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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Al Qa Qaa HMX/RDX/PETN stockpiles

AN IAEA Record of Monitoring Inspection for Al Qa Qaa for 14 January 2003 reported the following inventory:
The contents of nine bunkers (34, 36, 37, 38, 41, 49, 50, 51, 59), all with the front entrance doors sealed by Agency seal, were 100% item counted. Four lots of HMX identified with their shape, weight and manufacturing countries were accounted for.
1) Rectangular wooden box (~30x40x60 cm3) of 35 kg originating from China.
2) Cubic wooden box (~40x40x40 cm3) of 30 kg originating from Yugoslavia.
3) Cylindrical carton drum (~040 cm x 70 cm) of 50 kg originating from Yugoslavia, and
4) Cubic carton box (~40x40x40 cm3) of 25 kg originating from France.

The New York Times and CBS 60 minutes disclosed on October 25, 2004 that the IAEA reported that nearly 340 metric tons of high explosives had gone missing from the former military facility at Al Qaqaa. The disclosure was made in a letter by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to the Security Council. The agency had been made aware of the disappearance of the explosives by Iraqi authorities October 10, 2004.

The letter addressed to the IAEA, the General Director of the Planning and Following Up Directorate of the Ministry of Science and Technology of Iraq declared the following items "lost after 9 April 2003, through the theft and looting of the governmental installations due to lack of security".

Site Equipment/
Quantity (tons) Remarks
1 Al-qaqaa Company HMX 194.741 High explosive material.
Declaration on 15 July 2002.
2 Al-qaqaa Company RDX 141.233 High explosive material.
Declaration on 15 July 2002.
3 Al-qaqaa Company PETN 5.8 High explosive material.
Declaration on 15 July 2002.

The IAEA was reported to have expressed concern about the danger these explosives posed in their role as possible triggers to nuclear weapons, both before and after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

While the facility was supposed to be under American guard following the 2003 invasion, it remains unclear whether the stockpile had already been removed from Al Qaqaa by that point. Following the return of inspectors to Iraq in 2002, At that time, the IAEA reportedly discovered that 35 tons of HMX were initially unaccounted for. Iraqi authorities later explained that the explosives had been used mostly as part of civilian programs. The IAEA placed seals on a number of bunkers at the site in January 2003. The IAEA last verified the presence of the explosives in March 2003.

The Pentagon has identified a two and a half month period during which the explosives were most likely removed, but it includes time from before and after the fall of Baghdad, leaving open the question of whether U.S. failure to properly secure the site enabled looting of sensitive materials. One senior official was quoted in the New York Times article as saying that Al Qaqaa had been designated by the Central Intelligence Agency as a "medium priority" site but had never been secured.

In response to the controversy, the White House initially asserted that the materials were already gone by the time the troops from 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division arrived on 10 April 2003. However, that unit's commander at the time was quoted in a 27 October 2004 New York Times article in response to the the White House claims, saying, "I didn't know what the place was supposed to be. We did not get involved in any of the bunkers. It was not our mission. It was not our focus. We were just stopping there on our way to Baghdad." He added that he was not aware the site was considered sensitive until the news story broke. A current spokesman for the unit said that when troops arrived on the 10th, there were already looters present. And the Associated Press reported on Oct. 27 that the unit secured the area upon arrival and looked into a limited number of bunkers.

Troops from the Army's 3rd Infantry Division arrived at the site on 3 April 2003, a week earlier than the 101st, but they did not execute a thorough search of the site either, and departed two days later. By the time the 75th Exploitation Task Force inspected the site on 27 May 2003, the site had been looted.

The explosives consist mainly of 195 metric tons of HMX that had been under IAEA sealand and 141 tons of RDX. Also missing were almost six tons of PETN. Both RDX and PETN were subject to regular monitoring of stock levels by the IAEA. According to the Sept. 27 Washington Post, several experts have noted that removal of such large quantities -perhaps upwards of 400 tons- would be logistically quite difficult. For instance, even with heavy trucks, several dozen vehicles would be required.

Aside from the specific nuclear risk posed by HMX, all of the explosives could be used to produce bombs strong enough to collapse buildings or shatter airplanes. Further, if these materials are available to the Iraqi insurgency, they consitute an enormous stock for the road-side bombs and other attacks that have hindred reconstruction and stabilzation efforts, in addition to posing significant danger to coalition troops and Iraqi security forces.

An ABC affiliate with KSTP-TV in Minneapolis/St. Paul, embedded with the 101st Airborne Division during the 2003 push towards Baghdad recorded footage taken at the Al Qaqaa site. The footage, taken on April 18, 2003 and thus after the capture of Baghdad and the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime, depicts bunkers still filled with explosives at the time the troops arrived at the facility. [KSTP-TV story]

DoD released on Oct. 28, 2004, imagery showing two trucks parked outside one of the 56 bunkers of the Al Qa Qaa Explosive Storage Complex approximately 20 miles south of Baghdad, Iraq, on March 17, 2003. According to the relese: "It is not believed that all 56 bunkers contained High Melting Explosive also known as HMX. A large, tractor-trailer (yellow arrow) is loaded with white containers with a smaller truck parked behind it. The International Atomic Energy Association inspectors identified bunkers in this complex as containing High Melting Explosive." However, a comparison of features in the DoD-released imagery with available commercial satellite imagery, combined with the use of an IAEA map from its Action Report showing the location of bunkers used to store the HMX explosives, reveals that the trucks pictured in the DoD image are not at one of the bunkers containing the missing stockpiles.

On Oct. 29, 2004, DOD conducted a Special Briefing on Al Qa Qaa, with Principle Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Lawrence Di Rita and Major Austin Pearson, a member of the 24th Ordnance Company, 24th Corps Support Group. The unit's "mission specifically was to go in there and to prevent the exposure of U.S. forces and to minimize that by taking out what was easily accessible and putting it back and bringing it in to our captured ammunition holding area".

Given the use of 17 trucks and trailers to haul the material, and taking into consideration the configuration, the packing, and the characteristics by weight and cube of how the ammunition is to be packed, the officer estimated that approximately 200-250 tons of ammunition had been removed from the facility; all of which was later destroyed. Of that amount, DoD believes some portion may have consisted of HMX material, but did not offer any certainty on this. The ammunition acknowledged by the ordnance officer to have been collected reportedly consisted of a variety of ammunition (TNT, plastic explosives, detonation cords, initiators, and white phosphorous rounds). However, it remained unknown what percentage, if any, actually consisted of HMX and RDX material.

The ammunition in question was loaded onto the trucks and trailers either manually or using a forklift. These palletized boxes were wooden boxes, and would thus not account for other material accounted for by the IAEA or present in video footage of the location shown to be contained in cardboard cylindrical containers.

According to the briefing, the unit in charge of gathering the ammunition only accessed bunkers which it could easily get into, i.e. bunkers that were already open and exposed. The officer further did not recall seeing any IAEA seals at the locations that he and his unit went into. The briefing left unresolved the question of much material was still present at the site after that visit.

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