Very bad looting

I wrote a lot about the looting of Iraqi historical artifacts from museums while US troops stayed away. Newsweek has a much scarier story, that I found via Josh Marshall’s blog, about US forces refusing to devote resources to secure nuclear facilities.

The well-known Al Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Center, about 12 miles south of Baghdad, had nearly two tons of partially enriched uranium, along with significant quantities of highly radioactive medical and industrial isotopes, when International Atomic Energy Agency officials made their last visit in January. By the time U.S. troops arrived in early April, armed guards were holding off looters — but the Americans only disarmed the guards, Al Tuwaitha department heads told NEWSWEEK. “We told them, ‘This site is out of control. You have to take care of it’,” says Munther Ibrahim, Al Tuwaitha’s head of plasma physics. “The soldiers said, ‘We are a small group. We cannot take control of this site’.” As soon as the Americans left, looters broke in. The staff fled; when they returned, the containment vaults’ seals had been broken, and radioactive material was everywhere.

This isn’t the only hazardous site that is being left unguarded, and the consequences could be very high.

The looted materials could not make a nuclear bomb, but IAEA officials worry that terrorists could build plenty of dirty bombs with some of the isotopes that may have gone missing. Last week NEWSWEEK visited a total of eight sites on U.N. weapons-inspection lists. Two were guarded by U.S. troops. Armed looters were swarming through two others. Another was evidently destroyed many years ago. American forces had not yet searched the remaining three.