Country Profiles: Iraq

Iraq flagNPT: 1969
CTBT: not signed
First Test: none
First Hydrogen Bomb: none

Current number of nuclear warheads: 0

Last Updated: 12/10/10

Although Iraq ratified the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1969, the country’s leadership began developing a nuclear program during the early 1970s. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein believed that acquiring the means to credibly threaten Israel’s security would provide him with a position of leadership in the Arab world.

In 1976, Iraq purchased a nuclear reactor from France that ran on weapons-grade uranium fuel. Evidence exists that Iraqi leaders planned to reprocess the spent fuel from the Osirak reactor to produce plutonium for weapons purposes, but the reactor was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike shortly before it was scheduled to go into operation in 1981.

Iraqi leaders continued, however, with their pursuit of nuclear weapons throughout the 1980s, taking the program underground. Moreover, the war with Iran in the 1980s gave further impetus to Iraq’s pursuit of WMD, and the country built up an impressive arsenal of chemical and biological weapons as well as missiles.

Iraq’s nuclear program focused on building an implosion-type device and was linked to a ballistic missile project. Iraq’s leadership invested heavily in this program, and although progress was slow, it is believed that by the eve of the Gulf war in 1991, Iraq was very close to possessing a nuclear device.

After the US-led coalition expelled Iraq forces from Kuwait, the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) was set up to inspect Iraqi weapons facilities. Subsequent inspections by UNSCOM as well as by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) encountered various difficulties and a lack of cooperation by the Iraqi government. Ultimately, after filing a report to the Secretary General detailing Baghdad’s noncompliance, all UNSCOM weapons inspectors were withdrawn in 1998. When UN inspectors returned four years later they reported that there was no indication that Iraq possessed nuclear weapons or an active program. The leader of UNMOVIC—the UN inspections team that replaced UNSCOM—and the head of the IAEA reported that in order to confirm the termination of Iraq’s WMD programs, more inspections and time would be required.

Nevertheless, leaders from the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, continued to assert that Iraq continued to be a threat to international peace and security. Further, they alleged the existence of links between the Iraqi regime and terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda, and intelligence indicating the Iraqi regime was seeking to acquire aluminum tubes that could be used for uranium enrichment. UNMOVIC and the IAEA left Iraq in 2003 prior to the invasion by the United States and the “Coalition of the Willing.”

Following the invasion, the Iraq Survey Group, a coalition fact finding mission, concluded that Iraq had ended its nuclear, chemical, and biological programs in 1991 and had no active programs at the time of the invasion but that there was evidence suggesting the regime may have intended to restart one or more banned weapons programs as soon as multilateral sanctions against it were lifted.

Albright, David, and Khidhir Hamza. “Iraq’s Reconstitution of Its Nuclear Weapons Program.” Institute for Science and International Security. Oct. 1998. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <>.

Bahgat, Gawdat. “A Preliminary Assessment of Saddam Hussein’s Legacy.” SAIS Review of International Affairs 25.2 (Summer-Fall 2005): 93-103. Project MUSE. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

“Iraq Survey Group Final Report.” 30 Sept. 2004. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <>.

“Iraq’s Nuclear Weapon Program.” Iraq Watch. Aug. 2006. Web. 12 Nov. 2010. <>.

Kay, David A. “Denial and Deception Practices of WMD Proliferators: Iraq and Beyond.” Washington Quarterly 18.I (January 1994): 85. Print.

– Daniel Brunn