Paging Joe Wilson:
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.
What’s now left is the final and complicated push to clean up the remaining radioactive debris at the former Tuwaitha nuclear complex about 12 miles south of Baghdad _ using teams that include Iraqi experts recently trained in the Chernobyl fallout zone in Ukraine.
“Everyone is very happy to have this safely out of Iraq,” said a senior U.S. official who outlined the nearly three-month operation to The Associated Press. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
……And, in a symbolic way, the mission linked the current attempts to stabilize Iraq with some of the high-profile claims about Saddam’s weapons capabilities in the buildup to the 2003 invasion.
Accusations that Saddam had tried to purchase more yellowcake from the African nation of Niger and an article by a former U.S. ambassador refuting the claims led to a wide-ranging probe into Washington leaks that reached high into the Bush administration.
Tuwaitha and an adjacent research facility were well known for decades as the centerpiece of Saddam’s nuclear efforts.
……The yellowcake wasn’t the only dangerous item removed from Tuwaitha.
Earlier this year, the military withdrew four devices for controlled radiation exposure from the former nuclear complex. The lead-enclosed irradiation units, used to decontaminate food and other items, contain elements of high radioactivity that could potentially be used in a weapon, according to the official. Their Ottawa-based manufacturer, MDS Nordion, took them back for free, the official said.
The yellowcake was the last major stockpile from Saddam’s nuclear efforts, but years of final cleanup is ahead for Tuwaitha and other smaller sites.
……A CIA officer, Valerie Plame, claimed her identity was leaked to journalists to retaliate against her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who wrote that he had found no evidence to support assertions that Iraq tried to buy additional yellowcake from Niger.
A federal investigation led to the conviction of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The Feds owe Libby an apology and should give Plame and her loser husband Joe a swift kick in the ass.