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Analysis: IAEA Concerned Over Dismantlement Of Former Iraqi Nuclear Sites

Muhammad el-Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), sent a letter to the current UN Security Council President Sir Emyr Jones Parry last week expressing concern about the whereabouts of equipment from dismantled sites that formerly housed the Iraqi nuclear program, as well as other sites monitored by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) and the IAEA. The letter, posted to the IAEA website ( on 4 October, contends that an ongoing review of satellite imagery and follow up investigations has shown the "widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq's nuclear program."

"The imagery shows in many instances the dismantlement of entire buildings that housed high precision equipment (such as flow forming, milling and turning machines; electron beam welders; coordinate measurement machines) formerly monitored and tagged with IAEA seals, as well as the removal of equipment and materials (such as high strength aluminum) from open storage areas," the letter noted.

More troubling is el-Baradei's statement that the IAEA "through visits to other countries, has been able to identify quantities of industrial items, some radioactively contaminated, that had been transferred out of Iraq from sites monitored by the IAEA.... However, none of the high quality dual-use equipment or materials referred to above has been found." El-Baradei contended that some of the equipment and materials could aid in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
"Through visits to other countries, [the IAEA] has been able to identify quantities of industrial items, some radioactively contaminated, that had been transferred out of Iraq."

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week, Brigadier General Joseph J. McMenamin, commander of the Iraq Survey Group, told Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) that the weapons sites remain largely unsecured by multinational forces. Kennedy asked: "Can you assure us that all these sites are tightly secured by U.S. forces and no weapons could fall into the hands of the insurgents?" McMenamin replied: "Sir, I can't assure you that that will happen. On the larger ones we have security forces, overhead imagery. There's an active program ongoing to destroy excess munitions around the country. On a regular basis we're destroying excess captured munitions to keep them out of the hands of the insurgency. As the Iraqi forces come on-line in their security efforts, they'll be able to take over and protect those assets to prevent them falling into the wrong hands."

Cairo's "Al-Sha'b" reported on 1 October that People's Assembly deputies have called on the Egyptian government to take steps to prevent the entry of military equipment and scrap metal through the Egyptian-Jordanian border. The metal, coming from Iraq, is reportedly radioactive and includes "the machines, equipment, and residue of buildings." The deputies called for coordination with the Jordanian authorities to thwart the smuggling of scrap metal. The deputies reportedly quoted Jordanian expert, Fu'ad al-Khalili, as saying that Iraqi scrap metal contained a high rate of uranium, the report said. Perhaps more worrying is the possibility that dual-use equipment might be obtained by Iran, which is currently seeking to develop a nuclear weapons program.

In his letter to the Security Council, the IAEA chief said that Annex 3 of the IAEA's Ongoing Monitoring and Verification (OMV) Plan calls for both Iraq as the exporting state and the purchasing state to notify the IAEA when materials subject to inspection are sold or transferred. Iraq is also under obligation to file semi-annual reports noting changes that have occurred at sites subject to inspection. "The agency has received no such notifications or declarations from any states since the agency's inspectors were withdrawn in March 2003," despite the fact that some of the missing materials were subject to reporting. El-Baradei did say that the U.S. and Iraqi governments had informed the agency about the transfer of 1.8 tons of uranium and other radioactive materials to the United States earlier this year.

El-Baradei said that the Iraqi interim government has requested IAEA assistance in the sale of remaining nuclear material housed at the Al-Tuwaythah complex near Baghdad, as well as help in the dismantlement and decontamination of former nuclear sites. The IAEA is considering the request.