The arrests of top Iraqi scientists since the end of the war
have revealed a startling trend in the educational background of
these experts wanted for the alleged development of weapons of mass
destruction: Many received training from American universities.
The United States has provided training for Iraqi scientists
since 1956 ““ the year the Iraqi Atomic Energy Commission was
A large majority of scientific leaders in Iraq today received
training from institutions in either the United States and
Take Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, believed to be one of Iraq’s
top biological weapons scientists, and the only female in the
Pentagon’s list of the top 55 most wanted Iraqis.
Known as “Mrs. Anthrax,” Ammash earned her Ph.D. in
microbiology from the University of Missouri, Columbia in 1983,
after completing a masters in biology from Texas Women’s
College in Denton in 1979.
Ammash was highly ranked in the regime of Saddam Hussein, having
been promoted in 2001 to the Baathist National Command. She was the
first woman taken into custody by U.S. forces after surrendering on
According to a study conducted by Georgia State University,
1,215 science and engineering doctorates were granted to students
from nations listed as terrorism sponsors by the U.S. State
Department from 1990 to 1999.
Among these, students from Iraq received 112 science and
engineering Ph.D.s, 14 of which were in fields such as microbiology
or nuclear/chemical engineering.
Paula Stephan, a co-author of the study, said even though
numbers are disconcerting, most Iraqi students do not return
“The information would still be available. … A lot of
what they learn they could learn elsewhere,” she said.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration has taken steps to
scrutinize Student Visa applications. According to the U.S. State
Department, applicants from some established nations, especially
those coming to study “sensitive” fields such as
microbiology, receive intense scrutiny.
Though a number of Iraqi scientists have studied at American
universities, the percentage has decreased over the years, wrote
Khidar Hamza, a former senior nuclear scientist for the Iraqi
government and author of the book “Saddam’s Bomb
Maker,” published in 2000.
In this book Hamza wrote that Hussein sought to diversify the
educational background of his staff in the 1980s, and that by 1990,
about half of the top 30 Iraqi nuclear experts were
Many other scientists join Ammash in the ranks of those applying
skills learned in the United States to weapons programs in
Nissar al-Hindawi, the former technical director on Iraq’s
biological weapons program, is a U.S.-trained microbiologist who
received a Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi, Starkville in
Al-Hindawi’s efforts to weaponize anthrax became known to
the world when he wrote a British laboratory requesting a sample in
1988. His whereabouts are currently unknown, but he was arrested in
1998 on suspicion of trying to defect and was sent to prison.
Even the University of California-managed Los Alamos National
Laboratory provided a learning environment for the training of an
Iraqi nuclear scientist.
Mahdi Obeidi, an expert in uranium enrichment, learned about the
substance during a 1975 visit to New Mexico. He then returned to
Iraq where he copied the enrichment techniques he learned.
Students at UCLA, in the meantime, had varying opinions
regarding the education of potential terrorists at U.S.
Yasser Attiga, a first-year chemical engineering student, said
“there is nothing we can do” to prevent American
universities from educating future terrorists.
Second-year art history student Janice Wang said despite the
irony of the situation, the U.S. should allow all international
students to study at its universities, regardless of their country
“We don’t want to hinder their development,”