Saddam’s germ war plot is traced back to one Oxford cow
By Dominic Kennedy, Times On Line, August 9, 2005
A BRITISH cow that died in an Oxfordshire field in 1937 has emerged as the source of Saddam Hussain’s “weapons of mass destruction” programme that led to the Iraq war.
An ear from the cow was sent to an English laboratory, where scientists discovered anthrax spores that were later used in secret biological warfare tests by Winston Churchill.
The culture was sent to the United States, which exported samples to Iraq during Saddam’s war against Iran in the 1980s. Inspectors have found that this batch of anthrax was the dictator’s choice in his attempts to create biological weapons.
The discovery has angered some British politicians. Austin Mitchell, the Labour MP for Great Grimsby, has renewed his call, supported by 126 MPs in the last Parliament, for a UN investigation into whether Washington broke a weapons control agreement. “It just makes them look more hypocritical than ever,” he said.
The odyssey of the Iraqi anthrax was unravelled by Geoffrey Holland, a politics student and antiwar campaigner at the University of Sussex. The exact batch chosen by Saddam was disclosed in the CIA report by Charles Duelfer, the former UN weapons inspector, last autumn.
“Iraq declared researching different strains of B. anthracis, but settled on the American Type Culture Collection strain 14578 as the exclusive strain for use as a BW,” Mr Duelfer said.
A congressional investigation into Gulf War syndrome by Don Riegle had already uncovered invoices showing that this batch was shipped from the United States between 1986 and 1988.
The ATCC is a private, non-profit-making collection of cultures of living micro-organisms, viruses, plants and human and animal cells, stored in Virginia.
Its catalogue shows that batch 14578 consists of “bovine anthrax”, isolated by R. L. Vollum, a professor of bacteriology at Oxford University during the 1930s. It is named after him.
Martin Hugh-Jones, who co-ordinates the World Health Organisation’s Working Group on Anthrax Research and Control, said: “We have traced it back and it would have come in on some contaminated bones from Southern Rhodesia.
“England was importing sun-dried bones from dead animals in the colonies. They would be shipped to London and used to make soap. When they got the fat out, (the bones) were meant to be sterilised and ground as bone meal and fed to cattle. The sterilisation was not always complete. It was the major cause of anthrax for almost 100 years.”
The Vollum anthrax was used in biological weapons tests on the Scottish island of Gruinard in 1942, which had to be quarantined for 48 years. “It killed any number of sheep in Gruinard,” Professor Hugh-Jones said.
“(Saddam) obviously at one point had a programme because he was buying the laboratory’s cultures to underwrite a programme. Why would he want peaceful research with Vollum? Come on!”