Author:Venter, Al J.

The Iraqi germ warfare specialist, Dr Nassir al-Hindawi, who was arrested by Saddam's secret police shortly before he was about to flee to the West earlier this year, had been 'turned' by the Iraqi authorities several months before. A source in Washington told The Middle East that Hindawi had been forced to continue to cooperate with his Western contact as if nothing had happened.

A government spokesman in Baghdad said last April that the country's top biowarfare scientist and father of Saddam's clandestine biological warfare programme had been arrested after he was found in possession of "sensitive documents". He also had a forged foreign passport and "was about to flee to a 'rogue' state," the Iraqis said.

Curiously, Baghdad described his arrest as part of its effort "to prevent proliferation of weapons of mass destruction", a statement described by one senior UN official as non-sense. All indications are that, had Hindawi been able to get away, he would have headed for the United States. Apparently he would have made that move a long time ago but feared for the safety of his family who are under house arrest.

The Middle East has sat on the story for several months; it was asked not to use it earlier because of the sensitive nature of developments. With new disclosures about weapons of mass destruction having been uncovered by UNSCOM in early June and the fracas that followed the resignation of former weapons inspector, Major Scott Ritter, Hindawi's role has become history.

The Iraqi microbiologist's story reads like a spy thriller. Almost all Iraqis working on sensitive defence-related projects are required to live in government-sponsored high-security compounds. It is rare that all members of a family are allowed to leave the place at the same time, in part to prevent another mass defection such as that of Saddam's son-in-law, General Kamel Hussein, who fled to Amman in 1995. It was he who exposed secrets of Iraq's clandestine nuclear and biological warfare programmes. He paid for that with his life.

A source in Washington has disclosed that -- unbeknown to Western sources -- Dr Hindawi had been arrested several months ago. He was interrogated and then released as if nothing had happened. On the threat of death, he had been forced to continue cooperating with his foreign contact. After that, the source said, he was able provide very little of value to those monitoring Iraq's biological warfare programme. It was this that initially...

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