"This is systematically plundering the country," John Hamre, of the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies, was quoted as saying by the New York Times on Friday.

While occupation authorities have approved the removal of scrap metal from Iraq, including thousands of damaged Iraqi tanks, the newspaper said material seen in scrap yards in neighbouring Jordan include new material from Iraq's civil infrastructure.

Stripping infrastructure

Oil rigs and water plants were being stripped of equipment, which then were being carted out of Iraq. 

One hundred semitrailers loaded with what is billed as scrap metal arrive in Jordan every day from Iraq bearing legitimate scrap metal, but also inestimable amounts of plundered material, said the paper.

"This is systematically plundering the country"

John Hamre
Centre for Strategic and International Studies

The daily said one of its reporters saw "piles of valuable copper and aluminum ingots and bars, large stacks of steel rods and water piper and giant flanges for oil equipment, all in nearly mint condition, as well as chopped-up railroad boxcars, huge numbers of shattered Iraqi tanks and even beer kegs marked with the words "Iraqi Bravery."

The head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency's verification office in Iraq, Jacques Baute, told the newspaper that satellite photographs the agency uses to monitor hundreds of military-industrial sites for the removal of sensitive material show "jarring" results.

Vanishing structures

Entire buildings and complexes of as many as a dozen buildings have vanished from the photographs, he said.

"We see sites that have totally been cleaned out," he said.

"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping of anything of perceived value out of the country," said Hamre.

Sam Whitfield, a spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority, however, said the occupation forces had put a stop to widespread looting in Iraq.

But a Jordanian engineer at a scrap-yard in Jordan, pointed to items that did not look like scrap at all.

He indicated five-meter long bars of carbon steel, water pipes and large falanges he identified as oil-well equipment.

"It's still new and worth a lot," Muhammad al-Dajah said.