Magazine article Arms Control Today

Did Iraqi Materials, Experts Escape?

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Did Iraqi Materials, Experts Escape?

Article excerpt

The unstable security conditions that have reigned in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion may have allowed both unconventional weapons experts and weapons-related equipment to escape, according to U.S. and international officials.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei wrote in an Oct.l letter to the UN security Council that the agency is "concerned about the widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq's nuclear program." Manufacturing equipment and related materials that could assist another country's nuclear weapons efforts have been removed, the letter said, adding that entire buildings containing such equipment have been dismantled.

A Western diplomat told Arms Control Today Oct.19 that the removal of the equipment and buildings took place "at least through the entirety of 2003," a period during which the United States exercised formal control over Iraq prior to the establishment of an interim government this past June. At that time, the United States removed nuclear material that posed a potential proliferation threat from Iraq's Tuwaitha nuclear complex. (see ACT; September 2004.)

ElBaradei's letter also points out that Security Council resolutions oblige Iraq to report inventory changes at sites subject to agency monitoring, but neither Iraq nor the United States has submitted such reports.

ElKaradei wrote a similar letter to the security Council in April (see ACT) May 2004), but an IAEA official indicated in an Oct. 19 interview that new evidence has emerged suggesting that the removal of equipment and related materials was "apparently widespread and systematic."

Tuwaitha contained nuclear material subject to routine IAEA agency safeguards prior to the invasion. The agency has visited the site twice since the invasion, but no proliferation-sensitive material has been found missing.

In addition, Iraq notified the IAEA Oct. 10 of the disappearance after April 2003 of more than 340 metric tons of dual-use conventional high explosives that were subject to agency monitoring prior to the invasion. The explosives can be used in implosiontype nuclear weapons to compress a core of plutonium or uranium to start a nuclear chain reaction. The IAEA last inventoried the stockpiles in January 2003 and spotchecked a portion of them in March 2003.

Other reports from UN inspectors have described in detail the export of materials from Iraq, including missile engines that were associated with Baghdad's past weapons programs. (see ACT, October 2004.)

Department of State spokesperson Richard Boucher acknowledged during an Oct. 12 press briefing that Washington is concerned that "some material might have gotten out into the market immediately after the war. …

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