UNITED NATIONS / BAGHDAD: Iraq’s government has lost control of a former chemical weapons facility to “armed terrorist groups” and is unable to fulfill its international obligations to destroy toxins kept there, the country’s U.N. envoy informed the United Nations.
The announcement came as Iraq’s parliament moved up to early next week its next session devoted to forming a new government as embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki seeks a new term in the face of strong opposition from across the political spectrum.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, made public on Tuesday, Ambassador Mohammad Ali Alhakim said the Muthanna facility north of Baghdad was seized on June 11. He said remnants of a former chemical weapons program are kept in two bunkers there.
“The project management spotted at dawn on Thursday, 12 June 2014, through the camera surveillance system, the looting of some of the project equipment and appliances, before the terrorists disabled the surveillance system,” Alhakim wrote in the letter dated June 30.
The letter referred to the offensive spearheaded by the Al-Qaeda breakaway group ISIS, which along with allied Sunni insurgents have taken over large swaths of Iraq.
“The Government of Iraq requests the States Members of the United Nations to understand the current inability of Iraq, owing to the deterioration of the security situation, to fulfill its obligations to destroy chemical weapons,” he said. Iraq would resume its obligations when the security situation improves and it has regained control of the facility, Alhakim said.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said last month that the United States’ best understanding was that “whatever material was kept there is pretty old and not likely to be able to be accessed or used against anyone right now.”
“We aren’t viewing this particular site and their holding it as a major issue at this point,” Kirby said. “Should they even be able to access the materials, frankly, it would likely be more of a threat to them than anyone else.”
In Iraq, the country’s parliament officially rescheduled its next session for early next week after criticism over initial plans for a five-week break, amid pressure for political leaders to agree on a new government that can confront insurgents who have overrun much of the country’s north and west.
Acting Parliament Speaker Mahdi al-Hafidh said in a statement that after considering the “national interests,” the next session will be Sunday instead of Aug. 12. He warned that any delay in forming a new government “will jeopardize Iraq’s security and democracy and will increase the suffering of Iraqis.” He also called on all political rivals to “shoulder their responsibilities and set aside their differences to fight terrorism to put Iraq back on the path of democracy.”
Hafidh’s statement made official what he had said late Monday was a “preliminary agreement” among political leaders to skip the long break and move the next session up to Sunday.
Lawmakers are under pressure to quickly form a new government that can unite the country and roll back the insurgents. The legislature held its first session since April elections last week, but failed to agree on a new speaker, president and prime minister.
Despite the decision to meet Sunday instead of next month, it still appears unlikely that political leaders will be able to bridge their differences in time to settle on names for the top leadership posts – particularly the prime minister.
Maliki’s State of Law bloc won the largest share of seats in April’s election, securing 92 out of parliament’s 328 seats.
But he is far short of the majority needed to govern, which means he needs allies to cobble together a coalition government.
His opponents – and many former allies – want him removed, accusing him of monopolizing power during his eight years in office and contributing to the current crisis by failing to promote reconciliation with Sunnis. But he has vowed he will not abandon his bid for a third consecutive term.
An airstrike Tuesday targeted the mayoral building in the militant-held town of Qaim on the Iraqi side of the frontier, killing two people and wounding three others, according to Karim al-Dulaimi, a doctor at the town hospital. He said another air raid hit a few minutes later, but there was no word yet on casualties from that strike.
It was not immediately clear whether the airstrikes were carried out by the Iraqi or Syrian military. Officials say Syria has struck militant positions near the border inside Iraq at least once before.