Iraqi weapons experts elude capture
April 17, 2003
She is called "Dr. Germ," and he is known as the "Missile Man."
After meeting at a New York seminar hosted by U.N. weapons inspectors in the early 1990s, Dr. Rihab Taha and Amer Rashid became the power couple of Iraq's clandestine weapons program.
On Wednesday, U.S. Special Forces backed by about 40 Marines raided their Baghdad home but found no trace of Rashid, who ran Iraq's missile programs, or his wife, who headed the country's secret biological laboratory. Instead, three unidentified men came out with their hands up as troops removed several boxes of documents.
Taha, a microbiologist who studied at the University of East Anglia in Britain, was in charge of the Iraqi facility that allegedly weaponized anthrax, botulinum toxin and aflotoxin. Rashid, a former Iraqi army general, was Saddam Hussein's point-man on weapons delivery systems and eventually rose to the prestigious post of oil minister.
"We brought them both to New York in the early '90s for a weeklong seminar, and then they got married sometime afterward," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. weapons inspection team. Inspectors had already dubbed her "Dr. Germ" by then, and "he was the missile man," Buchanan said.
Capturing the two would be a boon for U.S. disarmament specialists, eager to find any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons after the Bush administration asserted that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.
"They have detailed knowledge of Iraq's weapons," said Terry Taylor, a former U.N. inspector now with the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Washington. "She is particularly important in the biological program, and he would have a wider oversight of data and information on all the weapons and any concealment plans.
"Plus, he would have been involved in most of the critical leadership decisions up until December," Taylor said.
Rashid was retired at the end of last year because he had reached the age of 65, Hussein's news agency had reported. But there were rumors that troubles at home had cost him his job. The couple had a daughter, born in 1996.
Rashid was on one of the playing cards issued by the Pentagon to help U.S. troops identify the most wanted Iraqis. In the deck of cards, he rated the six of spades -- eight places below Hussein. Taha was not on the list.
Current and former inspectors who interviewed her in the mid 1990s described her as difficult and dour. The Iraqis presented her as the head of the biological program, but inspectors suspect she may have been a front for someone more senior. She met with U.N. teams recently on technical issues, but they never went to her home.
Rashid was considered an important insider who continued to advise Hussein on weapons and inspections even after taking up his post at the ministry of oil.
Chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said Wednesday that Taha and Rashid would be among "the most interesting persons" for the Americans to question. Blix's teams pulled out of Iraq shortly before the war began, after 31/2 months' work.
The Bush administration, which bitterly disagreed with Blix over whether Iraq has chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, has not invited U.N. inspectors to take part in a continuing U.S.-led hunt for weapons. The U.N. Security Council's cease-fire resolution after the Gulf War included stringent demands for the destruction of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and payment of war damages to Kuwait.
Hussein's alleged arsenal was cited by coalition leaders as one of the main reasons for going to war against Iraq. No such weapons have been found yet, but two key figures are being questioned: Jaffar al-Jaffer, a physicist and the father of Iraq's nuclear weapons program, and Lt. Gen. Amer al-Saadi, Hussein's point man on chemical and biological programs.
Both surrendered in recent days and could provide a wealth of information on Iraq's chemical, biological, nuclear and long-range missile efforts.
Eyes on Iraq
Reports from a region in conflict
[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Iraq: Ruined nation awaits light, water, food
Iraq: Museum looting may have been planned
Iraq: Iraqi weapons experts elude capture
Iraq: Terror alert relaxed as fighting diminishes
Iraq: Selfless final act saved his troops
Presidential adviser launches online chats
Nation in brief: Tests focus on missing pregnant woman
Health in brief: Aging gene finding opens door to wider scope of research
World in brief: Sanctions on Cuba considered
U.S., North Korea plan talks in bid to end nuclear standoff
Fighting terror: Group cites erosion of rights
Fighting terror: Abbas arrest triggers legal debate