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[casi] Tuwaitha looting

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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
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
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
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."

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