The United States is launching a program aimed at putting former Iraqi weapons scientists to work in peaceful civilian projects. The first phase of the program will run for two years and cost up to $20 million.
The new Iraq effort is based on the widely acclaimed Nunn-Lugar or Cooperative Threat-Reduction Program, which has given employment over the last decade to hundreds of scientists and others who worked on weapons of mass destruction in the former Soviet Union.
What will be called the Iraqi International Center for Science and Industry is to be opened in Baghdad by next February with $2 million in U.S. seed money.
Former Iraqi weapons scientists will initially be given stipends to take part in training programs and technical seminars that are to lead to civilian projects, including a desalinization pilot program.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the primary aim will be to give those who once worked on Saddam Hussein's weapons-of-mass destruction an opportunity to join in Iraq's reconstruction, rather than sell their services to terrorist groups or rogue states with weapons ambitions.
He said there is no firm evidence that some may have already gone abroad for such purposes, but that the potential for this is real. "We hear the stories and we know the potential. And we want do to something fairly early, and fairly quickly as this program is unveiled, to try to give these people an opportunity to contribute the future of Iraq," he said.
The spokesman said "hundreds" of Iraqis might be eligible.
He said the program is not political and is intended for those who had worked on, rather than those who had actually used or ordered the use of, weapons of mass destruction during the former regime.