PARIS (Mar. 8)
Iraq is developing a 600-mile range ballistic missile with nuclear capabilities, and is also trying to rebuild its nuclear reactor, which Israeli bombers destroyed in a June 1981 air raid, the French weekly Le Canard Enchaine reported Thursday.
The missile, known as Sa’ad-16, can carry 500 kg of chemical weapons, or a nuclear charge with the destructive power of the Hiroshima bomb, according to the magazine, which is usually well informed on military matters.
At the same time, Iraq has constructed new buildings and laboratories for its nuclear reactor, at the old Tammuz site near Baghdad. This time, the facilities are buried deep underground, to protect them from another possible Israeli air raid.
Israel justified the attack at the time by claiming the Iraqi reactor was about to produce weapons-grade plutonium.
The Iraqi government, meanwhile, is trying to obtain a reactor and nuclear fuel from France — which was responsible for the original Osiris reactor — elsewhere in Western Europe, or from Latin America, the magazine said.
After the 1981 raid, President Francois Mitterrand had said France would help Iraq rebuild the reactor. But France also set stringent conditions, including the use of low-grade fuel called caramel, which works at a far lower enrichment level than the uranium used in the original reactor.
Some nuclear scientists have said caramel might be used for weapons-grade fuel with the addition of a layer of natural uranium.
Iraq’s latest missile development was begun in 1984 by Iraq, Egypt and Argentina, which jointly invested $3 billion to $4 billion in the project, Le Canard Enchaine reported.
Most of the money was borrowed from the Atlanta branch of the Italian Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, which in turn borrowed heavily from American banks.
Both Israel and Syria had an active interest in blocking the Iraqi missile, the magazine said. It claimed that in 1988, either Israeli or Syrian agents set a time bomb under a car that belonged to one of the directors of the main European company working on the Iraqi project.