Muthanna State Establishment
The Iraqi government informed the United Nations 09 July 2014 that it had lost control of a former chemical weapons depot to Islamist insurgents affiliated with ISIS, or IS, and cannot carry out its obligations to destroy what’s stored in the compound. In a letter penned by Iraq’s UN Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim, it was revealed that “armed terrorist groups" took over the Muthanna complex on June 11. Located north of Baghdad, the facility was the main center for chemical weapons production prior to the 1991 Gulf War, and is still home to 2,500 rockets containing the lethal nerve agent sarin.
According to the Associated Press, the compound is now in the hands of the Islamic State extremist group, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In the letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Alhakim said that Iraqi officials witnessed the intruders looting some of the equipment before the surveillance system was taken offline.
It’s unclear exactly what the Islamic State was able to obtain from the facility, but American officials said that whatever is still in the compound is largely ineffective and perhaps impossible to even move. Speaking in late June about the compound’s takeover, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that while the situation is troubling, the leftover stockpile does not include “intact chemical weapons ... and would be very difficult, if not impossible, to safely use this for military purposes or, frankly, to move it." This sentiment was echoed by US Defense Department spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby, who told Reuters, "We aren't viewing this particular site and their holding it as a major issue at this point. Should they even be able to access the materials, frankly, it would likely be more of a threat to them than anyone else."
In the late 1970s, plans were made to build a large research and commercial-scale production facility in the desert some 70km north west of Baghdad under the cover of Project 922. This was to become Muthanna State Establishment, also known as al-Muthanna.
The Iraqi designated name of the large Samarra chemical weapons production facility is al Muthanna State Establishment. The Muthanna State Establishment was Iraq's primary chemical weapons research, development, and production facility. This 5 km by 5 km facility became operational in 1982-83 and operated continuously from 1983 to 1991, producing thousands of tons of precursors, nerve agents and mustard gas. Chemical agents included mustard gas, Sarin, Tabun, and VX.
Iraqis refer to the Samarra facility as the al-Muthanna facility, the State Enterprise for Pesticide Production (SEPP), and the Samarra Drying Industries Plant. The Iraqi CW infrastructure consisted of ten CW agent production plants with a combined production capacity of 2,500-3,000 metric tons (mt) per year. Additionally, there were three munitions filling lines at Samarra, three precursor plants at Habbaniyah, and thirty storage bunkers scattered throughout the country. In about 1975, construction of two cw facilities began near Samarra and Salmon Pak. The Salman Pak facility (located 35km southeast of Baghdad) was a pilot-plant operation, whereas Samarra was an extensive, integrated chemical weapons production facility.
The Samarra facility was Iraq's primary CW agent production facility and probably the largest Iraqi rear-area storage facility for CW agent-munitions. It also took the lead in weaponising chemical and biological agents including all aspects of weapon development and testing, in association with the military. The facility had five research and development sections, each tasked to pursue different programmes. According to information subsequently supplied by the Iraqis,the total production capacity in 1991 was 4,000 tonnes of agent per annum, although the British government assessed it could have been higher. Al-Muthanna was supported by three separate storage and precursor production facilities known as Fallujah 1, 2 and 3 near Habbaniyah,north west of Baghdad,parts of which were not completed before they were heavily bombed in the 1991 Gulf War. As a result of operation Desert Storm, most of the production buildings in this facility were damaged or destroyed.
The facility was under construction in 1975 and contains three main production areas that were externally complete and probably operational by 1984. Samarra did not begin producing significant quantities of CW agents until 1982-83. The agents produced there initially were the riot control (tear gas) agent GS and the blister agent sulfur mustard. By 1984, the facility was producing the nerve agent Tabun. Iraq first used this agent against Iran that year, becoming the first nation to use nerve agents on the battlefield. The facility later began producing other nerve agents, including Sarin. Other agents may have been produced in experimental quantities during this time frame.
There were, however, deficiencies in the process. Through June 1990, the seals used by the plant in CW rounds tended to spring leaks very quickly and could not be relied upon for long-term storage. Even mildly mishandled or dropped rounds began leaking right away. Consequently, CW stocks were stored in small quantities and kept ast a level only sufficient to meet routinely small demand (as of late 1990). Frequently, stocks of finished cw rounds were sent to special offices of the Mukhabarat, located outside the project site.
The Samarra facility is located 75km [or 170 km] northwest of Baghdad and variously reported as 10-40 km south of Samarra City. One fence is around the perimeter (approximately 10 kilometers by 10 kilometers). The second fence is around the laboratory testing area. Both fences are about two meters high topped with barbed wire. There are two entrances. One is the north entrance and the other is the west entrance. Both entrances are monitored by armed guards who operate mechanical, upward moving "tire slasher" barriers. Each entrance contains three, half block serpentine barriers so vehicles have to enter using a slow zig-zag driving technique.
- Area A - special storage and filling /compound - the only CW agent filing facility, with three filling lines, is located at Samarra. Teflon-lined containers probably can be manufactured at the probable munitions filling and storage area in the eastern part of the facility.
- Area B - bunkered production and storage area
Area C - production area - There are nine cw agent production buildings/bunkers at the Samarra facility. P9, P10, P11, and P12 all had similar process equipment although sizes of equipment differed somewhat. A possible CW /agent toxic material disposal area is located across the road from the northernmost single-line production building. Just south of this compound is a peak-roofed covered /storage structure which was revetted between 5 and 15 August 1990. Several large cylindrical storage tanks under the storage /structure are connected to the production compound by two pipelines. Large /liquid storage tanks just south of the compound are connected by pipelines to the compound. These tanks may store chemical agent.
- P3; inhalation chamber.
- P4; pilot plant. Iraqis also referred to this as the "French building". .
- P5; pilot plant.
- P6; pilot plant
- P7; tabun or sulfur mustard.
- P8; originally sulfur mustard only, estimated at one to two tons per day, later thiodiglycol added. Iraqis also referred to this as the "Russian building"'
- P9; tabun, estimated at two tons per day. Production ceased in 1987
- P10: sarin or associated precursors.
- P11/P12: A twin line production building is on the east side of area C, originally sarin only. Later related precursors added.
- Area D - cruciform bunker area - Iraq is believed to have stored its cw munitions in eight cruciform bunkers at Samarra.
- Area E -support storage area
- Area F -vehicle maintenance support area
- Area H - Lab Research Area - The lab area is three kilometers square in the southeast quadrant of the complex. There are four rows of three windowless lab buildings aligned north to south. All are about 20 meters by 20 meters in size, covered with desert camouflage netting and surrounded by two meter high concrete walls. Nine of the buildings are "dummy" labs without doors or approach walkways. Laboratory One has climatic control chambers with an exhaust system. All five Iraqis working in this lab were not scientists. In Laboratory Two most of the intensive work is conducted. Twenty low-level Iraqi scientists worked at distinguishing and categorizing unknown toxins and chemicals. Known equipment are gas chromatographs and Hewlett Packard balancers. Laboratory Three was the metalography lab which was equipped with Carl Zeiss axiomat microscopes. Fifteen low-level Iraqi scientists worked here.
- Area H - Material-chemical storage area - Teflon-lined containers probably can be manufactured at both the probable filling compound, area a, and in this separately fenced compound at the north end of the material-chemical storage area
- Area I - Cruciform bunker storage area- Iraq is believed to have stored its cw munitions in eight cruciform bunkers at Samarra and 22 "S"-shaped bunkers at 14 other locations. The bunkers at Samarra are earth covered with reinforced concrete construction. Security barriers are maintained at the front entrance which is double-doored. During the construction of the bunkers, a gridwork of underground piping was emplaced. The purpose of this gridwork is unknown.
Iraq was believed by US intelligence to have produced, filled and stored chemical agents and munitions in two production cycles between April and September 1990. Iraq's unitary agents are not pure and decompose, requiring additional agent production and munitions filling in order to maintain an effective chemical warfare (CW) Stockpile.
The first production/filling cycle was believed to have occurred from April to mid-August 1990. Activity believed to be associated with the production and transport of chemical precursors and chemical warfare agents occurred from April to late July 1990, during which time 600-1,000 MT of nerve agents and mustard were assessed to have been produced. Chemical munitions filling probably occurred from mid-July to 17 August. Trucks and Chemical-related containers appeared near the probable CW storage bunkers from July to 12 August. At that time, the doors to five of eight cCruciform bunkers were closed for the first time since January 1990, suggesting the bunkers were filled.
The second production cycle appeared to have begun in late August and continued as of 28 September. Activity near the probable material Storage area was noted from late August to 23 September. Liquid transport trucks, perhaps from Habbaniyah II, which may have contained chemical precursor for the production of nerve agent were observed. Probable filling activity began 26 September and continued to 28 September. Iraq's unitary agents are unstable with a shelf-life of 4-6 weeks. As the chemical agent breaks down, agent must be produced and munitions filled. These activities suggested the Iraqis were maintaining, or perhaps increasing, their munitions stockpile.
Continuing activity at the Samarra facility after 9 October 1990 indicated that the facility was probably engaged in its second cycle of agent production and filling since late August. Numerous stake-bed trucks, some carrying crates associated with the shipment of CW materials, were observed in front of one of the probable munitions filling buildings. The presence of a decontamination vehicle in the same area suggested that the probable CW munitions filling activity involved unitary, not binary agents. This was the heaviest CW filling activity noted at Samarra since the Iran-Iraq war. In general, chemical production and storage related activity was at a very low level since mid- October. There was no confirmed movement of chemical ammunition or fills.
In late December 1990, possible chemical-related activity was observed at Samarra. Three stake-bed trucks, including one carrying four possible Scud warhead canisters, were observed on 26 December 1990 apparently preparing to depart the munitions filling and storage area at Samarra. This sighting marked the first time that possible warhead canisters had been observed at the Samarra facility. The presence of Scud warhead canisters at Samarra suggest the existence of a Scud CW warhead.
The site was heavily bombed during the Gulf War. UNSCOM conducted investigations at a large number of facilities in Iraq, including a majority of the facilities suspected by US authorities as being NBC-related. With three exceptions, Khamisiyah, Muhammadiyat, and Al Muthanna, UNSCOM found no evidence that chemical or biological weapons were present during the campaign; and only at Muhammadiyat and Al Muthana did UNSCOM find evidence that would lead them to conclude that chemical or biological weapons were released as a result of coalition bombing. Post-war intelligence compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency indicates some releases of chemicals at Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna; however, both are in remote areas west of Baghdad, and each is over 400 kilometers north of the Saudi Arabian border and the nearest coalition base.[GAO]
From 1992 to 1994, the UNSCOM Chemical Destruction Group operated at this site to eliminate remaining precursor materials, destroy production plants and equipment, and hydrolyse or burn remaining chemical warfare agents.
Muthanna was also the initial location for Iraq's BW program in 1985/86. With the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq War, in the early 1980s, the biological weapons programme was revived. The appointment of Dr Rihab Taha in 1985, to head a small biological weapons research team at al-Muthanna, helped to develop the programme. At about the same time plans were made to develop the Salman Pak site into a secure biological warfare research facility. Dr Taha continued to work with her team at al-Muthanna until 1987 when it moved to Salman Pak,which was under the control of the Directorate of General Intelligence.
Researchers at the Muthanna site carried out initial toxins evaluations of several BW agents and examined their growth characteristics and survivability. Agents investigated include Anthrax, botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, and ricin. Muthanna also conducted small scale production of botulinum toxin. BW equipment was moved to Salman Pak in 1987. Muthanna also provided weaponization expertise to the BW program, primarily CW munition technology and testing.
Given the importance of obtaining documents to support Iraq's declarations on its chemical activity, UNSCOM decided to excavate several destroyed buildings at Al Muthanna, the site of Iraq's largest chemical weapons research and production facility. Since their aerial bombardment in February 1991, access to the buildings had been considered impossible owing to safety considerations. Nevertheless the Commission decided that it should make a major effort to excavate the site. From 24 February to 10 March 1996, UNSCOM 129B, an international team of 26 inspectors, excavated six sections of buildings at Al Muthanna and searched a number of other areas and buildings. During this mission, the team discovered and retrieved some 5,000 pages of printed materials. These included numerous bound volumes, memoranda, organizational papers, booklets, letters, archive records, approximately 100 computer discs, books, catalogues and published journals. Some articles were intact, while others were in fragments. In addition, the team removed some 80 munitions and components, including 122 millimetre artillery chemical warheads and 155 millimetre "binary" artillery shells. [S/1996/258]
On December 4, 2002 UNMOVIC inspectors found mustard-gas filled artillery rounds at Muthanna. Iraqi officials claimed these rounds were previously declared.
Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list