Inquiry Launched Over Missing Explosives in Iraq
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26, 2004 Multinational Force Iraq and the Iraq Survey Group are examining facts and circumstances regarding when several hundred tons of explosives went missing from the former Al-Quaqaa military facility in Iraq and where they are now, defense officials said today.
"The president wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters traveling with President Bush aboard Air Force One Oct. 25.
McClellan said the Defense Department ordered an inquiry of the missing weapons, directing Multinational Force Iraq and the Iraq Survey Group to come up with a comprehensive assessment about what happened to them.
The Iraqi government reported an estimated 350 tons of missing explosives Oct. 10 to the International Atomic Energy Agency, a U.N. monitoring group that last inventoried the facility in January 2003.
During that visit, the U.N. inspectors counted the munitions and equipment and tagged them with IAEA seals that indicate they are "dual use," or have conventional-weapons applications. These munitions were generally permitted to remain in Iraq. In contrast, "single use" munitions with nuclear applications were destroyed or rendered harmless.
The IAEA returned to the site two months later, in March 2003, and confirmed the equipment it had tagged was still there.
However, coalition forces found no evidence of the weapons in question when they first arrived at the sprawling Al-Quaqaa facility, 30 miles south of Baghdad, about April 10, 2003, according to a defense official.
The troops searched 32 bunkers and 87 other buildings, finding some weapons and explosive material, but nothing close to the quantity reported missing by the Iraqi government, and none with IAEA seals, he said.
In an Oct. 10, 2004, letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed J. Abbas, general director of the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology's Planning and Following Up Directorate, reported that 195 tons of high-melting explosive, 141 tons of rapid-detonating explosive, and 6 tons of pentaerythrite tetranitrate, another type of explosive commonly known as PETN, "registered under the IAEA custody were lost" after April 9, 2003.
Abbas blamed the loss on "the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security."
However, the defense official said there's no verification that looting ever occurred at the site. Citing lack of accountability over the materials between the March IAEA visit and April 10, he said it's possible that regime loyalists or other groups emptied the facility before coalition forces arrived in Baghdad.
Although none of the missing material poses a nuclear-proliferation risk, the Defense Department takes the report of the missing munitions "very seriously," he said.
Since Operation Iraqi Freedom began in March 2003, coalition forces have discovered that Saddam Hussein's regime stored weapons in countless locations, including schools, mosques and hospitals, the official said. In addition, he said, the former regime forced many Iraqi citizens to hide weapons in their homes and neighborhoods.
Many Iraqis "have bravely stepped forward" to share information leading to more weapons, the official said.
The Iraq Survey Group report, more commonly known as the "Duelfer Report," named after chief weapons inspector Charles A. Duelfer, cited strong progress in identifying weapons in Iraq.
The report, released earlier this month, notes that since mid-September alone, coalition forces have reviewed and cleared more than 10,000 weapons caches and destroyed more than 240,000 tons of weapons and munitions. Another 162,000 tons of munitions await destruction.