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U.S. Team to Check Reported Radiation Cases Near Facility

May 17, 2003|From Reuters

BAGHDAD — U.S. military experts will visit a looted Iraqi nuclear facility in the wake of reports that residents near the site showed signs of radiation sickness, U.S. Central Command said Friday.

Central Command said a specially trained Army team of 11 experts would assess the quantity and the condition of the nuclear material at the facility in Tuwaitha, south of the capital, Baghdad. It gave no specific date for the visit.

U.S.-led forces were trying to secure the site with the help of former Iraqi employees.

"Initial indications show that several containers were disturbed when local Iraqis pilfered the facility prior to the arrival of coalition forces into the area," the Central Command Web site said.

It said the facility was used for storage of declared nuclear material sealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency before the war that toppled the regime of President Saddam Hussein.

"The team will not compromise any IAEA seals that remain in place," Central Command said.

The IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, said Monday that it wanted to investigate reports that Iraqis living near the facility were showing signs of radiation sickness after villagers looted uranium-tainted barrels from there.

The United States has been resisting demands to allow U.N. arms inspectors and experts from the IAEA to return to Iraq to search for banned weapons.

Tuwaitha was bombed by Israel in 1981 and then by a U.S.-led coalition in 1991.

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