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Iraq Could be Months Away from Nuclear Bomb, say Experts

London-based defense analysts say if Iraq could acquire the necessary radioactive material from abroad, it could build a nuclear bomb within months. Correspondent Michael Drudge reports the findings were published by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The 75-page report says Iraq still possesses a significant stockpile of chemical and biological weapons, and a small ballistic missile arsenal left over from the 1991 Gulf War.

The director of the London-based institute, John Chipman, said Iraq does not have enough radioactive material yet to build a nuclear bomb. "It could, however, assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained," said Mr. Chipman, "and it could divert domestic civil use radioisotopes or seek to obtain foreign material for a crude radiological device."

The editor of the report, Gary Samore, said Iraq has been trying to acquire radioactive materials, apparently without success. But he said Iraq has all the technology it needs to build the rest of the bomb. "I am not aware that they have been able to successfully buy or steal nuclear weapons-useable material on the black market," said Mr. Samore. "I personally think that it is a low probability, but I do not think that you could rule it out. If it were to happen, it could very quickly change the balance of power."

The report says Iraq probably still possesses thousands of liters of anthrax and a few hundred tons of mustard gas, which can cause blindness and burns. It says Iraq probably has retained about a dozen 650-kilometer-range missiles, which could hit most of the cities in the Middle East.

The authors say Iraq's ability to produce weapons of mass destruction is weaker now that it was before Gulf War. But they say the development of those weapons remains a core objective of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The report makes no recommendation on whether military action should be used to topple the Iraqi leader, or force him to readmit U-N weapons inspectors who left in 1998.

The report was issued a day before Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks about the Iraq crisis at Britain's annual labor union conference.

Mr. Blair has been urging a tough international response in the showdown with Iraq. The British government is preparing its own dossier on Iraq's weapons program, which is due out in a few weeks.