Sunday, March 13, 2005

Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says

By JAMES GLANZ and WILLIAM J. BROAD

“The peak of the organized looting, Dr. Araji estimates, occurred in four weeks from mid-April to mid-May of 2003 as teams with flatbed trucks and other heavy equipment moved systematically from site to site. That operation was followed by rounds of less discriminating thievery.

‘The first wave came for the machines,’ Dr. Araji said. ‘The second wave, cables and cranes. The third wave came for the bricks.’ ”

“Sami al-Araji, the deputy minister of industry, said it appeared that a highly organized operation had pinpointed specific plants in search of valuable equipment, some of which could be used for both military and civilian applications, and carted the machinery away.

Dr. Araji said his account was based largely on observations by government employees and officials who either worked at the sites or lived near them.

"They came in with the cranes and the lorries, and they depleted the whole sites," Dr. Araji said. "They knew what they were doing; they knew what they want. This was sophisticated looting."

The threat posed by these types of facilities was cited by the Bush administration as a reason for invading Iraq, but the installations were left largely unguarded by allied forces in the chaotic months after the invasion.

Dr. Araji's statements came just a week after a United Nations agency disclosed that approximately 90 important sites in Iraq had been looted or razed in that period.

Satellite imagery analyzed by two United Nations groups - the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, or Unmovic - confirms that some of the sites identified by Dr. Araji appear to be totally or partly stripped, senior officials at those agencies said. Those officials said they could not comment on all of Dr. Araji's assertions, because the groups had been barred from Iraq since the invasion.

For nearly a year, the two agencies have sent regular reports to the United Nations Security Council detailing evidence of the dismantlement of Iraqi military installations and, in a few cases, the movement of Iraqi gear to other countries. In addition, a report issued last October by the chief American arms inspector in Iraq, Charles A. Duelfer, told of evidence of looting at crucial sites.

The disclosures by the Iraqi ministry, however, added new information about the thefts, detailing the timing, the material taken and the apparent skill shown by the thieves.

Dr. Araji said equipment capable of making parts for missiles as well as chemical, biological and nuclear arms was missing from 8 or 10 sites that were the heart of Iraq's dormant program on unconventional weapons. After the invasion, occupation forces found no unconventional arms, and C.I.A. inspectors concluded that the effort had been largely abandoned after the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

Dr. Araji said he had no evidence regarding where the equipment had gone. But his account raises the possibility that the specialized machinery from the arms establishment that the war was aimed at neutralizing had made its way to the black market or was in the hands of foreign governments.

Dr. Araji said he believed that the looters themselves were more interested in making money than making weapons.

The United Nations, worried that the material could be used in clandestine bomb production, has been hunting for it, largely unsuccessfully, across the Middle East. In one case, investigators searching through scrap yards in Jordan last June found specialized vats for highly corrosive chemicals that had been tagged and monitored as part of the international effort to keep watch on the Iraqi arms program. The vessels could be used for harmless industrial processes or for making chemical weapons.

American military officials in Baghdad did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the findings. But American officials have said in the past that while they were aware of the importance of some of the installations, there was not enough military personnel to guard all of them during and after the invasion.

White House officials, apprised of the Iraqi account by The New York Times, said it was already well known that many weapons sites had been looted. They had no other comment.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/international/middleeast/13loot.html?pagewanted=all&position=
con·cept: Looting at Weapons Plants Was Systematic, Iraqi Says