A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Uranium in Iraq


Q: Was it recently revealed that the U.S. found uranium in Iraq after the invasion in 2003?

A: No. Uranium recently shipped from Iraq to Canada was left over from Saddam Hussein’s defunct nuclear weapons program and had been in sealed containers, under guard, since the end of the first Gulf War in 1991. Claims that this material is "vindication" for President Bush’s WMD claims in 2003 are completely false.

FULL QUESTION

I doubt this comes under your review since it isn’t a claim made by any candidate, but I wonder if you could point me in some direction to verify the accuracy of a items on Investors’ Business Daily’s Web site. The article "Saddam’s Nukes" states:

"It’s a little known fact that, after invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. found massive amounts of uranium yellowcake, the stuff that can be refined into nuclear weapons or nuclear fuel, at a facility in Tuwaitha outside of Baghdad. In recent weeks, the U.S. secretly has helped the Iraqi government ship it all to Canada, where it was bought by a Canadian company for further processing into nuclear fuel — thus keeping it from potential use by terrorists or unsavory regimes in the region. This has been virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Yet, as the AP reported, this marks a ‘significant step toward closing the books on Saddam’s nuclear legacy.’ Seems to us this should be big news." (article abbreviated but can be found in its entirety at http://www.ibdeditorials.com/IBDArticles.aspx?id=300323577877918)

There is more to the article, but I wonder if the claim "the U.S. found massive amounts of yellowcake" can be substantiated and, maybe as a followup, if true, I wonder why the major media seems to have ignored this.

FULL ANSWER

Beyond Investor’s Business Daily’s editorial, conservative bloggers and chain e-mails have claimed that the Associated Press report proves that President Bush was right in the run-up to the Iraq war when he said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. One e-mail a reader forwarded to us said this was "vindication for the Bush administration." It’s not.

 

The AP article, published on July 5, said that a large amount of yellowcake uranium was, in fact, sold by Iraq to Canada, as part of a secret mission facilitated by the U.S. But this uranium was known to have been in Iraq following the conclusion of the first Gulf War. It was not "found" in 2003, as the IBD editorial claims. As the AP article said, "There was no evidence of any yellowcake dating from after 1991, [a senior U.S. official] said."

July 5 marked the completion of the operation in which the United States removed 550 metric tons of yellowcake uranium from Tuwaitha, the facility that once served as the center of Iraq’s nuclear activities.The uranium was then shipped to Canada. Cameco Corp., a Canadian uranium producer, bought the material and plans to enrich it, before selling it to nuclear plants worldwide. According to Cameco’s Web site, yellowcake uranium, or uranium oxide, is uranium that has been milled and mined but requires further processing before it can be used as a fuel.

The transfer of the uranium involved stops in Baghdad and Diego Garcia, a U.S. military base in the Indian Ocean, as well as 37 military flights, before it finally arrived in Montreal. Securing and transporting the uranium cost the U.S. military nearly $70 million, which Iraq has pledged to partially reimburse. While the exact price Cameco paid for the uranium is unknown, a senior U.S. official told the AP that the deal was worth “tens of millions of dollars.”

The details of the transaction have been kept secret. By the time the AP reported the incident, the mission had already been underway for months. In a July 7 press conference, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the secrecy was due to “security concerns.” U.S. officials worried the uranium might end up in the wrong hands if kept in an unstable region like the Middle East.

Conspiracy Theories

Investor’s Business Daily, conservative blogs such as RedState and e-mails circulating the Web argue that news of this operation justifies the U.S. invasion of Iraq and that the mainstream media have been actively engaged in some kind of cover-up to hide the story from the general public:

Investor’s Business Daily editorial, July 7: Seems to us this should be big news. After all, much of the early opposition to the war in Iraq involved claims that President Bush "lied" about weapons of mass destruction and that Saddam posed little if any nuclear threat to the U.S. This more or less proves Saddam in 2003 had a program on hold for building WMD and that he planned to boot it up again soon.

But this particular stock of uranium was not recently discovered — and it was no secret. It had been stored in sealed containers, since before the first Gulf War, according to the AP. Saddam Hussein was forced to allow United Nations inspectors into Iraq in 1991, as part of the cease-fire that ended the first Gulf War. The U.N. Security Council’s agreement required Hussein to dismantle Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, in exchange for lifting the 1990 economic sanctions  imposed on Iraq. The inspectors monitored Iraq’s disarmament, and later guarded this uranium. More recently, U.S. and Iraqi forces have been guarding it, since Iraqis looted the site after Hussein’s fall from power.

Tuwaitha wasn’t under the radar, either. Israel bombed the facility in 1981, destroying its nuclear reactor. The U.S. also bombed the site during the Gulf War in 1991.

We see no evidence of any cover-up by the media, as we were able to find coverage of the story in the Boston Globe, L.A. Times, New York Times, CNN and MSNBC, among other news outlets.

-Rachel Weisel

Sources

Crossette, Barbara. "Hussein Delivers a New Ultimatum on U.N. Inspectors." New York Times. 18 January 1998.

Murphy, Brian. “AP Exclusive: U.S. Removes Uranium from Iraq.” Associated Press, 5 July 2008.

Press Release: “President Delivers State of the Union.” 28 January 2003. White House Web site. Accessed 30 July 2008.

Rubin, Alyssa J. and Campbell Robertson. “U.S. Helps Remove Uranium from Iraq.” The New York Times, 7 July 2008.

Saddam’s Nukes.” Investor’s Business Daily, 7 July 2008.

Transcript: CNN’s The Situation Room, 7 July 2008.