BAGHDAD, Iraq – Nuclear inspectors have verified that an installation north of Baghdad where Iraq once sought to make atomic bombs shows no signs of new weapons work.
The report by the U.N. inspection agency came late Wednesday at the end of a day of extensive activity by U.N. weapons monitors, who paid unannounced visits to at least eight sites including a medical research center and a new missile factory.
The U.N. teams, in the third week of resumed inspections, headed out again Thursday on their daily missions. Iraqi Information Ministry officials said one group traveled to a missile test site west of Baghdad.
The teams from the U.N. nuclear agency — the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna — have intensified their work this week, after receiving reinforcements Sunday that increased the number of nuclear inspectors to 27.
On that same day, Iraq's massive arms declaration was flown from Baghdad to New York and Vienna, where analysts are poring through its 12,000 pages in search of still more sites to visit and questions to answer.
The declaration was filed under a new U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Iraq to report on nuclear, biological, chemical and missile research and production. The resolution also mandates that Iraq surrender any weapons of mass destruction — which it denies it has. The U.S. government says it is sure the Baghdad government retains such weapons, and threatens war if Iraq fails, in Washington's view, to comply with U.N. disarmament demands.
The resolution also mandated the resumption of the inspections after a four-year gap. Before such monitoring ended in 1998 amid U.N.-Iraqi disputes, inspectors destroyed tons of Iraqi chemical and biological weapons and dismantled Iraq's program to try to build nuclear weapons.
In the late 1980s, as part of that weapons effort, scientists and engineers at an Iraqi nuclear center at Tarmiya, 25 miles north of Baghdad, sought to master a difficult technology — electronic magnetic isotope separation — to enrich uranium to fissionable levels usable in atomic bombs.
That effort stalled, and Iraq turned to another technology at another site, again unsuccessfully. Within two years of Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Gulf War, U.N. inspectors tracked down and destroyed buildings and equipment at the Tarmiya site, as well as at other nuclear facilities. Tarmiya remained under U.N. monitoring until 1998.
Returning after four years to the site — now known as the Ibn Sina Company — the monitors "inspected the new activities at the site and verified that no nuclear activities remain or have been initiated," the U.N. statement said.
The inspection agencies — the IAEA and the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, for chemical and biological weapons and missiles — generally have not reported on the results of their field missions. There was no explanation why it was done in this case.
In fact, a U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, noted that plant managers and other Iraqis have frequently told reporters after inspections that the monitors found nothing indicating work on weapons of mass destruction. "But," he said, "that doesn't mean the inspectors have found nothing." He said "bits and pieces" of any evidence found would be collated over time.
Inspectors on Wednesday also continued their thorough review, started earlier in the week, of operations at al-Tuwaitha, Iraq's major nuclear research center.
In the 1980s, scientists at the site 15 miles southeast of Baghdad were key to Iraq's efforts to build nuclear weapons. Many of the complex's more than 100 buildings were destroyed in U.S. bombing during the 1991 Gulf War.
The U.N. office also reported that a team completed its inspection Wednesday of the remote al-Qaim uranium mining site and a nearby processing facility.
In the coming months, U.N. officials hope to inspect hundreds of Iraqi industrial and research installations, many of them "dual-use" sites whose products or equipment could be devoted to either civilian or military use.