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The History of Saddam's Biological Weapons

Updated on April 24, 2017
Lloyd Busch profile image

Lloyd Busch is the author of "Passive Resistance", a book on non-violent action, and has been published in the "Journal of Theoretics".

Biological Weapons

Iraq's biological program began in the mid-1970's, this program was intended as an offensive weapons intent rather than defensive, many countries maintain biological programs for defensive purposes and research, Saddam's goal was to create biological weapons (BW)i. It is clear that Iraqi officials did not act spontaneously or autonomously in reaching the decision to acquire Biological weapons.

After Arab forces were resoundingly defeated by Israel in the six day war in 1967 and the Yom Kippur war in 1973 Iraq intensified its efforts to obtain WMD to counter Israels overwhelming military superiority as well as the risk posed by the Shia dominated Iran. Iraq also believed that both Israel and Iran were attempting to acquire WMD capability. It is clear that the initiative to proceed with a biological weapons program came from the highest levels of the Saddam regime as General Attar himself argued that the BW's program be reduced and the CW's program be expanded. Iraq signed the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention Treaty in 1972 which prohibited the development and production of biological weapons, Iraq still pursued these weapons in contradiction and violation of the treaty.

Iraq's biological weapons program was much smaller and slower than their chemical weapons program and their missile programs. The BW program cost an estimated tens of millions of dollars while the chemical and missile programs cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The BW program was the last program of WMD sought by Saddam but was one of its more clandestine programs. Iraqi interest, according to their own declarations, began in 1974 when Iraq created the Al Hazen Ibn Haitham Institute to conduct research in the field, among other fields, in microorganisms. The program while attached to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, to appear legitimate, but was affiliated with the State Security Apparatus along with State Security Apparatus agents overseeing the operations of the institute.



Opening Pandora's Box

The effort began with small-scale research programs until the production of a research and development facility was authorized to be built at al-Salman, or Salman Pak, located 35km south of Baghdad. The biological weapons program began to stagnate and the chemical warfare program was given priority but with the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War the BW program was revived.

At the end of 1984 the activities as Salman Pak included research on wheat smut with the aim to find both means of protection against this blight and also to investigate the use of this agent as a possible weapon against enemy food crops and as an economic weapon. This research on wheat smut included two small-scale experiments in 1985 and in 1986. It was also possible that research on other food pathogens was worked on in the 1980's, such as clostridium botulinum, ricin, and other plant toxins. Iraq had found a method to cause 80% infection rate on wheat smut.

Dr. Rihab Taha was appointed to a BW research team at al-Muthanna in 1985 to advance and develop the program. Simultaneously the Salman Pak site was being developed into a secure biological warfare research facility. In three months Dr. Taha concluded that two agents, anthrax and botulinum toxin, showed the best potential and should be further researched. General Attar then concluded in a one page report to the Minister of Defense that a biological weapons program could “succeed in five years to do something” and during an interview with the Iraq Survey Group (ISG) Dr. Taha stated that a five-year plan was drawn up in 1986.

Most of the major work of the BW program was developed at Salman Pak from researching the various biological agents to testing the agents on animal subjects, as well as filling some munitions for field tests. Dr. Taha continued to work at al-Muthanna until 1987 when the operation was moved to Salman Pak while under the control of the Director of General Intelligence. A production facility was later constructed at al-Hakam, referred to as project 324. Dr. Taha was declared in charge of the BW program with Professor Hindawi as a consultant. Work on the agent clostridium perfringens was conducted as Salman Pak in 1988 to 1989 including isolation, antibiotic resistance, and pathogenesis. Similar research was carried out on anthrax, and botulism among others.

Weapons Against Man & Animal

The Foot and Mouth Disease Vaccine plant in Al Dora was built by a foreign contractor and handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Agriculture as a turnkey facility in 1982. The plant was designed to produce vaccines from several strains of foot and mouth disease (FMD). Strangely though ownership of the facility was transferred, free of charge, form the Ministry of Agriculture to the MIC in 1990.

General Husayn Kamil ordered, in August 1990, “to increase the production capacity of biological agents”. To aid in this the FMD vaccine facility in Al Dora was used in this quest of BW. The production of FMD vaccines soon ceased as demand for the production of biological weapons greatly increased. Iraq admits to using this equipment and to modifying the equipment for researching and producing biological weapons such as Clostridium botulinum toxin. Production topped at 5,000 liters of concentrated toxin until January 1991 when production stopped.

After achieving excellent results in the research of botulism and anthrax agents around the end of 1987 to early 1988 Husayn Kamil ordered that production requirements be established. Iraq began looking for a suitable large-scale production facility. Al-Salman was deemed unsuitable due to its close proximity to Baghdad, and the Al-Taji site was required by the Ministry of Oil. Iraqi officials decided on the construction of the Al-Hakam factory in March 1988 under the project name 324 with construction beginning later that year. The facility consisted of buildings for use in production, research and development, animal housing, and the fermenter buildings with construction ending in 1989 with the necessary equipment arriving around the same time. Iraq began pilot-scale production of the botulinum toxin at Al Taji while the site Al Hakam was under construction.

Al Hakam, according to Iraq, was the main facility for biological warfare agent production when the site became operational in 1989 and continued until 1991, though several other sites were used for increased production in 1990 and 1991.According to the accepted proposals sent to the Senior Deputy for Military Industrialization Affairs in October 1988 there were also suggestions for research into genetic engineering, viruses, ricettsia, as well as research into insect and rodent carriers.

Production of botulinum toxin type A (Agent A) reportedly begun in January 1989 at the Al-Taji site. Several fermentors and tanks were transferred from Al-Kindi for use in the production of botulinum in 1989. Between 1989 and 1990 Iraq declared that they had produced 14,000 liters of concentrated toxin. In May 1990 Iraq began producing Bacillus anthracis spores (Agent B) with the same fermenting equipment, and in August of that year production of BW, including bacillus anthracis spores, was ordered to be increased. Then in August 1990 the production lines from Al Kindi which produced botulinum toxin was dedicated to the production of Agent B. The net production totaled 8,500 liters of concentrated agent B at the Al Hakam Factory.



The Suppliers

In 1988 the Al-Rasheed Military Hospital in Baghdad supplied the bacteria which causes gas gangrene which was used in Iraq's BW program. Research on this bacteria started at Salman Pak in April of 1988, the researchers were experienced with this bacteria from their time at the hospital. In November of 1990 the Iraqi Health Service Laboratory supplied Rotavirus to Al-Manal, this virus was propagated but failed tests of pathogenesis when used in small animals.

The same month the Ibn Haitham Hospital supplied the Enterovirus for use in Iraq's Biological weapons program. The virus was isolated, adapted, and propagated though pathogenesis proved unsuccessful. The Iraqi Veterinary Central Diagnosis Laboratory, in 1990, supplied camelpox to Al-Manal. Eggs were eventually inoculated to propagate the virus, though Iraq failed in its attempt to obtain a 5,000 egg incubator intended for the production of the virus.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control supplied Iraq with biological samples up until 1989, including anthrax, botulism, West Nile virus, Brucella melitensis, and clostridiumii. The agents included at least 14 samples with biological warfare potential. On May 25th 1994, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee released a report which stated that pathogenic, toxicological, and other biological research materials were exported to Iraq. It added; “These exported biological materials were not attenuated or weakened and were capable of reproduction”. The report also detailed 70 shipments, including anthrax bacillus, from the United States to Iraqi government agencies, concluding that these microorganisms exported by the United States were identical to those the UN inspectors found and recovered from the Iraqi biological warfare program”. iii iv

The nonprofit organization ATCC sent 70 shipments of deadly germs to Iraq between 1985 to 1989. These germs included “E. coli bacteria, salmonella bacteria, bacillus megaterium (which causes meningitis), brucella abortus (which causes influenza), brucella melitensis (a bacteria that attacks major organs), botulism, clostridium perfringens (which causes lung failure), clostridium tetani (which causes muscle rigidity), and Francisella tularensis (which causes tularemia)”.v

Class III cabinets at the U.S. Biological Warfare Laboratories, Camp Detrick, Maryland (Photo, 1940s)


Smallpox To Ebola

In 1987 Dr. Tariq Al-Zubaidy, working at the Technical Medical Institute, made a report on aerosol generation, originally intended for medical purposes, though it briefly discussed a potential method for dissemination of biological weapons from aircraft. In 1988 research was ongoing at Salman Pak in the development of a device, named the Zubaidy device, to aerosolize biological weapons including field tests of an aerosol generator. Iraq also conducted experiments with crop dusting helicopters to disseminate biological weapons.

In may of 1990 the Iraqi Air Force certified the R-400 aerial bomb as suitable for delivery of chemical and biological weapons after which Iraq ordered the production 200 R-400 bombs. Iraq also ordered 25 Al-Hussein missiles to be weaponized with biological weapons. Filling of these bombs and the filling of the missile warheads began in December 1990. These warheads and bombs were filled with anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin. Although Iraq admits equipping 50 missiles with chemical weapons, but under project 144, Iraq had also ordered 25 additional warheads. In all 75 specially designed warheads were made for use with chemical weapons.

In 1988 production, weaponization, and eventually munitions filling was conducted in conjunction with the Muthanna State Establishment. During the middle of 1990 civilian facilities were seized and converted for the use in production and research of biological agents.

Some of these facilities included; vi

  • The al-Dawrah Foot and Mouth Vaccine Institute which produced botulinum toxin and conducted virus research. There is some intelligence to suggest that work was also conducted on anthrax.

  • The al-Fudaliyah Agriculture and Water Research Center where Iraq admitted it undertook aflatoxin production and genetic engineering.

  • The Amariyah Sera and Vaccine Institute which was used for the storage of biological agent seed stocks and was involved in genetic engineering.

By the time of the First Gulf War Iraq was producing huge quantities of chemical and biological agents. Iraq admitted to UNSCOM that they had deployed free-fall bombs filled with anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin during 1990 to 1991. The Iraqi declarations following the First Gulf War Iraq had admitted to producing at least; 19,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 8,500 liters of anthrax, 2,200 liters of aflatoxin and were working on a number of other agents.

German companies supplied incubators and culture media to Iraqi scientists. French supplied biological strains of dual-use material also helped to progress Iraq's BW program. German firms supplied equipment needed to manufacture botulin toxin and mycotoxin for use in its germ warfare program.

The camalpox virus, which was also researched, happens to be an ineffective biological weapon and was most likely intended as a training and as a simulate for later research into the dangerous smallpox virus which Iraq had intended to to develop into a more highly contagious and lethal weapon. When General Husayn Kamil defected to Jordan he reported to the UNSCOM in 1995 that the very dangerous and deadly Ebola virus was produced at the Al Dora facility. Ebola has no cure and no vaccine and has a high mortality rate.

After the Gulf War ended in 1991 Iraq agreed to cooperate and abide by the UN Security Council resolution 687 which authorized UNSCOM and the IAEA to ensure the destruction of Iraq's WMD capabilities and infrastructure.

Does biological weapons programs in other countries concern you?

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iNuclear Threat Initiative,

iiAssociated Press, October 1, 2002.



v Made In the USA, Part III: US Company Listings A-M, By Jim Crogan, 2003,

viIraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, The Assessment of the British Government.

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© 2016 Lloyd Busch

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