The removal of Iraq's mothballed nuclear facilities took about a year and was carried out by experts with heavy machinery and demolition equipment, diplomats close to the United Nations have said.
The UN nuclear watchdog, which monitored Saddam Hussein's nuclear sites before the US-led invasion last year, told the UN Security Council this week that equipment and materials that could be used to make atomic weapons had been vanishing from Iraq but neither Baghdad nor Washington had noticed.
'This process carried on at least through 2003 ... and probably into 2004, at least in early 2004,' a Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
US, British and Iraqi officials have downplayed the disappearance of the equipment, saying it was part of widespread looting after the March 2003 invasion, which the US, Britain and Australia said was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
However, several diplomats close to the nuclear agency said on Thursday that this was not the result of haphazard looting.
They said the removal of this dual-use equipment - which until the war was tagged and closely monitored by the agency to ensure that it was not being used in a weapons program - was planned and executed by people who knew what they were doing.
It really is extraordinary that the Coalition of the Willing is so good at churning out lies to explain away its failures. It's almost as if explaining away how the war to contain nuclear weapons became the single greatest proliferation event of the decade was more important than stopping the actual proliferation.