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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

IRAQ: UN concerned over suspected looting of dual-use sites

BAGHDAD, 15 March 2005 (IRIN) - UN officials are concerned that equipment and materials from 90 out of 353 dual-use sites in Iraq, which were being monitored as suspected areas of weapons development, may have been looted or razed.

"We have observed by our continuous examination and monitoring by satellite that these materials have disappeared and that it's really a worrying situation for the population of the country since many people don't know the hazardous potential of this material and where these materials have been taken," Ewen Buchanan, public information officer for the United Nations Monitoring Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), told IRIN from New York.

UNMOVIC, which withdrew from Iraq on the eve of the US-led conflict in March 2003, reached this conclusion based on continuing examination of imagery from sites that were subject to monitoring, according to its latest quarterly report to the UN Security Council.

Before leaving Iraq, UN inspectors examined 411 sites, according to the report. After the war, they examined 353 sites and determined that 70 of them were subject to varying degrees of bomb damage.

UN inspectors were in Iraq between 1991 and 1998 searching for nuclear, biological and chemical weapons after the Gulf War in 1991. Saddam Hussein's government authorised UN inspectors to return in 2002, but the US-led Coalition refused to allow them back to Iraq after the invasion in 2003.

The UNMOVIC report also said that the status of "seed stock," which refers to strains of micro-organisms that can be used in the future production of biological weapons agents, remains uncertain.

"To be honest, we simply don't know where this equipment had gone, but we are mainly talking about production equipment, not actual weapons. That's part of the problem, we are sitting here in New York and not in Iraq, so it's dangerous just to guess, but according to reports, [Jordanian militant Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi had shown an interest in former scientists and in chemical weapons munitions, and we are still not sure about the effect that this material can cause to human beings in the area," Buchanan added.

According to the UN official, they don't know the fate of the items that they were monitoring. It could be that some equipment has simply been moved to other sites where it was engaged in legitimate civilian activity; some of it could have been dismantled or melted down. But it could also represent a certain proliferation risk.

Lt Col Brian Scotch, adviser to the Coalition force in Iraq, told IRIN that the report was being analysed by the responsible US department, noting that it was a very delicate subject which required time to be dealt with.

"For security reasons we prefer to take care on this subject to guarantee safety for the UN staff and as soon as we conclude our report, we are going to give full space for the UN to work on it. We understand the importance of it but everything should be studied very carefully," Scotch added.

Buchanan said that UNMOVIC had not been in Iraq, though they have had discussions in Jordan with Iraqi scrap dealers who have told them of the extent of the trade and how it has been managed. They are studying the export of scrap from the country.

The US Security Council, in a press conference in New York last week, said it was working with the Iraqi Ministry of Trade to prohibit the export of nuclear, biological and chemical-related equipment and technology as well as delivery systems. It added that the international community could help by supporting Iraq to make sure these items didn't get into the wrong hands.

Theme(s): (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Environment, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition



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