The breaking news via Twitter on Wednesday night was quite alarming.
BREAKING NEWS: IRAQ TELLS U.N. THAT ‘TERRORIST GROUPS’ SEIZED NUCLEAR MATERIALS. REUTERS
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) July 9, 2014
Iraq says militants seized 40 kg (88 pounds) of uranium compounds from university, ambassador warns they can be used for WMD – Reuters
— PzFeed Top News (@PzFeed) July 10, 2014
The United Nations seems to be playing down the significance of the threat, but the Iraqi government’s warning was specific that this material could be used in creating weapons of mass destruction.
Iraq has notified the United Nations that Sunni militants seized nuclear material from a university in the northern city of Mosul last month as they advanced toward Baghdad, the nuclear regulatory body of the United Nations said on Thursday.
Gill Tudor, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is based in Vienna, said in a statement that the organization’s experts believed the material — thought to be uranium — was “low-grade and would not present a significant safety, security or nuclear proliferation risk.”
Word of the seizure first emerged in a letter to the United Nations dated July 8 and seen by reporters from Reuters, which quoted it as saying that “terrorists” from the insurgent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, known as ISIS, had taken control of the materials.
The letter said that almost 90 pounds of uranium compounds had been kept at the university and that the materials “can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction,” Reuters said.
The first question that comes to many Americans’ minds is: How can there be uranium material left in Iraq? After all, the Bush Administration was skewered by the media (and continues to be) when they presented the “yellowcake” evidence at the United Nations prior to the 2003 Iraq War. And, as that TIME article pointed out, even the Bush Administration admitted in 2003 that they messed up on the yellowcake evidence.
But not so fast. There were some interesting — and very underreported — elements of the WMD story in Iraq exposed by none other than WikiLeaks. Larry Elder helped wade through the WMD mess from the new WikiLeaks information when it came out.
Wired magazine’s contributing editor Noah Shachtman — a nonresident fellow at the liberal Brookings Institution — researched the 400,000 WikiLeaked documents released in October. Here’s what he found: “By late 2003, even the Bush White House’s staunchest defenders were starting to give up on the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But WikiLeaks’ newly-released Iraq war documents reveal that for years afterward, U.S. troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins and uncover weapons of mass destruction (emphasis added). … Chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents.”
In 2008, our military shipped out of Iraq — on 37 flights in 3,500 barrels — what even The Associated Press called “the last major remnant of Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program”: 550 metric tons of the supposedly nonexistent yellowcake. The New York Sun editorialized: “The uranium issue is not a trivial one, because Iraq, sitting on vast oil reserves, has no peaceful need for nuclear power. … To leave this nuclear material sitting around the Middle East in the hands of Saddam … would have been too big a risk.”
The truth, of course, usually lies in the middle of a fierce debate like this. Those who supported the war in Iraq always maintained that Saddam Hussein could have restarted his WMD/nuclear program at anytime — the WikiLeaks documents seem to confirm this.
But does the radical Islamist group ISIS (now a “declared Islamic state”) have the materials to make a traditional nuclear weapon now? No.
What ISIS does have are the elements to make rudimentary weapons of mass destruction. Earlier in the ISIS advance last month through Northern Iraq — it was revealed that in June the terror army had seized chemical weapons from a facility outside Baghdad.
Still it may come as a surprise to many that the uranium compounds — now in the hands of ISIS — were allowed to remain in control of the new Iraqi government in the first place. The United Nations counted on Iraq to use the material for “peaceful nuclear technology.”
In its comprehensive 30 September 2004 report (also known as the Duelfer Report), the Iraq Survey Group concluded that Saddam Hussein had ended Iraq’s nuclear weapons program following the first Gulf War in 1991, and had not directed a coordinated effort to restart the program thereafter.  Surviving Iraqi nuclear facilities, which were almost entirely destroyed during the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, are controlled by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MST). In cooperation with the Iraq Nuclear Facility Dismantlement and Disposal Project – a joint effort of the IAEA, the U.S. Department of State, and U.S. national laboratories tasked with “eliminating threats from poorly controlled radioactive materials” – Iraqi regulators have worked to eliminate most of Iraq’s remaining nuclear infrastructure, much of which poses health and safety risks. 
The post-Saddam Iraqi government has thus far adhered to the nonproliferation regime, and in 2009 displayed interest in developing a peaceful nuclear program.  Iraqi Minister of Science and Technology Ra’id Fahmi publicly cited both research and the growing demand for electricity as reasons Iraq is exploring the feasibility of nuclear technology.  In recognition of Iraq’s adherence to the international nonproliferation regime, the United Nations Security Council in 2010 lifted post-Gulf War sanctions prohibiting Iraq from pursuing peaceful nuclear technology. 
So these weapons now in the hands of a radical Islamic terror army may not be the ones wrapped up in a bow that MSNBC was expecting the United States would find in 2003. But what ISIS has been able to pillage from Iraq are indeed ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ These chemical and radiological materials can be used to poison and maim large populations or to create a radiation dirty bomb out of a van loaded with traditional explosives.
Hopefully our Western intelligence agencies will do a better job of finding these potential WMDs now that they are out of Iraq.DONATE
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