BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's government has removed 550 tonnes of natural uranium left over from Saddam Hussein's era and sold it to a Canadian company, government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
The uranium, called yellowcake, had been stored in a compound at Tuwaitha, south of Baghdad, which was once the centre of Saddam's nuclear weapons programme.
A U.S. embassy spokeswoman confirmed the U.S. military helped safely ship the uranium out of the country.
"The Iraqi government decided to get rid of the uranium, which amounted to 550 tonnes, because of its potentially harmful affects on Iraq and the region and because it causes pollution," Dabbagh said on Iraqiya state television late on Sunday.
The Tuwaitha nuclear complex was dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. But tonnes of nuclear material remained there under the seal of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), until the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq when it was left unguarded and looted by Iraqi civilians.
That's a lot of nuclear material that could have been developed by the Hussein regime into destructive weapons. Indeed, the Associated Press notes that the United States secretly shipped the uranium to Canada to prevent the uranium from falling into Iranian hands:
The last major remnant of Saddam Hussein's nuclear program - a huge stockpile of concentrated natural uranium - reached a Canadian port Saturday to complete a secret U.S. operation that included a two-week airlift from Baghdad and a ship voyage crossing two oceans.
The removal of 550 metric tons of "yellowcake" - the seed material for higher-grade nuclear enrichment - was a significant step toward closing the books on Saddam's nuclear legacy. It also brought relief to U.S. and Iraqi authorities who had worried the cache would reach insurgents or smugglers crossing to Iran to aid its nuclear ambitions.
Given the media consternation over the pre-war charge of Iraq seeking yellow cake from Africa, and the media's penchant for making front page headlines of top secret missions in the war on terrorism, it's quite telling that this story appears to be one the mainstream media are conveniently ignoring.