I was all set to write up a whole piece about how CNN got suckered into overplaying this story about the nuclear weapons scientist — Mahdi Obeidi — who had the parts and documents hidden under a rose bush in his back yard. But sometimes brevity and concision matter most.
Look closely: What was buried were components for a uranium centrifuge and a sheaf of documents detailing how to construct, or rather reconstruct, a uranium enrichment program. These were from the pre-1991 program. The CNN story says that regime leaders ordered him to hide them in expectation of the day when the inspectors would leave and the nuclear program could be restarted. But the CNN story says the call never came — even though inspectors did in fact leave the country in 1998 and were absent for almost four years.
Former weapons inspector David Albright told CNN: “In a sense, the program was in hibernation. He was the key to the restart of this centrifuge program, and he never got the order. So in that sense it doesn’t show at all that Iraq had a nuclear program. And Obeidi told me that he never worked on a nuclear program after 1991.”
We knew the Iraqis had a pre-1991 nuclear weapons program. We knew there were probably parts from it hidden around the country in various stages of preservation or disrepair. If anything this finding seems to present some positive evidence that no effort to reconstitute the program was ever made — though one would definitely want a lot more evidence to arrive at any conclusive judgment.
This is an important story, but as far as the bottom line on the big question of the state of Iraq’s WMD programs in early 2003 it really changes nothing.