A leading figure in Iraq's suspected biological weapons program surrendered Sunday, fueling U.S. hopes that testimony from former scientists will substantiate Washington's prewar claims of illegal arms, government officials said.
But weapons specialists expressed concern Monday that few former Iraqi scientists have turned up. The specialists contend that questions over the scientists' legal fate are discouraging many from cooperating.
Several of Saddam Hussein's senior weapons scientists have telephoned former U.N. inspectors in recent days seeking guidance on whether and how to surrender, inspectors and others said.
Huda Saleh Mahdi Ammash, also known as "Mrs. Anthrax" for her alleged role in germ warfare projects, was a senior Baath Party leader and the only woman listed among the 55 most-wanted Iraqis. It was unclear Monday whether she surrendered in Iraq. U.S. officials gave conflicting reports about her status.
With Ammash's detention, 19 of the 55 Iraqis listed as the most wanted by U.S. officials have been reported captured. In a deck of playing cards with photos of the 55 that troops are using to hunt leadership figures, she is the 5 of hearts and is pictured saluting.
An American-trained microbiologist, Ammash, 49, is believed to have high-level knowledge of Iraqi weapons activities, particularly the deadly pathogens that U.N. weapons inspectors said had been unaccounted for.
Ammash was trained by Nassir al-Hindawi, described by United Nations inspectors as the father of Iraq's biological weapons program, officials said. She has served as president of Iraq's microbiology society and as a dean at the University of Baghdad.
American-run radio in Iraq has urged scientists to come forward, promising that "anyone who provides information regarding weapons programs will be treated with respect and dignity."
But that hasn't convinced some leading Iraqi scientists, who have reached out instead to former U.N. inspectors. The inspectors disclosed these communications to the Los Angeles Times in exchange for an agreement not to publish the scientists' names.
"They want some kind of assurance that they won't be detained," said David Albright, a former inspector who said he has received calls from several Iraqi nuclear scientists. "They don't feel like they've done anything wrong. Yet these others are in jail, as far as they know."
The Iraqi scientists, including two who helped run Hussein's secret nuclear-weapons program in the 1980s, said they can provide documents and other evidence to assist teams investigating Iraq's illicit efforts to procure sensitive equipment, components and raw materials from Germany and other countries.
Despite tantalizing clues and false alarms since President Bush launched the war on Iraq more than six weeks ago, U.S. forces have found no proof of illegal Iraqi weapons or production.
Information from the Boston Globe, Associated Press and Los Angeles Times was used in this report.