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August 6, 1997

Iraq's Biological Weapons: The Past as Future?

Author Affiliations

From the Center for Public Issues in Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, College Park.

JAMA. 1997;278(5):418-424. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03550050080037

Between 1985 and April 1991, Iraq developed anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin for biological warfare; 200 bombs and 25 ballistic missiles laden with biological agents were deployed by the time Operation Desert Storm occurred. Although cause for concern, if used during the Persian Gulf War, Iraq's biological warfare arsenal probably would have been militarily ineffective for 3 reasons: (1) it was small; (2) payload dispersal mechanisms were inefficient; and (3) coalition forces dominated the theater of war (ie, they had overwhelming air superiority and had crippled Iraq's command and control capability). Despite the Gulf War defeat, the Iraqi biological warfare threat has not been extinguished. Saddam Hussein remains in power, and his desire to acquire weapons of mass destruction continues unabated. In this context, the international community must be firm in its enforcement of United Nations resolutions designed to deter Iraq from reacquiring biological warfare capability and must take steps to develop a multidisciplinary approach to limiting future development of weapons of mass destruction.

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