Merchant of Death
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The DRC and Uranium for Iran
The Lumbumbashi uranium mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo produced the uranium that allowed the United States to build its first atomic bombs used against Japan in 1945. Now the Sunday Times is reporting that Iran has been trying to buy large quantities of uranium and smuggle it out through Tanzania. They know because one large shipment was stopped in Tanzania in October 2005 when it was discovered during a routine check. No one knows how many have gotten through.

This again highlights the dangers of stateless areas and failed states in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the enabling of rogue regimes.

Few know what goes on in this area of the DRC, a nation that has been in a perpetual state of conflict for more than a decade. The central government controls little and the armies of neighboring countries, along with armed Congolese warlords, control these mineral-rich areas that operate beyond state supervision. U.S. and European intelligence services are virtually blind in such regions.

It is interesting that North Korea a few years ago also attempted to mine uranium from the same abandoned Shinkolobwe mine, supposedly closed in 1961. Two of the most isolated governments in the world finding the same area hospitable to their efforts to acquire vital ingredients for their weapons of mass destruction tells you a lot about the current state of the DRC.

While presidential elections were recently held, there is little prospect that the fractured results will allow for the emergence of a coherent government. Even if they do, reestablishing sovereignity over the vast nation will require years if not decades.

And therein lies the threat. It is not just states that turn criminal that pose a danger to our strategic interests by providing logistical and financial support to Islamist groups and organized criminal gangs. It is states that cannot control areas of access to vital resources that pose an equal threat.

The first glimmers of the attempted Iranian smuggling of uranium came in a July 18 report submitted to the U.N. Security Council monitoring the international sanctions on the DRC. The official report is expected to be released soon. The uranium was reportedly hidden amid a shipment of coltan, a mineral ore used to make cell phones and computer chips. The coltan was bound for Kazakhstan, via the Irania port of Bandar Abbas.

The report by the experts said: “In reference to the last shipment from October 2005, the Tanzanian government left no doubt that the uranium was transported from Lubumbashi by road through Zambia to the united republic of Tanzania.”

Lubumbashi is the capital of mineral-rich Katanga province. The mine has officially been closed since 1961, before the country’s independence from Belgium, but the UN investigators have told the security council that they found evidence of illegal mining still going on at the site.

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