IAEA inspectors leave for Iraq

Under tight restrictions from the US, UN inspectors left Vienna for Iraq on Wednesday to search a nuclear site south of Baghdad to determine whether any radioactive material is missing.

    UN inspectors have not been to
    Iraq since the US-led war (file)

    Washington, the occupying force in Iraq, has limited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors' mission to counting missing containers of radioactive material and repacking spilled substances.

    It will be the first time IAEA inspectors return to Iraq since Washington launched its war against the country on 20 March.

    Seven inspectors from the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency will search the al-Tuwaitha Nuclear Storage site south of the capital. The site was looted during the anarchy that gripped the country following the US-led invasion.

    Inspectors will not be allowed to enter the main complex of the research centre. They will also be barred from searching six other nuclear sites in Iraq that were allegedly looted in the post-US invasion chaos.

    There were more than 500 tons of natural uranium and 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium stored at al-Tuwaitha. Also present were stores of highly radioactive caesium, cobalt and strontium.

    ‘Radiological Emergency’

    Washington only agreed to let the IAEA back into Iraq after its director, Mohammad El-Baradei warned of a radiological and humanitarian emergency. Residents allegedly emptied containers of uranium and took the barrels home.

    Much of the material at al-Tuwaitha had been gathering dust under UN seal for more than a decade before looters allegedly began opening barrels of radioactive material.

    The inspection team will arrive in Kuwait later on Wednesday and head to Iraq on Friday. The IAEA says its mission should take about two weeks.

    The team will not search for Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction. Since it occupied Iraq, the United States has said it will carry out its own searches.

    UN inspectors will only search the
    nuclear site's storage facility (file)

    The inspectors will report on the mission to occupation authorities.

    SAIRI office closed

    In overnight developments, an Iraqi Shia movement said the US army had closed one of its offices in northern Iraq and arrested five staff members without offering any explanation.

    The Supreme Assembly of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SAIRI) said one of its offices in Tall Afar was shut down on 23 May. The office is about 75 kilometres west of Mosul and remains closed.

    The five staff members are still in US custody, despite the group’s repeated inquiries, said SAIRI spokesman Hamed Al-Bayati.

    SAIRI’s armed wing, the Badr Brigade, boasts about 15,000 fighters. The group is a powerful force among Iraq’s Shia, who make up about 60 percent of the population.

    Under deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Iraqi Shia were politically under-represented and oppressed. Since the US-led invasion, they have vowed to play a more active political role in running the country's affairs.

    They have increasingly demanded a greater voice in forming an Iraqi government and urged for a US withdrawal.

    This week, the US occupation administration in Baghdad cancelled a long-promised national conference and said it would instead appoint a 25-30 member advisory council.  


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