Documents Indicate A.Q. Khan Offered Nuclear Weapons Designs to Iraq in 1990: Did he Approach other Countries?

February 4, 2004

Weapon Program: 

  • Nuclear


David Albright and Corey Hinderstein


Institute for Science and International Security

The following discusses a set of documents obtained by United Nations (UN) inspectors in Iraq in 1995 that may indicate an effort by Abdul Qadeer Khan shortly before the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf War to sell Iraq nuclear weapon design drawings and gas centrifuge design information, facilitate the procurement of the equipment required to build these items, and provide on-going technological assistance. Combined with recent information about Khan and his associates' assistance to gas centrifuge programs in Iran, Libya, and North Korea, these documents raise the highly disturbing possibility that Khan may have also sold these and perhaps other countries nuclear weapon designs. Inevitably, these concerns also raise questions about whether Pakistani scientists transferred nuclear weapon designs to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.

Pakistani government investigations are reported to have obtained a statement from Abdul Qadeer Khan, the father of Pakistan's gas centrifuge program who was recently removed from his post as advisor to Pakistan's Prime Minister, acknowledging that he provided nuclear technology, components, and equipment to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. So far, the revelations about Khan's activities have focused on the transfer of gas centrifuge designs and components and the wherewithal to make centrifuges. However, a troubling development is the likelihood that Khan and his associates have also transferred nuclear weapon designs to these countries. Libya is reported to have told investigators from the US government and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it had acquired nuclear weapon design information. The source was probably Pakistanis, according to a person close to the Libyan investigation.

The Washington Post reported on January 27, 2004 that Khan's middlemen allegedly also offered the Pakistani scientists' services to Syria and Iraq. However, these offers were not accepted, the Post added.

This revelation about Iraq, if true, could shed light on unresolved questions about the authenticity of a set of documents found at the farm of Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, after his 1995 defection. One of the documents, a one-page memo from the Iraqi intelligence service (Mukhabarat), dated October 6, 1990 and addressed to a contact person in Iraq's main nuclear weapons program (codenamed PC-3), summarizes a meeting between members of the Mukhabarat and an intermediary, believed to have used the name "Malik," who said he represented A.Q. Khan. The meeting took place in the offices of the Technical Consultation Corporation (TCC) - a procurement organization of the Mukhabarat. A translation of this original memo can be found here (will open in new window in .pdf format).

This memo states that the intermediary approached the Mukhabarat with the following offer: Khan was prepared to give Iraq project designs for a nuclear weapon and to provide assistance in enriching uranium and manufacturing a nuclear weapon. He would also ensure any requirements or materials from Western European countries through a company Khan owned in Dubai. He requested a preliminary technical meeting to discuss the documents that he was willing to sell. However, the memo notes that a meeting with Khan directly was not possible at that time, given the tense international atmosphere resulting from Iraq's continued occupation of Kuwait and the impending attack by Coalition forces. An alternative of setting up a meeting in Greece with an intermediary, who had good relations with the Iraqi intelligence agents, was mentioned as a possibility. Iraqi intelligence officials said in the memo that they believed the motive was money.

Other Documents

A related document, which appears to be a list of items discussed at the meeting, indicates that the "up-front" cost of this assistance would be $5 million. In addition, a ten percent commission would be payable on all material procured through the offer.

Another document, PC-3's response to the Mukhabarat office, shows PC-3 to be dubious about the offer and concerned that it could be a sting operation. Nonetheless PC-3 advised the Mukhabarat to try to obtain a sample of what was being offered. However, in post-1995 discussions, former leaders of the PC-3 program repeatedly told inspectors that no such samples were ever received. Given that the offer occurred just three months before the start of the Persian Gulf War, this might have resulted from lack of time rather than lack of mutual intent.

IAEA Reporting

In its reporting to the Security Council in the late 1990s, the IAEA recorded its concern about this matter, not only with respect to its potential direct effect on Iraq's endeavors to acquire nuclear weapons but also in the global arena of nuclear weapons proliferation. The IAEA invested significant effort in attempting to resolve this matter both in its interactions with Iraq and with Pakistani officials. When approached about this matter by the media in the late 1990s, the Pakistani government and Khan vehemently denied making any such offer. When in December 1998 the IAEA inspectors departed from Iraq, the matter remained one of a small number of outstanding questions and concerns. It has not yet been resolved.


Although the IAEA investigation in the 1990s was inconclusive in its effort to confirm the authenticity of this offer, these documents provide additional indicators that Pakistani scientists may have offered assistance to a number of countries not only in uranium enrichment but also in nuclear weapon design and fabrication. The possibility that Pakistanis offered assistance in designing and building nuclear weapons to many countries, including Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and Syria, is an extremely disturbing new development. This possibility must be investigated thoroughly.