|Looters scrap decency as nation plundered|
- Saturday, May 29 2004, 7:14:34 (CEST)|
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Looters scrap decency as nation plundered
By James Glanz
May 29, 2004
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As the US spends billions to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure, there is increasing evidence that sensitive military equipment, apparently new components for oil rigs and water plants and even entire buildings are being plundered from the country.
In what some experts call a massive looting operation, at least 100 semi-trailers loaded with what is billed as scrap metal are streaming each day into Jordan, one of six countries that share a border with Iraq.
In recent months, the International Atomic Energy Agency has been closely monitoring satellite photographs of hundreds of military-industrial sites in Iraq.
Jacques Baute, director of the agency's Iraq nuclear verification office, said initial analysis revealed that entire buildings and complexes of as many as a dozen buildings have been vanishing from the photographs.
"We see sites that have totally been cleaned out," Mr Baute said.
The agency started the monitoring program in December, after a steel vessel contaminated with uranium, probably from Saddam Hussein's pre-1991 nuclear program, turned up in a Netherlands scrapyard. The shipment was traced to a Jordanian company that was apparently unaware the scrap contained radioactive material.
Recent examinations of Jordanian scrapyards have turned up an astounding quantity of scrap metal and new components from Iraq's civil infrastructure, including piles of valuable copper and aluminium ingots and bars, stacks of steel rods, and water pipes and giant flanges for oil equipment - all in near-mint condition - as well as chopped-up railway freight vans and huge numbers of shattered Iraqi tanks.
"There is a gigantic salvage operation, stripping anything of perceived value out of the country," said John Hamre, president and chief executive of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, which sent a team to Iraq and issued a report on reconstruction efforts at the request of the Pentagon last July. "This is systematically plundering the country," Mr Hamre said.
In Iraq, US troops have called off an offensive against an Iraqi Shiite militia in the holy city of Najaf after militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr began pulling out his fighters and offered a truce.
US officials, who took no part in talks, welcomed the move brokered by Shiite elders as a first step to ending an uprising that has cost hundreds of lives in the past two months.
But they rejected Sheikh Sadr's demands to be let off a murder charge and insisted that he disband his Mahdi Army militia.
A deal with Sheikh Sadr could staunch a major source of trouble for US troops in Iraq as Washington prepares to hand over to an Iraqi interim government on June 30.
But it remains to be seen if the truce marks the end of Sheikh Sadr's ambitions or rather an attempt to survive and keep his forces intact.
A US-British draft resolution on Iraq at the UN Security Council was facing some strong opposition, with French President Jacques Chirac saying the US had to ensure that an interim government had full sovereignty, especially over operations by a US-led multinational force.
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