by IRWIN ARIEFF in New York
- UN nuclear watchdog reports nuclear bomb materials disappearing from Iraq
- Satellite images show entire buildings full of materials have been dismantled
- Warning comes after CIA report on insurgents trying to get hold of WMDs
EQUIPMENT and materials that could be used to make nuclear weapons are disappearing from Iraq but neither Baghdad nor Washington appears to have noticed, the United Nations? nuclear watchdog agency reported yesterday.
Satellite imagery shows that entire buildings that once housed high-precision equipment have been dismantled.
Equipment and materials helpful in making bombs have also been removed from open storage areas in Iraq and disappeared without a trace, according to the satellite pictures, the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a report to the UN Security Council.
The warning comes just days after a CIA report detailed how armed insurgent groups in Iraq are trying to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.
The report said rebel groups were trying to manufacture chemical weapons, adding that the availability of chemicals and munitions, as well as sympathetic former Iraqi weapons scientists “increases the future threat”.
The new claims by the IAEA will give ammunition to those who claim Iraq had the industrial wherewithal to easily restart its nuclear programme should sanctions be lifted.
In his report to the Security Council yesterday, IAEA Director-General Mohamed El Baradei said that some military goods that disappeared from Iraq after the March 2003 United States-led invasion, including missile engines, later turned up in scrap yards in the Middle East and Europe.
However, he added that none of the equipment or material known to the IAEA as potentially useful in making nuclear bombs has turned up yet.
The US barred the return of UN weapons investigators after launching war on Iraq last year, preventing the IAEA from keeping tabs on high-tech equipment and materials up to the present day.
Under anti-proliferation agreements, the US occupation authorities who administered Iraq until June, and then the Iraqi interim government that took power afterwards, would have to inform the IAEA if they moved or exported any of that material or equipment.
But no such reports have been received since the invasion, officials of the watchdog agency said.
The US also has not publicly commented on earlier UN inspectors? reports disclosing the dismantling of a range of key weapons-making sites, raising the question of whether it was unable to monitor the sites.
In the absence of any US or Iraqi accounting, council diplomats said the satellite images could mean the gear had been moved to new sites inside Iraq or stolen. If stolen, it could end up in the hands of a government or terrorist group seeking nuclear weapons.
“We simply don’t know, although we are trying to get the information,” said one council diplomat.
US officials had no immediate comment on the report.