As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated.
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Volume 3, Issue 3
Iraq’s Dangerous Junkyard
By Liz Palmer
Stopping the spread of mass destruction weapons was the major justification for going to war. While it appears that no such weapons exist in Iraq, recent evidence suggests that Saddam Hussein's weapon potential may be leaking quietly across Iraq's borders. According to a recent press report, officials at one border crossing with Iran estimated that 30 trucks loaded with scrap cross there each day. Estimates of Iraqi scrap metal crossing into Jordan are as high as 100 semi trailers per day. Acting chief United Nations inspector Demetrius Perricos told reporters in June that the total amount of scrap metal leaving Iraq daily could be as high as a thousand tons.
That Iraq would have a booming scrap industry is not surprising. An estimated 3,000 tanks and other military vehicles were damaged during Iraq's wars, and those vehicles are legitimate scrap. What is surprising is the volume of items turning up in foreign scrap yards that does not resemble legitimate scrap. Mint-condition water pipes and oil equipment have been examined in Jordanian scrap yards, as have valuable copper and aluminum ingots and bars. Last December, a steel vessel contaminated with uranium turned up in Rotterdam.
After the Rotterdam discovery, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began close monitoring of satellite photographs. The imagery showed that during the spring of 2004, there had been extensive removal of equipment, and in some cases removal of entire buildings, from sites that the Agency was monitoring. Specific dual-use equipment that has been removed includes fermenters, a freeze drier, distillation columns and a reactor vessel. All of these items are suitable for making chemical or biological weapons.
As many as 12 SA-2 surface-to-air missile engines were also discovered in Rotterdam, at least one of which had been tagged by UN inspectors for continued monitoring in Iraq. Twenty more engines, as well as UN-tagged chemical reactors, heat exchangers and a mixing bowl for making solid rocket propellant were found in a scrap yard in Jordan. Much of this equipment was in good condition.
While IAEA satellite imagery proves that sensitive items have left Iraq, it does not show where they might have gone, or to what use they are being put. There is literally no telling where a great number of items have ended up. Some Iraqis have alleged that Iranian recipients of scrap have no intention of melting down what they receive, but rather intend to put the items to direct use in their own military. Others allege that Kurdish militia commanders are requisitioning usable items.
Whatever the real story may be, it is clear that the leakage presents a danger to the world. The United States was sufficiently concerned about the security of items stored near Iraq’s Tuwaitha nuclear facility that it airlifted nearly two tons of low enriched uranium and approximately 1,000 radioactive sources from that location. The IAEA has since confirmed that items remaining in storage there are properly accounted for.
Though there is no clear proof that unconventional weapons have fallen into the hands of insurgents, or that sensitive Iraqi equipment has been put to use for ill, it is nevertheless alarming that so many previously controlled items have left Iraq. The inability to protect these materials must be chalked up as another U.S. failure in Iraq.
As of August 2006, Iraq Watch is no longer being updated. Click here for more information.
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