Why Did Iraq Increase the Diameter of Its Missiles?: Is Iraq close to being able to deliver a nuclear weapon?

by David Albright

February 4, 2003

On January 27, 2003, Hans Blix, the Executive Director of UNMOVIC, reported to the UN Security Council that, in violation of 1994 orders by the inspectors, Iraq had increased the diameter of its Al Samoud missile to 760 millimeters. This new diameter is dangerously close to enabling this missile to carry a type of nuclear warhead that Iraq was developing prior to the Persian Gulf War in 1991. That one-tonne nuclear warhead design called for a diameter of 800 millimeters. Iraq is obligated to limit the diameter of its missiles to less than 600 millimeters and their range to less than 150 kilometers. Inspectors assessed that Iraq could not mount a nuclear warhead on a missile with a diameter less than 600 millimeters. Thus, any effort by Iraq to increase the diameter of its missiles raises serious questions as to whether Iraq is seeking to make its missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, it launched a crash nuclear program to build a nuclear weapon. Because its domestic uranium enrichment programs had not yet produced highly enriched uranium (HEU), Iraq decided to secretly divert a stock of safeguarded HEU that it had obtained from France and Russia for use as fuel in its civil research reactors.

In parallel to converting the HEU into weapons components, Iraq accelerated its development of a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile. Iraq viewed a ballistic missile as its main nuclear delivery system.

Iraq was developing a modified version of the Al Abid missile with a range of 1,000 kilometers and a nuclear warhead with a mass of over one tonne and a diameter of 1,250 millimeters. This missile, however, could not be developed soon enough for use in the crash program. Iraq’s crash program was concentrating on a modified Al Hussein missile with a range of 650 kilometers. This missile, which was narrower than the Al Abid, required a nuclear warhead with a diameter of only 800 millimeters. Iraq planned to finish developing this missile and a one-tonne nuclear warhead of this diameter by the summer of 1991. As a back-up option, Iraq was working on a one-tonne nuclear warhead for its existing Al Hussein missile that had a range of 300 kilometers. Iraq made little progress on the smaller nuclear warhead designs by the time the Persian Gulf War started in January 1991. However, it could have made progress on these designs in the last 12 years, particularly in the last four years when the inspectors were absent from Iraq. As a result, the increase in diameter of the Al Samoud missile must be investigated thoroughly, particularly focusing on any connections to an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.

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