his long-range missile, which depended on clustering five engines in a single stage. (An intermediate version called for two engines.) Western missile experts, who suggested questions and reviewed answers from a reporter in multiple rounds of interviews with Tamimi, emerged uncertain of the timetable or outcome.

Their best estimate was that it would take six years -- if the missile worked at all -- to reach a successful flight test. Tamimi would need less time with major help from abroad, but considerably more if he had to conceal the work from U.N. monitoring that persisted until the United States invaded in March. U.S. government spokesmen declined to provide an estimate.

Tamimi "was the star" of Iraq's three rival rocket establishments, said a French expert who has known him for years. Another European rocket scientist said of Tamimi: "In our country he would be a very good design engineer."

But Tamimi lacked access to the modern tools and technical literature of his profession. He left Czechoslovakia's Antonin Zapotecky Military Academy in 1984 with a doctorate degree and a collection of Russian rocketry texts now entering their third decade in print. For the essential modeling of thrust, flight qualities, trajectory and range, he relied on unsophisticated software written in Baghdad. In an e-mail exchange, Tamimi expressed strong curiosity about what the "more accurate modeling programs" of overseas experts might show about his designs.

Tamimi faced challenges he had not encountered before, some of which he knew about and others he did not. He knew he would have difficulty lashing together multiple engines and igniting them at the same instant. "The main problem was synchronization, which we hadn't solved yet," he said.

To fit multiple engines in an airframe based on the existing Al Samoud missile, Tamimi's designs called for a flared missile that nearly doubled in diameter -- from 760mm (30 inches) to 1500mm (59 inches) -- from top to bottom. Foreign experts said the shape would produce enormous strains. "If it didn't break up going up, it would most likely do so on reentry," said a Western expert who did not want to be named, after submitting Tamimi's sketches and descriptions to an evaluation team. "To avoid that, they would have to develop some sort of separation system to abandon the wider bit, and also master terminal guidance after the separation."

Tamimi said "we did not consider the problem of separation." For terminal guidance, which steers a missile in its final approach to target, Tamimi pinned his hope on Russian technology he did not have in hand.

In test flights, the Al Samoud missile never landed -- literally -- within a mile of its target. In 2001, Tamimi obtained a small black-market supply of precision Russian gyroscopes. He hoped they would increase the missile's accuracy from about 1.5 miles to 500 yards. To increase accuracy still further, he said "we were near success" in negotiating a contract -- he would not say with whom -- for a complete Russian-built inertial navigation system.

"He knew very well where he was going, especially in guidance and gyroscope equipment," a foreign expert said.

An enormous problem for Tamimi's program, however, was that he designed it to allow procurement of parts under cover of the openly declared Al Samoud. When inspectors ruled the Al Samoud illegal and destroyed its production lines in March, Tamimi said, he began to doubt the project's viability.

"Saddam Hussein ordered this work, but where would we get the materials?" said an Iraqi general who declined to be named and who kept close tabs on Tamimi's missile designs. "This was the case in every field. People would prepare reports under the order of Saddam Hussein and the supervision of the people around Saddam Hussein. But it was not real."

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