The United Nations atomic watchdog agency has completed its annual inspection of remaining nuclear materials in Iraq to ensure that they conform to the country's safeguard obligations against the spread of weapons under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), carried out at the request of Iraq's Foreign Minister, is separate from UN Security Council-mandated inspections which probed whether ousted leader Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Those checks ceased in mid-March 2003 shortly before the war.
The material - natural or low-enriched uranium - is not sensitive from a proliferation perspective.
"This week's mission was a good first step," IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei said on its completion at the end of last week. "Now we hope to be in a position to complete the mandate entrusted to us by the Security Council."
The removal of remaining sanctions imposed on Iraq in connection with its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent 1991 Persian Gulf War is dependent on completion of this latter mission by teams from the IAEA and the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) to ensure that Iraq has eliminated all WMDs. Such teams have not returned since the war.
The latest inspection was not the IAEA's first related to the NPT since the war. In June 2003 a team went to Baghdad to determine how much nuclear material was missing after the reported looting of the Tuwaitha Nuclear Research Centre, which had been under IAEA seal. It found that uranium compounds dispersed in the looting posed no danger from the point of view of proliferation.