Son of Osirak

I should have seen this coming. Two weeks ago, French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid a visit to Baghdad with his foreign and defense ministers. He promised to return before the end of the summer with a business delegation. Of course, business delegation these days is French for Areva, especially when Sarkozy is traveling in the Arab world. With Iraq now expressing interest, it might not be long before Baghdad and Paris sign a Memo of Understanding for a civilian nuclear reactor, Fabriqué en France.

The levels of irony here are pretty deep:

Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq sealed a 1976 deal withFrance to build the Osirak nuclear reactor, where construction startedin 1979.

But in June 1981, during the Iran-Iraq war, Israel sentwarplanes to bomb the unfinished reactor south of the Iraqi capital,charging that Saddam’s aim was to build nuclear weapons.

These days, any Israeli warplanes sent to bomb nuclear installations will most likely be continuing just a bit past Baghdad. But given the inadvisability of a country as fragile as Iraq having a nuclear reactor, a two-for-one bargain might look tempting.

The Defense News article describes Iraq’s desire for a civil nuclear reactor, not necessarily France’s willingness to meet it. But for those of you keeping track at home, that makes Egypt, Turkey (which recently floated a tender), the UAE (which has signed MoUs with both the U.S. and France), and now Iraq that have declared interest in building a civilian nuclear capacity. Both Israel (which despite its weapons capacity has no civil reactors) and Syria have made recent declarations of interest as well, while Iran’s Bushehr reactor will go online later this year. In this context, it’s hard to imagine Saudi Arabia standing idly by for much longer.

So much for the goal of a nuclear-free Middle East.