KUWAIT CITY – Experts from the U.N. nuclear watchdog have arrived in the Middle East on their way to inspect Iraq's largest nuclear complex in the wake of postwar looting.
The team of seven experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) arrived in Kuwait late Wednesday from Vienna, via Frankfurt, Germany. They are due to go to neighboring Iraq on Friday and begin work on Saturday.
Their mission is to determine what is missing from the Tuwaitha (search) nuclear complex, 30 miles southeast of Baghdad (search), and to re-secure the radioactive material they find, IAEA spokesman Melissa Fleming said. Looters are reported to have entered Tuwaitha and removed items.
"There is no mandate for anything beyond doing an inventory and securing this nuclear material," Fleming told reporters in Vienna on Wednesday, underscoring U.S. restrictions on the scope of the agency's mission.
The material -- low-grade enriched uranium and natural uranium -- was placed under IAEA seal in 1991 and had been inspected once a year. Inspectors last checked it in February, just weeks before they had to leave Iraq ahead of the U.S.-led invasion of the country.
The IAEA was assigned by the U.N. Security Council to verify Iraq's claims that it had eliminated programs to create nuclear weapons. Before the war, it said more inspections were needed before conclusions could be reached.
Since the end of the Iraq war, the U.S. government has refused to let the agency resume its inspection program in Iraq. But under pressure from other nations, Washington has agreed to allow the IAEA to secure the Tuwaitha plant and account for its contents.