Saddam Hussein approached Indian nuclear physicist Dr Raja Ramanna in 1978 to help build an Iraqi nuclear bomb.
The offer came while Ramanna was in Baghdad for just under a week as Hussein’s personal guest, according to a new book about Iraq’s covert nuclear weapons programme, Saddam’s Bomb, by British journalists Shyam Bhatia and Daniel McGrory.
Ramanna, who was minister of state for defence in 1989-90 and is currently with the National Institute for Advanced Studies in Bangalore, could not be reached for a comment — the incident is apparently not something he wants to talk about any more.
However, the physicist’s friends said he had been shocked by the Iraqi proposal, and fled Baghdad at the first opportunity.
Saddam was apparently annoyed when India — a poor Third World country — conducted a nuclear test in 1974. “If the Hindis (sic) can do it, why can’t we?” the book quotes him as saying. The dictator, however, quickly swallowed his contempt for Indians and personally tracked Ramanna, finally inviting him to Iraq.
Ramanna was given a tour of Baghdad and Iraq’s main nuclear facility at Tuwaitha. At the end of the trip, Saddam invited him to his office.
“You have done enough for your country,” Saddam told him. “Don’t go back. Stay here and take over our nuclear programme. I will pay you whatever you want.”
Ramanna was scared. He reportedly could not sleep that night, worried that he might never see India again. He took the next flight out.
Needless to say, Ramanna never returned to Iraq. Which was a good thing, for once the Israelis found out about Saddam's attempts to build the first Arab bomb, they spent the 1980s assassinating as many nuclear scientists working for Iraq as they could, at various locations in Europe and West Asia.