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Scientist who surrendered believed to be at center of weapons program

WASHINGTON—Lt. Gen. Amer al Saadi, Iraq's top weapons scientist who surrendered Saturday, was widely believed to be the brain behind Iraq's chemical weapons program.

Al Saadi served as the chief liaison with United Nations inspectors after the first Gulf war and in the latest round of weapons inspections.

"He was at or near the center of their weapons programs from the 1980s on," said former U.N. chief nuclear weapons inspector David Kay. "If he talks, he could have a lot to say."

Al Saadi reportedly oversaw efforts to build chemical weapons and long-range missiles that could reach Iran.

Initially, he was shunned by Saddam Hussein's Baath Party because he married a German woman, but he gained Saddam's trust because of his technical expertise.

Kay said it was unlikely that al Saadi would be able to lead inspectors to exact locations of prohibited weaponry because the responsibility for hiding such items fell on Saddam's son Qusai.

"It would be nice if he could talk about amounts and general strategies, and also supplier countries," Kay said.

Secretary of State Colin Powell denounced al Saadi in February for hampering U.N. inspections. "Saadi's job is not to cooperate, it is to deceive; not to disarm, but to undermine the inspectors; not to support them, but to frustrate them and to make sure they learn nothing," Powell told the U.N Security Council.

Al Saadi denied the allegations. "We are on solid ground because we have nothing to hide and we haven't hidden anything," he said.

He was "businesslike and professional," said Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC). The U.N. inspectors primarily met with al Saadi on their three recent visits to Iraq and in one meeting in Vienna.

Al Saadi studied in Britain and Germany. Kay described him as a "very smooth, very Western operator," adding, "He's a very persuasive individual."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.