In February 2001, the Sunday Times ran the article Was this Saddam’s Bomb by Gwynne Roberts. I couldn't find the original but it is also on Globalsecurity.org .
I only recently read this article and found it interesting but very hard to believe. One of the newly released documents CMPC-2003-015757 contains the Roberts article in English. This is the first time I have seen it. I did some research and found no serious academic or professional rebuttals other than people who also found it hard to believe. However, it seems that supporting evidence has been right in front of us for a few weeks now.
The article describes a conversation with a man called “Leone” who claimed to be a nuclear scientist working in Iraq. He approached Gwynne with tales of hidden nuclear programs, hidden nuclear weapons and most surprisingly a claim of a successful nuclear test performed in the Rezzaza Lake area of southern Iraq in 1989.
Leone claimed that the test was conducted underground in a massive tunnel. He said the tunnel required workers who were sacrificed for the secrecy of the project.
The tunnel and the entrance were huge and the manpower needed to block it up massive. Leone had told me that thousands of political prisoners worked on the tunnel after a presidential amnesty.
"They were well fed and lived in comfortable caravans. In return, they worked hard. But none of them came out of it alive," he said. "Many were contaminated with radioactive waste. Friends working for Iraqi security who were guarding them said they were buried in caves nearby. The Iraqi regime hoped the secret of the Rezzaza lake test would die with them.
"Hussein Kamel gave the order to kill these people . . . I was disgusted by it and it's one of the major reasons I fled."
This grotesque story was corroborated by Imad. He said he was aware that political prisoners who worked on the Rezzaza tunnel were massacred by Iraqi security guards to conceal an unspecified secret military project. He did not know this was the nuclear test site.
I am not sure how these workers would have been contaminated if this test occurred as stated by Leone. But I don’t think it is beyond the bounds of reason that even though the tunnel was plugged deep inside, radiation could have penetrated the 50 meter concrete plug Leone described. Then when the workers went down into the tunnel to completely fill it in they were exposed to radiation.
It also seems like the deaths of hundreds of prisoners caused by radiation would certainly be hard to conceal, even in Iraq. But putting this story together with a newly released document does present an intriguing clue.
A few weeks ago a man named Joseph or screen name “Jveritas” started putting original translations on the Free Republic website. One of them was interesting but did not receive a lot of attention: ISGQ-2004-00224003
In this Iraqi document ISGQ 2004-00224003 dated February 7 2001, there was a discussion in upper echelon of the Iraqi intelligence about mass graves in Southern Iraq and how to shift the blame to the Coalition forces and make it look like these mass graves as the results massacres committed by the Coalition forces back in 1991 during Desert Storm Operation.
Beginning of the Partial Translation
The Republic of Iraq
The Intelligence Apparatus
In the Name of God the Merciful the Most Compassionate
To the respectful Mr. Director of the Fourth Directory
Your letter secret and immediate numbered B 264 on 2/4/2001
1. No information is available to us about the Mass Graves in the Southern Region.
2.We see to achieve the observation the following matters:
A. Inspect the graves to confirm the existence of Nuclear Radiations.
B. Were they buried alive or their death was by suffocation.
C. Are they military personnel or civilians.
D. Are there tombstones that carry the names of the martyrs
E. Identify accurate marks and proofs of the graves and the possibility to reach it quickly and identify it.
3. We do not agree that the declaration about it through a direct Iraqi media in the first stage at least and not to cause public and party reaction so that the subject will take as a priority an international interest, and we should work on the following direction during this stage:
A. Leak the news through reliable sources.. News agencies or Satellite stations.. and that there is confusion, and indications from the members of the Coalition forces about the existence of mass graves civilians and military personnel in the South of Iraq.
B. The attempt to search for soldiers from the Coalition forces in a serious way to mention these truth through the agencies.
This document is describing a mass grave filled with people who are suspected of suffering radiation exposure. The IIS intends to argue the bodies have been there since 1991.
So let’s put this in context. Leone tells a story in 1998 about a nuclear test in 1989. In February of 2001, the IIS is talking about a mass grave site that must have been there for many years. Why are they talking about it now (2001)? The U.N. was not in Iraq at that time. And it happens to be the same month that Gwynne Roberts takes this story public. Did the IIS find out about the article and begin planning the media manipulation to cover up a nuclear test? Or, this article may not have been the first time Roberts wrote about the graves. Perhaps there was an earlier work I couldn’t find and that’s why the IIS was concerned. Either way, the IIS seems to be reacting to his story. But it seems like the IIS is exploring ways to leak the news of the radioactive graves so it can be managed before the claim is made by another source, in other words, spin control.
In my research I could find no other triggering event for this discussion by the IIS like an actual discovery of mass graves by an external source.
The IIS seems to expect radiation to be present when they wrote in this memo “confirm” the presence of radiation.
The location matches, both describe the graves in Southern Iraq.
So the IIS document matches the story of Leone in location, radiation exposure, mass graves, and close enough for the timing as far as we can infer from the document.
And one more thing. Leone described a Group Four responsible for nuclear testing:
"They thought they had stopped the Iraqis from building the bomb, but they overlooked the military organization codenamed Group Four. This department is a comprehensive section that was involved in assembling the bomb from the beginning to the end. It was also involved in developing launching systems, missile programmes, preparing uranium, purchasing it on the black market, smuggling it back into Iraq."
Leone told me that Group Four successfully developed a gun-type device at the nuclear weaponisation centre at al-Atheer. Unscom, the UN inspectorate, was aware that the Iraqis were working on an implosion-type nuclear device there, but knew nothing about Group Four. All evidence of its existence had been removed before they arrived in Iraq, Leone said.
Now look at the IIS memo again. It is addressed to "the respectful Mr. Director of the Fourth Directory".
There is a Directorate 4 described on the FAS website :
Political Bureau The Political Bureau is probably the most important branch of the Mukhabarat. It includes a number of Directorates.
Directorate 4. Secret Service
The Secret Service Directorate is located inside the headquarters complex of the Mukhabarat. Its activities take place both in Iraq and abroad, with agents of D4 infiltrated into Iraqi Government departments, the Baath Party, associations, unions and organisations, Iraqi embassies and the opposition. In addition, the Secret Service receives intelligence from the Al Hadi Project, responsible for SIGINT. The Directorate includes a number of offices specialising in the collection against a specific country or region, including offices for Southern Asia, Turkey, Iran, America (North and South), Europe, Arab states, Africa and the former Soviet Union. D4 works in co-ordination with D3, D5, D9, D12, D14, D18. The current Director of D4 is Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al Qurtan, and the Assistant Director of D4 is Brig. Mohammed Yasin Al Shammari, from Mosul.
So this document could be the IIS writing the Secret Service organization that would be concerned with the article, or it could be to the secret nuclear development group Leone describes or perhaps they are one and the same.
The IIS document can be viewed in two ways. Some might read it and think it is also an honest response to a potential international incident and how to deal with the rumor. I do not agree with that view. The document seems to confirm that the IIS believes the graves are there:
1. No information is available to us about the Mass Graves in the Southern Region.
One would expect that if the IIS knew the story to be false, they would quantify the statement with terms like "alleged" or "unlikely". It seems like they know the graves are there already. They might not know the exact location, but they know they exist in the area. Another possibility is that this statement means "no more information about the article concerning the mass graves is available". That would actually fit well with the rest of the document since the rest of the document sure seems to indicate the graves are known to be there.
Now look at the "observations". None of those actually say "confirm the graves exist" or something similar. If they weren't sure they existed or believed they didn't exist, that should be the first point.
And it seems kind of like putting the cart before the horse to say how the story should be leaked if they haven't confirmed the graves are there. And if they are not there, why leak the story at all? Just say it is not true. The IIS response seems like they expect graves to be found.
The statement "The attempt to search for soldiers from the Coalition forces in a serious way to mention these truth through the agencies" is a little hard to comprehend in translation. Unless you look at the document from this perspective:
The Secret Service has learned this mass grave is about to be reported. They send a request for information to the IIS to find out what is to be said in the article specific to the graves. The IIS can't find out what the article will say specifically. They come up with a cover story just in case. The mass grave is not a secret grave, but it is a known mass grave from the Gulf War. They want to ensure the bodies are a mix of civilians and military. If the atrocity was committed by the U.S. during war, there would be military killed in the fighting. If they died of suffocation, then they have a reasonable alternative to radiation exposure. If the grave site gets marked with tombstones, then it is not a secret grave but a known cemetary of martyrs of the Gulf War.
In short, this document appears to be a plan to turn a secret mass grave into a known cemetary of martyrs and provide all the necessary details to make that story work. Remove the mystery, remove the interest, old news. I believe it is a cover up, not an investigation. The last line indicates how the grave site will be revealed. Iraq will take the reporters out in a generous attempt to show compassion for its enemy the U.S. by searching for missing coalition soldiers (Spiker) and stumble upon this grave. Then when the story comes out about the secret graves, the reporters can say "no, we have seen the graves and it is not a secret, it is a cemetary from the war". It is camouflage.
Unless this document can be shown as inauthentic it may be the first physical evidence to back up Leone’s story and Gwynne Roberts' article other than the satellite images in the article.