U.N. satellite imagery experts have determined that material that could be used to make biological or chemical weapons and banned long-range missiles has been removed from 109 sites in Iraq, U.N. weapons inspectors said in a report obtained Thursday.
U.N. inspectors have been blocked from returning to Iraq since the U.S.-led war in 2003 so they have been using satellite photos to see what happened to the sites that were subject to U.N. monitoring because their equipment had both civilian and military uses.
"Particularly because of the continued insurgency in Iraq, U.N. weapons experts are concerned about missing biological and chemical weapons," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N. "Satellite imagery has its limits and inspection experts are hoping to be able to get back into Iraq to find out if the weapons are missing or were destroyed."
In the report to the U.N. Security Council, acting chief weapons inspector Demetrius Perricos said he's reached no conclusions about who removed the items or where they went. He said it could have been moved elsewhere in Iraq, sold as scrap, melted down or purchased.
He said the missing material can be used for legitimate purposes. "However, they can also be utilized for prohibited purposes if in a good state of repair."
He said imagery analysts have identified 109 sites that have been emptied of equipment to varying degrees, up from 90 reported in March.
The report also provided much more detail about the percentage of items no longer at the places where U.N. inspectors monitored them.
From the imagery analysis, Perricos said analysts at the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission which he heads have concluded that biological sites were less damaged than chemical and missile sites.
The commission, known as UNMOVIC, previously reported the discovery of some equipment and material from the sites in scrapyards in Jordan and the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
Perricos said analysts found, for example, that 53 of the 98 vessels that could be used for a wide range of chemical reactions had disappeared. "Due to its characteristics, this equipment can be used for the production of both commercial chemicals and chemical warfare agents," he said.
The report said 3,380 valves, 107 pumps, and more than 7.8 miles of pipes were known to have been located at the 39 chemical sites.
A third of the chemical items removed came from the Qaa Qaa industrial complex south of Baghdad which the report said "was among the sites possessing the highest number of dual-use production equipment," whose fate is now unknown." Significant quantities of missing material were also located at the Fallujah II and Fallujah III facilities north of the city, which was besieged last year.
Before the first Gulf War in 1991, those facilities played a major part in the production of precursors for Iraq's chemical warfare program.
The percentages of missing biological equipment from 12 sites were much smaller — no higher than 10 percent.
The report said 37 of 405 fermenters ranging in size from 2 gallons to 1,250 gallons had been removed. Those could be used to produce pharmaceuticals and vaccines as well as biological warfare agents such as anthrax.
The largest percentages of missing items were at the 58 missile facilities, which include some of the key production sites for both solid and liquid propellant missiles, the report said.
For example, 289 of the 340 pieces of equipment to produce missiles — about 85 percent — had been removed, it said.
At the Kadhimiyah and Al Samoud factory sites in suburban Baghdad, where the report said airframes and engines for liquid propellant missiles were manufactured and final assembly was carried out, "all equipment and missile components have been removed."
UNMOVIC is the outgrowth of a U.N. inspections process created after the 1991 Gulf War in which invading Iraqi forces were ousted from Kuwait. Its staff are considered the only multinational weapons experts specifically trained in biological weapons and missile disarmament.
The report noted that the commissioners who advise UNMOVIC again raised questions about its future. Iraq has called for its Security Council mandate to be terminated because UNMOVIC is funded from past Iraqi oil sales and it wants to be treated like other countries, but the council has not taken up the issue.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said Thursday the commission's expertise "should not be lost for the international community."