Nuclear material, whole buildings missing from Iraq

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – Contaminated metal, equipment and even entire buildings in Iraq that had been monitored by UN nuclear inspectors have disappeared since the war, the UN’s nuclear watchdog said.

Diplomats said the discovery, much of it from commercially available satellite pictures, raises concerns about whether the US occupation in Iraq has been able to effectively monitor sensitive Iraq sites. “The imagery shows that there has been extensive removal of equipment and, in some instances, removal of entire buildings,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in a letter to the UN Security Council. “Other information available to the agency, confirmed through visits to other countries, indicates that large quantities of scrap, some of it contaminated, have been transferred out of Iraq,” he said. ElBaradei said it was unclear if the material had gone missing in the looting that engulfed Iraq in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein’s ouster or “as part of systematic efforts to rehabilitate some of the locations.” He said that the United States had been informed of the discovery. “We have seen the report and we are concerned, and we told the IAEA we are looking into the matter,” a US diplomat said. UN inspectors left Iraq in March 2003 on the eve of the US-led war, and ElBaradei said the movements of the material could have a major impact on their “continuity of knowledge” about whatever nuclear capacity Iraq still has. There is also concern about the proliferation of so-called dual-use material, which could either serve as part of weapons systems or have civilian, non- military applications.

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