'Mother of anthrax' was only woman in Saddam's inner circle

Special to World
April 8, 2003

A microbiologist with a doctorate from the University of Missouri, the "lady in black" is not in Saddam's inner circle because of women's rights

Hoda Saleh Mahdi Ammash
  • Known as: "Umm Anthrax" (mother of anthrax) and the lady in black
  • Education: Ddoctorate in genetics and microbiology, University of Missouri
  • Position: head of Iraq's Biological Warfare program
  • Age: 49
  • Whereabouts: Baghdad
    President Saddam Hussein doesn't like women at his leadership meetings.

    For Saddam, women might be fine in the bedroom, but they talk and display too much emotion for the butcher of Baghdad.

    But Saddam has made an exception. She is Hoda Saleh Mahdi Ammash, a microbiologist who has emerged as another card in the regime's attempt to survive the U.S.-led war on Iraq.

    Ms. Ammash is known as Umm Anthrax, Arabic for the mother of anthrax, the head of Iraq's biological weapons program. And these days, the lady in black, as she is referred to, is furiously working to complete BW agents ready for use against advancing U.S. forces.

    "We haven't seen a woman in leadership meetings held by Saddam for decades," a U.S. intelligence analyst said. "This is not just about Saddam promoting women's rights. It's a message being sent that he is ready to launch biological and chemical weapons against coalition forces in Iraq.

    Ms. Ammash has earned her epaulets in Iraq, where she has been promoted to the rank of general. The United States has much to do with this. She obtained her education at universities in Missouri and Texas. In 1983, she obtained a doctorate in genetics and microbiology from the University of Missouri.

    As the daughter of a former senior member of the ruling Ba'ath Party, she was provided the best in Western education and could meet anybody she liked.
    Of course, her rise was not accidental. Umm Anthrax is the daughter of a former senior member of the ruling Ba'ath Party and was provided all the privileges granted to the stooges of the Saddam regime. She could travel freely in the West, was provided the best in Western education and could meet anybody she liked.

    The only proviso was after she completed her education, Ms. Ammash would return to Iraq and serve Saddam. And serve she did. In the 1990s, she worked hard in Iraq's biological and chemical weapons program. Her job was to create lethal germs and weaponize them in Iraqi missiles, rockets and artillery shells.

    By 2001, Saddam recognized the work of Umm Anthrax. She was appointed a member of the Revolutionary Command Council as well as a senior member of the Ba'ath Party. Her formal task was to assume responsibility for the so-called Professional Bureau and the Students and Youth Bureau for the RCC.

    She became an insider in what has been an all-men's club. Her father was not around to see her daughter's success. He had been killed by Saddam's agents. Nobody is sure why.

    What did Ms. Ammash do to deserve membership? U.S. intelligence sources believe that she helped develop ways to weaponize biological agents into a series of platforms in the Iraqi arsenal. She was also said to have been instrumental in the establishment of a network of mobile bioweapons labs that could easily evade inspectors or allied forces.

    Ms. Ammash's efforts took years. She was at the start of the Iraqi offensive biowarfare program, launched in 1985 and helped produce BW warheads and aerial bombs with a cocktail of killer germs. They included botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin. Iraq has acknowledged to having produced 20,000 liters of botulinum toxin solution and 2,200 liters of aflatoxin.

    Meeting with Saddam: "Umm Anthrax" is third from left. Since 1998, Iraq is believed to have accelerated its development of BW.
    At first, Ms. Ammash was trained by Nassir Al Hindawi, regarded as the founder of Iraq's biological weapons program. Then she went to Europe for additional training. Soon, she was on her own and served as president of Iraqi's microbiological society and dean at Baghdad University. To prove her loyalty to Saddam, Ms. Ammash, who is also fluent in English, also helped organize Iraqi cells in Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen.

    But Ms. Ammash's specialty was anthrax. The Saddam regime told the United Nations that Iraqi scientists produced 8,500 liters of anthrax solution. U.S. intelligence believes the real amount was several times that figure.

    U.S. intelligence suspect that Iraq has something even more deadly: smallpox virus. Ms. Ammash is believed to have experimented with camelpox virus, closely related to smallpox. Indeed, smallpox could have been the subject of experimentation in the 1970s when an outbreak of the disease was reoprted in Iraq.

    Since 1998, Iraq is believed to have accelerated its development of BW.

    The key task was to weaponize biological agents. U.S. intelligence said Iraqi scientists have tried to produce BW warheads for a variety of missiles, including the medium-range Al Hussein. It still remains unclear whether this has worked.

    Iraq has also developed ways for unmanned air vehicles, crop sprayers and artillery shells to deliver BW agents. Last week, Iraqi 25 ultra-light aircraft were spotted hovering above U.S. forces near Nassiriya. A small vial of anthrax or smallpox could easily be attached to the air frame.

    Saddam was so pleased with Ms. Ammash that he encouraged other women to join Iraq's weapons of mass destruction program. As a result, Ms. Ammash has a female colleague in the BW project. The colleague is named Rehab Rashida Taha, who owes her education to Britain.

    U.S. intelligence has provided Ms. Taha with a nickname. She is called Dr. Germ.

    Geostrategy-Direct,, April 8, 2003
    Copyright 2003 East West Services, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Print this Article Print this Article Email this article Email this article Subscribe to this Feature Free Headline Alerts
    Search Worldwide Web Search Search WorldTrib Archives

    See current edition of

    Return to World Front Cover