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Nuclear complicity.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has released a list of all machine tools used by Iraq in its nuclear-related sites. Alan George reports that the majority of them came from Britain and Germany.

PAUL HENDERSON, then managing director of the Iraqi-owned British machine tool company Matrix Churchill, was quite certain. He had personally seen all the machines supplied to Iraq and "none I have seen to date are producing munitions or military components."

He was speaking to the Financial Times on 9 September 1989 - shortly before the first detailed reports appeared of his company's contribution to Saddam Hussein's conventional weapons factories, and three years before the sensational trial in London in which the case against Henderson and two former colleagues - that they had violated British export controls - collapsed after Alan Clark, a former trade minister, admitted that he had encouraged machine tool exporters to disguise the purpose for which the Iraqis had bought their machines.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors monitoring Iraq's compliance with the Gulf war ceasefire, however, have established that Matrix Churchill's involvement in Iraq went beyond conventional weaponry. Whether the company knew it or not, the Iraqis installed its machines in factories making components for Saddam's atomic weapons programme. And Matrix Churchill's machines were far from being the only ones.

The Middle East has obtained a comprehensive IAEA list of every machine tool in every Iraqi nuclear-related site. In all, there are an astonishing 600 machines, categorised according to their potential significance to the nuclear programme. The great majority are classified as "General Purpose" or "Useful". Forty-seven machines, however, are designated as "Key". Of the "key" machines, no less than 13 were lathes for Matrix Churchill, which, the IAEA record, might have been used to manufacture end-caps for uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Ten were vertical flowforming machines supplied by a German firm, H und H Metalform, in which the Iraqi government had a 50% stake. They are thought to have been intended for the manufacture of rotors for enrichment centrifuges.

The other 24 machines were alllathes, seven of them from the Swiss firm Schaublin, six from Germany's Dorries, five from the German Scheiss company, four from Geneva-based SIP, one from the Swiss firm Dixi and one from Leitz, of Germany. Of the 47 key machines, 17 were installed at an industrial complex operated by the Nassr State Establishment at Taji, just north of Baghdad. A further eight were found at the Badr General Establishment, located about 20 kilometres south west of the Iraqi capital.

The IAEA records that all the machines were shipped to Iraq with export licences from the countries of origin. Under former licensing regimes, exporters were not held responsible for the uses to which their machinery was put in the destination country. Control regimes instituted since the Gulf crisis require companies to take serious steps to establish the end-use.

The IAEA list shows that West Germany was by far the most important machine tool supplier to Iraqi atomic weapons-related factories. Of the total of 600 machines, 242 came from Germany, and Germany accounted for 22 of the 47 key machines. In second place was Switzerland, with 134 of the total and 12 of the key machines. Although one third of the key machines came from Britain, it supplied only 75 of the total. Spain and Italy were lesser suppliers, with respective totals of 34 and 17. Of the Spanish machines, all but one came from a subsidiary of a German company.

Notably absent from the list were French companies. With the Paris government supplying Iraq with everything from fighter aircraft to communications systems, however, there is perhaps little ethical significance to French machine tool suppliers' lack of involvement in the nuclear programme.

In Britain, the Matrix Churchill "scandal" has caused much confusion. That the company formed part of Baghdad's semi-clandestine military procurement network and that it was supplying machines for Iraqi artillery ammunition plants had been well-documented in the second half of 1989 (including by The Middle East).

However morally repugnant the trade might appear, it did not violate British policy, which was to deny Iraq and Iran items which were lethal and/or which significantly enhanced their military capabilities. Machine tools self-evidently are not lethal. Furthermore, Iraq's capabilities were not significantly affected because if it had not manufactured the shell casings and other items itself, it would assuredly have imported them from France, the Soviet Union and other suppliers.

In 1989 - before Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait - opposition parties in Britain were simply not interested in Iraq's military build-up. The same was true of the British press, with one or two exceptions. Nothing emerged during the Matrix Churchill trial late last year which had not been in the public arena for several years. It is only a sensation now because the political opposition and the press pack have decided to make it so - somewhat late in the day.

Matrix Churchill's involvement in Iraq's nuclear programme is an entirely different matter. Whatever the British government's leanings towards Iraq, which was seen as a bulwark against fundamentalist Iran, there was never any intention, at any official level, to help Saddam get the bomb.

The first concrete sign that the company was crucial in Iraq's atomic weapons programme came in an IAEA report to the UN Security Council last May. This cited Iraqi officials as having said that small components for enrichment centrifuge prototypes had been manufactured in Britain by Matrix Churchill. The contract was code-named K-1000 and involved 34 separate items.

Henderson said that he had no "personal knowledge" of such components having been made by his company (which is now in liquidation) although he admitted that they "could have been made" without his knowledge. Taken together, the K-1000 contact and the contents of the IAEA machine tool list constitute a real scandal.
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Title Annotation:Current Affairs; International Atomic Energy Agency report
Author:George, Alan
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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