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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Report: Iraq Could Build Nukes

LONDON -- Iraq could assemble a nuclear weapon within months if it obtained radioactive material, and developing weapons of mass destruction remains one of its top priorities, a leading think tank warned Monday.

The report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies said Iraq retains substantial chemical and biological weapons and the capability to quickly produce more. It said the regime has hidden away some medium-range missiles, but much is unknown about its weapon programs.

"War, sanctions and inspections have reversed and retarded but not eliminated Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons and long-range missile capabilities," said the report. Evidence indicates that Iraq is trying to gain nuclear weapons, the report said. While Iraq does not appear close to producing radioactive material for a nuclear bomb, it may have other options, it said.

"There is a nuclear wild card. If, somehow, Iraq were able to acquire sufficient nuclear material from foreign sources, it could probably produce nuclear weapons on short order, probably in a matter of months," the report said.

Iraq retains significant biological and chemical arsenals with the means to quickly resume or increase production of such weapons, the report said. Its ability to deliver such weapons is limited, but they could pose a threat to any U.S. and allied forces in the event of a war, it said. Chemical weapons could disrupt logistical operations and threaten unprotected civilians "but are unlikely to cause mass casualties," it said.

The report, presented as an impartial and technical analysis, echoed similar warnings from various government and private analysts and did not appear to contain much new information. Producing weapons of mass destruction is a top goal of Saddam Hussein's regime, the report warned. Left unhindered, it "seems likely that the current Iraqi regime will eventually achieve its objectives," it said.

"There's a tremendous unknown," one of the authors, Gary Samore, said at a news conference.

Iraq has a small force of missiles capable of delivering a nuclear weapon despite international efforts to destroy such weapons, the report said. The force probably consists of 12 missiles with a range of about 650 kilometers, it said.

"Certainly we believe he has retained a small force of 650-kilometer range ballistic missiles. Those could hit Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, Iran, Turkey," IISS director John Chipman said.

But even if Iraq is able to assemble some form of nuclear weapon, it still may not have the technology to develop a nuclear missile warhead.

"I think it would take a little bit of time once he had got his fissile material and put together the physics package, so to speak, to be able to arm a warhead on a ballistic missile," Chipman said.

Iraq is trying to build gas centrifuge machines that could produce weapons grade nuclear material, but is still far from success, Chipman told BBC radio.

"We certainly confirm that it would be difficult for him in the absence of substantial foreign assistance or the lifting of sanctions soon to be able to develop his own fissile material," he said.

The United States has been calling for action to stop Iraq's efforts to build weapons of mass destruction, saying Baghdad poses a threat to U.S. and international interests. Britain has pledged strong support for Washington, but most of the United States' allies are hesitant, urging U.S. President George W. Bush to work through the United Nations for a political solution.

The report said its aim was to provide an impartial assessment to allow officials and the public to decide the extent of any threat posed by Iraq. It said attacking Iraq risks incurring Iraqi retaliation with weapons of mass destruction, but doing nothing risks allowing Baghdad to develop more weapons.