As With North Korea, U.S. Was Worried About Nuclear Weapons in Iraq

Newsweek published this story under the headline “Public Enemy No. 1” on April 9, 1990. Newsweek is republishing the story.

He calls himself a Knight of the Arab Nation. His detractors call him a bloodthirsty tyrant—the Butcher of Baghdad. Saddam Hussein rules Iraq with an iron hand inside a steel glove, backed by a million-man Army and a legion of informers, assassins and torturers. Saddam, as he is known throughout the Middle East, is utterly ruthless in the pursuit of glory for himself and his country. He has not hesitated to use poison gas on enemies both foreign and domestic. He is building an arsenal of ballistic missiles that could enable him to strike at his many foes in the Middle East, including Israel and Iran. And last week his minions were caught in the act of buying electronic components that have one most likely use: to detonate nuclear bombs.

Saddam’s purchasing agents were entrapped in a sting operation run by U.S. and British undercover investigators. Charges brought in both countries accused the Iraqis of trying to buy illegally electronic capacitors from a California manufacturer, which promptly informed U.S. authorities. Iraq denied that it was building a bomb, and Saddam brushed off the embarrassment of being caught so publicly. He claimed that “enemies of the Arabs” were trying to hinder Baghdad’s “march of progress” by blocking high-tech exports to Iraq. In fact, the alleged capacitor purchase was a chicken-feed deal: a $10,490 item on an Iraqi military shopping list that has run into the billions in recent years.

After surviving a decade-long war with Iran, Saddam has emerged as the most powerful man in the Middle East—and potentially far more troublesome that Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi, Washington’s favorite bugbear. His regime’s gruesome human-rights abuses, as well as his growing supply of deadly weapons and his evident willingness to use them,…

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