The United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) reported to the UN Security Council in September that Iraqi authorities were shipping tons of scrap metal outside the country. That material included engines from banned SA-2 missiles and equipment that could potentially be used to make chemical, biological, or ballistic weapons.
The head of the mission, Demetri Perricos, suggested that Iraq might want to set up a body to keep account of any so-called dual-use equipment. UNMOVIC spokesman Buchanan told RFE/RL that the agency stands ready to assist.
"What we have suggested was, as a first step, that Iraq should maybe try to identify where this equipment is and to create an inventory of the equipment so that it's known where it is, and if it's still in serviceable condition, whether it's been destroyed or damaged, and to try to control it," Buchanan said.
UNMOVIC experts left Iraq ahead of the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 and have not returned. Some Iraqi caretaker staff remain to watch over UNMOVIC facilities.
Buchanan said the agency had tagged thousands of pieces of equipment. They included such sensitive dual-use items as fermenters, which could be used to make anthrax, and vessels used to make chemical weapons.
"We have a snapshot of what things were like when we were last in Iraq, but that was in March of last year. That has been our concern, that we are losing, [that] the information or the data which we had on Iraq's capabilities is being eroded by the ongoing destruction of sites," Buchanan said.
UNMOVIC's report in September said that at least 42 engines from banned missiles had ended up in scrap yards outside of Iraq. U.S. officials expressed concern but reassured the Security Council that U.S. authorities are helping Iraq improve border controls and institute other methods to stem the flow of such equipment.
Iraq's UN mission in New York -- contacted yesterday -- had no immediate comment on UNMOVIC's concerns.
But U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a news briefing in Washington that Iraqi officials have put new controls in place prohibiting the export of items such as nuclear, chemical, biological, and other weapons-related materials or weapons components and technologies.
"We have been working with Iraq to develop a better and broader export-control system to prevent the spread of weapons technology and items that might be coming out of Iraq," Boucher said. "The Iraqi interim government is working to ensure that weapons materials don't fall into the wrong hands."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported on 11 October that it is concerned about the systematic dismantlement of Iraqi nuclear sites. Iraq's science and technology minister said yesterday that the agency is free to visit the country but told the Reuters news agency there had been no major theft from nuclear sites since the looting spree that followed the toppling of the regime.
Boucher also said nuclear sites in Iraq have been brought under control. He said he has no information on a new role for UNMOVIC, which is a subsidiary body of the Security Council.
"The IAEA has been back to Iraq," Boucher said. "These are normal safeguards visits. These are normal visits to go and look at material that they had under safeguard before the war. And as I said, two visits have already occurred to the Tuwaitha [nuclear plant] facility, in June of 2003 and again in 2004. As for any further sort of UNMOVIC-type inspections, well, that's a matter that has been addressed in UN resolutions, but there's no further [movement] on that at this point."
In a resolution adopted in June, the Security Council reaffirmed its intention to revisit the mandates of UNMOVIC and the IAEA in Iraq. U.S. officials had given precedence to the work of the Iraq Survey Group, which this months issued a report finding that Iraq did not possess chemical or biological weapons at the time of the U.S.-led invasion and was not trying to reconstitute its nuclear program.