- The Washington Times - Friday, June 20, 2003

VIENNA, Austria — Experts from the United Nations’ atomic agency have accounted for tons of natural and low-enriched uranium feared looted from Iraq’s largest nuclear-research facility, diplomats said yesterday.

The diplomats, who are familiar with the workings of the International Atomic Energy Agency, agreed to talk on the success of the mission to secure the uranium at the Tuwaitha facility only on the condition of anonymity.

The mission — whose scope was restricted by the U.S.-led interim administration of Iraq — was not allowed to give medical exams to Iraqis reported to have been sickened by contact with materials stolen from the Tuwaitha center, 12 miles south of Baghdad, said the diplomats.

They also said that the IAEA team also was unable to determine whether hundreds of radioactive materials used in research and medicine across the country were secure. Officials fear such material could be used to make “dirty” atomic weapons.

The experts, who began their work at the Tuwaitha research facility June 7, were restricted by U.S. forces to determining how much damage was done to the plant during the war and what was missing.

Tuwaitha was left unguarded for two weeks after Iraqi troops fled the area on the eve of the war.

U.S. troops didn’t secure the area until April 7. In the meantime, looters from the surrounding villages stripped it of uranium storage barrels they later used to hold drinking water.

Tuwaitha was thought to contain hundreds of tons of natural uranium and nearly two tons of low-enriched uranium, which could be further processed for arms use.

The diplomats did not detail how much uranium had been looted and where it was found, but it appeared much of it was on or near the site.

U.S. military experts involved in the cleanup of the nuclear site found piles of uranium in the storerooms and purchased most of the looted barrels back from villagers for about $3 a barrel.

The arrival of the U.N. group marked the first time since before the war began that representatives from the agency returned to Iraq.

The IAEA had long monitored Iraq’s nuclear programs and recently investigated claims by the U.S. administration that Saddam Hussein was reviving his nuclear weapons program. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, said early on there was no evidence to support Washington’s contentions.

After weeks of international pressure, the Pentagon allowed the IAEA into the site.

In Baghdad yesterday, tearful U.S. troops mourned a slain comrade hours after a grenade attack set two vehicles ablaze in the latest assault on U.S. forces struggling to control postwar Iraq.

Military operations continued in the west of the country where three Iraqis were killed by U.S. shelling in a remote village on the border near Syria, an Arabic television channel reported.

An Iraqi woman, her child and an Iraqi man died during the operation in the village of Maqarr al-Dheeb, located in the desert four miles from Syria, Dubai-based al-Arabiya said in a report from a correspondent on the scene.

Seventeen American soldiers have been killed in hostile action in Iraq since President Bush declared major combat over on May 1. No Iraqi death toll is available.


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