UNITED NATIONS – A number of sites in Iraq known to have contained equipment and material that could have been used to produce banned weapons and long-range missiles have been either cleaned out or destroyed, U.N. weapons inspectors said Monday.
The inspectors' report said they didn't know whether the items, which had been monitored by the United Nations (search), were at the sites during the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
U.N. inspectors were pulled from Iraq just before the war began in March 2003 and the United States has refused to allow them to return, instead deploying its own teams to search for weapons of mass destruction.
"It is possible that some of the materials may have been removed from Iraq by looters of sites and sold as scrap," the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission said in its quarterly report to the U.N. Security Council.
UNMOVIC (search) said its experts and a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, which was responsible for dismantling Iraq's nuclear program, were jointly investigating items from Iraq that were discovered in a scrap yard in the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
Through photographs taken during an initial IAEA (search) investigation, UNMOVIC said it discovered that SA-2 engines used in Iraq's Al Samoud 2 banned missile program were among the scrap.
Commission experts examined one missile engine at the site and discovered from the serial number that it had been tagged by U.N. inspectors in the past and had not been declared as having been fired.
Representatives at the scrapyard indicated that between five and a dozen similar engines had been seen there in January and February, and that more could have passed through the yard unnoticed, the report said.
Company staff said other items made of stainless steel and other corrosion-resistant metal alloys bearing the inscription "Iraq" or "Baghdad" had been observed in shipments delivered from the Middle East since November 2003, it said.
UNMOVIC experts examined a number of items with a portable metal analyzer and determined that they were composed of heat-resistant inconel and titanium — both subject to monitoring because of their possible dual-use in legitimate civilian activities and banned weapons production, the report said.
Despite cooperation from the Netherlands and the company, UNMOVIC said it wasn't possible to determine how many engines and how much other material previously subject to monitoring in Iraq may have been sent out of the country. It said its investigation was continuing.
The report said high-resolution satellite photos had detected that some sites subject to UNMOVIC monitoring had been cleaned up and equipment and material had been removed.
"In other areas, whole buildings that had previously contained equipment and materials subject to monitoring had been completely dismantled," it said.
The report showed satellite photos of a storage site in Shumokh, about than 10 miles northwest of downtown Baghdad, taken in late May 2003 and late February 2004.
UNMOVIC said that during the period between the photos, scrap items and other material was removed from one area and several buildings were demolished.
UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan said the Shumokh site and the adjacent Ibn Al-Batyr facility contained biological, chemical, and missile-related items subject to U.N. monitoring. These included fermenters, a freeze drier, distillation columns, parts of missiles, and a 130-gallon "jacketed reactor vessel" which could be used in biological or chemical weapons production, he said.
"All sorts of sites seem to have been systematically dismantled, and it's not clear to us what has happened to items and material that was subject to U.N. monitoring," Buchanan said. "It creates a headache in trying to keep an accurate picture of what happened to everything."
The report noted that the U.S. inspection team — the Iraq Survey Group now led by UNMOVIC's former deputy director Charles Duelfer — has not provided the United Nations with any official information on its work or the results of its investigations.
Nonetheless, UNMOVIC said it was evaluating Iraq's procurement network during the period from 1999 to 2002 when U.N. inspectors were not allowed to return and had discovered a sophisticated network to obtain foreign materials, equipment and technology.
"To date, UNMOVIC has found no evidence that these were used for proscribed chemical or biological weapon purposes," it said.