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Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East

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Weapons of Mass Destruction Capabilities and Programs1

  • With sufficient black-market uranium or plutonium, could fabricate a nuclear weapon within one year.
  • If United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) inspections were to be terminated, could produce weapons-grade fissile material within several years.
  • Retains large and experienced pool of nuclear scientists and technicians.
  • Retains nuclear weapons design, and may retain related components and software.
  • Repeatedly violated its obligations under the NPT, which it ratified on 10/29/69.
  • Repeatedly violated its obligations under United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 687, which mandates destruction of Iraq's nuclear weapon capabilities.
  • Until its termination by Coalition air attacks and UNSCOM removal programs, Iraq had an extensive nuclear weapons development program, with 10,000 personnel and a multi-year budget totaling approximately $10 billion.
  • In 1990, Iraq also launched a crash program to divert reactor fuel under IAEA safeguards to produce nuclear weapons.
  • May retain stockpile of chemical weapon (CW) munitions, including special chemical/biological al-Hussein ballistic missile warheads, 2,000 aerial bombs, 15,000-25,000 rockets, and 15,000 artillery shells.
  • Believed to possess sufficient precursor chemicals to produce hundreds of tons of mustard gas, VX, and other nerve agents.
  • Retains sufficient technical expertise to revive CW programs within months.
  • Repeatedly used CW against Iraqi Kurds in 1988 and against Iran in 1983-1988 during the Iran-Iraq war.
  • An extensive CW arsenal–including 38,537 munitions, 690 tons of CW agents, and over 3,000 tons of CW precursor chemicals–has been destroyed by UNSCOM.
  • Repeatedly violated its obligations under UNSC Resolution 687, which mandates destruction of Iraq's chemical weapon capabilities.
  • Not a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • Iraq's claim that it destroyed biological weapon (BW) munitions unilaterally– including 157 R-400 aerial bombs and all of its special chemical/biological Al-Hussein warheads–has not been verified by UNSCOM.
  • May retain biological weapon sprayers for Mirage F-1 aircraft.
  • May retain mobile production facility with capacity to produce dry biological agents (i.e., with long shelf life and optimized for dissemination).
  • Has not accounted for 17 tons of BW growth media.
  • Maintains technical expertise and equipment to resume production quickly of anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, and Clostridium perfringens (gas gangrene).
  • BW prepared for missile and aircraft delivery during 1990-1991 Gulf War.
  • Conducted research on BW dissemination using unmanned aerial vehicles.
  • Repeatedly violated its obligations under UNSC Resolution 687, which mandates destruction of Iraq's biological weapon capabilities.
  • Ratified the BTWC on 4/18/91, as required by the Gulf War cease-fire agreement.
Ballistic missiles5
  • May retain components for dozens of Scud-B and al-Hussein missiles, as well as indigenously produced Scud missile engines.
  • If UNSCOM inspections were to be terminated, could resume production of al-Hussein missiles within one year.
  • Maintains clandestine procurement network to import missile components.
  • Launched 331 Scud-B missiles at Iran during the Iran-Iraq war, and 189 al-Hussein missiles at Iranian cities during the 1988 "War of the Cities."
  • Developing Ababil-100 with 150km range and 300kg payload, flight-testing al-Samoud with 140km range and 300kg payload, and producing Ababil-50 with 50km range and 95kg payload.
Cruise missiles6
  • C-601/Nisa 28 with 95km range and 513kg payload.
  • HY-2 Silkworm with 95km range and 513kg payload.
  • SS-N-2c Styx with 80km range and 513kg payload.
  • Exocet AM-39 with 50km range and 165kg payload.
  • YJ-1/C-801 with 40km range and 165kg payload.
Other delivery systems7
  • Fighter and ground attack forces include approximately 300 fixed-wing aircraft, consisting of Su-25, Su-20, Su-7, MiG-29, MiG-25, MiG-23BN, MiG-21, Mirage F1EQ5, and F-7.
  • Ground systems include artillery and rocket launchers, notably 500+ FROG-7 artillery rockets and 12-15 launchers, with 70km range and 450kg payload.


  1. This chart summarizes data available from public sources. Precise assessment of a state’s capabilities is difficult because most weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs remain secret and cannot be verified independently. Although UNSCOM inspections have provided detailed information about past Iraqi programs, assessing Iraq's current capabilities is difficult due to its policies of denial and deception. On these policies, see David Albright, "Masters of Deception," Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 54:3 (May/June 1998), [Online] Barton Gellman, "A Futile Game of Hide and Seek," Washington Post, 10/11/98. Barton Gellman, "Arms Inspectors 'Shake the Tree," Washington Post, 10/12/98.
  2. David Albright, "Iraq’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Past, Present, and Future Challenges," PolicyWatch #301, 2/18/98, [Online] U.S. National Security Council (NSC), "Iraq’s Program of Mass Destruction: Threatening the Security of the International Community,"11/14/97, p. 3, [Online] U.S. Government White Paper, "Iraq Weapons Of Mass Destruction Programs," 2/13/98, [Online] Steven Dolley, "Iraq’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Unresolved Issues," (Washington, DC: Nuclear Control Institute, 5/12/98), [Online] Steven Dolley, "Iraq and the Bomb: The Nuclear Threat Continues," (Washington, DC: Nuclear Control Institute, 2/19/98), [Online] Anthony H. Cordesman, "Recent Military Developments in the Persian Gulf: Defense Efforts, the Conventional Balance, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and Terrorism," (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 11/12/98), pp. 71-72. David Albright, "A Special Case: Iraq," Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities, and Policies, (Oxford: Oxford University Press/SIPRI, 1997), pp. 309-50.
  3. Steve Bowman, "Iraqi Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) Capabilities," (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, 2/17/98), pp. 1-5. NSC. US Government White Paper. Barbara Starr, "UNSCOM Inspectors Still Doubt Iraq’s Arms Claims," Jane’s Defence Weekly, 2/25/98, p. 18. Cordesman, pp. 64-67. United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM), "UNSCOM Main Achievements," May 1998, [Online] Physicians for Human Rights, "Winds of Death: Iraq's Use of Poison Gas Against its Kurdish Population," (Boston, MA: Physicians for Human Rights, 2/89), pp. 1-2.
  4. Bowman, pp. 1-5. Starr, p. 18. NSC. US Government White Paper. Cordesman, pp. 67-71. Gellman. Jonathan Tucker, "Lessons of Iraq's Biological Weapons Program," Arms Control, 1993, 14(3): 229-71.
  5. "Missile and Space Launch Capabilities of Selected Countries," forthcoming 1999, Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), Monterey, CA. Duncan Lennox, ed., "Country Inventory – In Service," and "Offensive Weapons, Iraq," Jane’s Strategic Weapons Systems Issue 24, 5/97. "Iraq," Federation of American Scientists, 11/17/97, [Online] "National Briefings: Iraq," Centre for Defence and International Security Studies (CDISS), [Online] "Iraqi Ballistic Missile Capabilities," CDISS, [Online] NSC. US Government White Paper. Cordesman, pp. 62-64. Starr, p. 18. Dilip Hiro, The Longest War: The Iran-Iraq Military Conflict (London: Grafton Books, 1989). Personal interview with Tim McCarthy, Senior Missile Analyst, Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies, 4/30/98.
  6. Lennox. "Emerging Cruise Missile Capabilities," CDISS [Online]
  7. CNS. Lennox. The Military Balance 1997/98 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1997), p. 128.

Prepared by Michael Barletta and Erik Jorgensen,
� Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies. November 1998

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