U.N. weapons inspectors have concluded that material that could be used for biological and chemical weapons has been removed from more than 100 sites in Iraq.
The U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspections Commission, known as UNMOVIC, says nearly 8,000 items of dual use equipment, known to have been at various locations in Iraq, have disappeared.
A report to the Security Council lists 4,700 items that could be used in the production of chemical weapons, 300 that could be used for making biological weapons and 3,000 missile-related items.
UNMOVIC has been prohibited from visiting Iraq since U.S.-led forces invaded in 2003. Their conclusions are based on satellite photos.
UNMOVIC spokesman Ewen Buchanan says the inspectors reached no conclusions about what happened to the equipment.
"We don't have people on the ground who can follow up, and we cannot determine whether the stuff has simply gone to another factory and is legitimately being used to make, say, pharmaceutical products, or whether it's been sold as scrap metal or destroyed or what's happened," said Ewen Buchanan.
Spokesman Buchanan says U.N. experts determined most of the 109 sites surveyed had been cleaned up. Others, they believe may have been looted. He noted that UNMOVIC had earlier reported the recovery of some materials shipped out of Iraq.
"Some of it we do know has been exported from Iraq and melted down as scrap, because we - last year our inspectors found some missile engines in a scrap yard in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and other items have shown up in Jordan," he said.
The UNMOVIC report says a third of the missing chemical items were from the al Qaqaa industrial complex, south of Baghdad. That complex, and two others at Fallujah, north of the capital, were among those sites where the most dual-use equipment was found. Inspectors say the whereabouts of that material is not known.
Before the first Gulf War in 1991, those facilities played a key role in producing material for Iraq's chemical warfare program. But spokesman Buchanan said UNMOVIC destroyed all those weapons years ago.
"The Iraqi regime did have weapons of mass destruction back in 1991, no doubt about that, and the U.N. inspectors did spend quite a bit of time in the early 90s destroying large quantities of chemical weapons, several hundred tons, but we had no evidence they possessed WMD in the period we were in Iraq in late 2002, early 2003," said Ewen Buchanan.
In meetings this week with Security Council members and with Secretary General Kofi Annan, Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari pressed Baghdad's demand that UNMOVIC be closed down. Iraqi officials have complained the inspectors are being paid out of Iraqi funds, and are barred from operating in the country.
But the Security Council president, French Ambassador Jean Marc de La Sabliere, told reporters this week there is no immediate plan to shut down the commission.