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[ Presenting plain-text part of multi-format email ] Sun Jun 8, 9:07 AM ETAdd Top Stories - The New York Times to My Yahoo! By PATRICK E. TYLER The New York Times TUWAITHA, Iraq (news - web sites), June 7 For Iptisam Nuri, a mother of five who was sick with typhoid, the arrival of the barrels in her home at first seemed a godsend. When the electricity went out during the war, the water-pumping station that serves this area 30 miles southeast of Baghdad shut down, and people were thirsty. Then men from a village near here broke through the fence guarding "Location C" at Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s nuclear complex. "We had to find something to bring water," said one of the men, Idris Saddoun, 23. They say they broke into the warehouse, emptied hundreds of barrels of their yellow and brown mud, took them to the wells and canals and filled them with water for cooking, bathing and drinking. For nearly three weeks, hundreds of villagers who live in the shadow of the high earthen berm and barbed wire fences that surrounded the labyrinth of the Iraqi nuclear program here bathed in and ingested water laced with radioactive contaminants from the barrels. The barrels, Iraqi and foreign experts say, had held uranium ores, low-enriched uranium "yellowcake," nuclear sludge and other byproducts of Mr. Hussein's nuclear research. Some villagers fell ill with nausea. Others developed rashes that made them itch. Although no qualified medical experts have examined them, some contracted ailments that they now attribute to radioactive contamination. It may take years to determine the health effects from the radiation poisoning that occurred here before American military forces arrived to seal off this nuclear complex. Questions have been raised by international inspectors about why, despite Washington's assurances that allied forces had secured this facility, an army of looters roamed here freely for days, ransacking vaults and warehouses that contained ample radioactive poisons that could be used to manufacture an inestimable quantity of so-called dirty bombs. Tuwaitha has been the most conspicuous element of Iraq's nuclear research program since its inception in the 1970's. Twenty-two years ago today, Israeli warplanes bombed its main plutonium production reactor after Menachem Begin, then Israel's prime minister, became convinced that Mr. Hussein was determined to produce nuclear weapons. Today, the first inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency arrived here to look into the loss of control over Iraq's nuclear program that occurred when allied forces bypassed this complex during their drive on Baghdad. Under restrictions imposed by the American and British occupation authority, the inspectors will not be allowed to survey the levels of contamination in villages like this one, where survival instincts drove the residents into a compound where radiological dangers awaited them. "We have been disturbed about reports of looting and that these barrels that contained natural and low-enriched uranium have been looted," Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the atomic agency in Vienna, told the British Broadcasting Corporation. "We are going to find out what's missing, to see if we can repackage and secure the material, so that we can account for every gram of it." Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the atomic agency, first expressed concern about security at Tuwaitha on April 10, the day after Baghdad fell and widespread looting began. This week, senior American defense officials said that when United States marines reached the Tuwaitha complex, on April 7, they found that looting was rampant. Since then, they said, military forces have provided continuous security. Army officials who checked the site soon after the marines arrived encountered high radiation levels in the storage buildings and withdrew. Ever since, atomic agency officials have pressed for access to the site, and American officials have resisted, arguing that the mandate of the agency in Iraq had expired and that allied forces were in charge. Yet continuing reports of lax security here and the discovery that villagers were bathing from contaminated barrels from uranium storage facilities appear to have prompted American officials to relent and allow narrowly defined access for international inspectors, who examined and sealed this facility more than a decade ago. A team of agency inspectors arrived in the Iraqi capital on Friday. Instead of billeting in their old headquarters at the Canal Hotel, they were closeted behind American military guards at the Rashid Hotel, which is off limits to visitors. When the inspectors arrived here today, they were escorted by a small column of American troops in Humvee transports. They apparently went straight to "Location C," the warehouse compound on the southern boundary of the nuclear complex where uranium ores, yellowcake and low-level waste were stored. American troops at the complex would not allow reporters to accompany the inspectors or follow them to the warehouses. Local villagers said that what they were sure to find were piles of uranium dumped from barrels on the floor of the warehouse, where looters tracked the radioactive material back to their homes, adding to the contamination that came from using the barrels as water containers. Today, a 14-year-old villager named Haider Raheen led a visitor to a marsh adjoining the village where two of the uranium barrels lay discarded in the reeds. Close by was a white storage box that may have contained some of the more dangerous radio-isotopes that were believed to have been stored in the warehouse. They are thought to have included cobalt, cesium and strontium, all potentially lethal if ingested. More than 500 tons of natural uranium and 1.8 tons of low-enriched uranium were stored at Tuwaitha, international inspectors have said. "We were trapped by these barrels," said Ms. Nuri, 34. "After we bathed from them, drank from them and cooked in them, we didn't know what to do." American soldiers came about 20 days later and offered villagers $3 each for the barrels and recovered more than 100 of them, officials said, but a complete inventory of what is missing as well as the health and security ramifications of loose radioactive material will await the full assessment of the inspectors. An Army radiological team swept through these villages last month, carrying radiation monitors into brick houses, including Ms. Nuri's. She said she heard a lot of beeping when the monitors were placed near the floor. But no one checked her five children, and she is now wondering why so many journalists keep coming to this village, named Al Mansiya, which means, "The Forgotten," but not doctors or aid workers to help the residents, whose food rations are almost exhausted. It makes her think about Mr. Hussein. "We are like a string of beads that has been cut, and all the beads are on the floor," she said. "We love the Americans, but we loved Saddam because he was our father. He was the tent over us he was the string in our beads." _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk