Occupied Iraq’s approach to the French nuclear industry for help with the reconstruction of at least one of its reactors, and its opening of discussions with the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), reveal the inconsistencies in western attitudes to the region. Iraq used to have three nuclear facilities, all purportedly for research, although Saddam’s scientists were reportedly ordered to replicate the French uranium enrichment process. All three Iraqi nuclear facilities were destroyed between 1982 and 1991, one by Israeli bombing and the others by U.S. and British bombing in the first Gulf War. Now, with an infrastructure devastated by U.S.-led troops during the 2003 invasion, and a clear need for reliable energy sources, Iraq is attempting to revive its nuclear programme. The political environment for this, however, is complex and uncertain. The U.N. Security Council Resolution 707, adopted in 1991, prohibits Iraq from nuclear activities of any kind, except for the use of isotopes for medical, agricultural, or industrial purposes, until the Security Council deems that Iraq has fulfilled the conditions of Resolution 687. That resolution forbids Iraq from acquiring any equipment or materials related to nuclear weapons, and gives the IAEA comprehensive supervisory powers over the country’s nuclear activities. Moreover, given the overall security situation underlined by the October 25 suicide bombing in Baghdad, Iraq’s capacity to render nuclear facilities safe is in doubt. One of its sites was looted after the invasion in 2003.

The recent Iraqi moves have provoked remarkably little reaction in the western world, which is intensely suspicious of anything neighbouring Iran says or does in nuclear-related matters. Even the potentially constructive draft deal reached in Vienna on October 21 has been received with much caution. If the draft is finalised, Iran will ship 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU), amounting to 75 per cent of its enriched uranium stocks, to Russia to be turned into fuel suitable only for use in civilian reactors. U.N. inspectors also carried out their first inspection at Qom on October 25, at a site voluntarily disclosed by Tehran. Many western analysts, however, continue to be pessimistic, saying Iran can produce another 1,200 kg of LEU in a year, that the deal does not stop the country from enriching uranium, and that it is not known how much LEU Iran actually has. Such negativity could well jeopardise the deal, and it reveals the west’s continuing double standards over Iran and Iraq.

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