In the news: Jaffar Dhai Jaffar

September 27, 2002

It is the ultimate dilemma a scientist could face: should he allow his expertise to be used to develop weapons of mass destruction?

As a promising postdoctoral student at Imperial College, London, Jaffar Dhai Jaffar could hardly have imagined he would come to wrestle with the same nightmare as Robert Oppenheimer and Werner Heisenberg.

Three decades on, Dr Jaffar is acknowledged as one of Saddam Hussein's presidential advisers and is thought by some analysts to be leading Iraq's clandestine nuclear programme. With Tony Blair's warning that Saddam "continues in his efforts to develop nuclear weapons", the father of Iraq's bomb carries a great weight on his shoulders.

Dr Jaffar came to the UK to study physics at Birmingham University before moving to Imperial as a postdoctoral fellow in 1971. He then spent time at Cern, the European organisation for nuclear research, in Switzerland. In 1974, he returned to Iraq.

How he came to be involved in Iraq's nuclear programme is not known. A former colleague, Khidhir Hamza, is quoted as insisting that Dr Jaffar was turned to the task of producing weapons only after he had been tortured and endured 20 months in prison.

But by 1981, Dr Jaffar was an influential figure. After Israeli bombers destroyed an Iraqi reactor, it is said that he played a key role in continuing the work underground.

Before and after the Gulf war of 1991, Dr Jaffar led the secret nuclear-bomb effort codenamed Petrochemical 3, which at its height employed 7,000 scientists and engineers with a budget in excess of $7 billion (£4.5 billion).

Dr Jaffar then became a familiar figure to UN weapons inspectors as they set about dismantling his project and supposedly ending the threat of an Iraqi bomb.

This week, the British government's assessment of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction noted that efforts were still being made to obtain weapons-grade uranium.

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