[ The Associated Press is reporting that “the International Atomic Energy Agency warned the U.S. about explosives stored at Al-Qaqaa in Iraq after [the] April 2003 looting” of Iraq’s main nuclear complex. Thanks to Alexandra Dadlez for forwarding the first story below. –BL ]
Video Suggests Explosives Disappeared After U.S. Took Control; Evidence Indicates U.S. Military Opened Al-Qaqaa Bunkers, Left Them Unguarded
The strongest evidence to date indicates that conventional explosives missing from Iraq’s Al-Qaqaa installation disappeared after the United States had taken control of Iraq.
Barrels inside the Al-Qaqaa facility appear on videotape shot by ABC television affiliate KSTP of St. Paul, Minn., which had a crew embedded with the 101st Airborne Division when it passed through Al-Qaqaa on April 18, 2003 — nine days after Baghdad fell.
Experts who have studied the images say the barrels on the tape contain the high explosive HMX, and the universal markings on the barrels are clear that these are highly dangerous explosives.
“I talked to a former inspector who’s a colleague of mine, and he confirmed that, indeed, these pictures look just like what he remembers seeing inside those bunkers,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington.
The barrels were found inside sealed bunkers, which American soldiers are seen on the videotape cutting through. Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency sealed the bunkers where the explosives were kept just before the war began.
“The seal’s critical,” Albright said. “The fact that there’s a photo of what looks like an IAEA seal means that what’s behind those doors is HMX. They only sealed bunkers that had HMX in them.”
After the bunkers were opened, the 101st was not ordered to secure the facility. A senior officer told ABC News the division would not have had nearly enough soldiers to do so.
It remains unclear how much HMX was at the facility, but what does seem clear is that the U.S. military opened the bunkers at Al-Qaqaa and left them unguarded. Since then, the material has disappeared
Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said it’s not clear what the photos indicate.
“We know there were other units in the area who acknowledged finding explosives,” he said. “Some Explosive Ordnance Destruction units have a recollection that some high explosives in the area were taken out of there.”
DiRita said the Pentagon is trying to contact the units of the 101st Airborne Division that may have been involved in the opening of these bunkers to get a better sense of what happened.
Late today, the Pentagon released a satellite image of Al-Qaqaa bunkers taken March 17, 2003, that shows the presence of two heavy-lift tractor trailers outside of a bunker. The Pentagon is uncertain about whether the specific bunker where the trucks are located actually contained explosives that are now missing.
Their intent in releasing the image is to demonstrate that on the same day that the IAEA inspectors left Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s regime was in control of the facility, countering the impression that this was a “hermetically sealed” location and showing that access was available to non-U.N. personnel.
Not released today were images taken March 14, 2003, and March 20, 2003, that show no vehicles on the premises. There also was an image from April 1, 2003, that showed a large number of trucks at the nearby Iskandariyah airfield. Officials acknowledged they have no idea what those trucks were there for.
It is highly unusual for the Pentagon to release spy satellite imagery. Officials said today’s decision was made with the full agreement of the intelligence community and that the White House did not have to approve the release.
ABC News’ Martha Raddatz filed this report for World News Tonight. Luis Martinez contributed to this report.
Timeline on Missing Explosives in Iraq
* 1991: The International Atomic Energy Agency places a seal over storage bunkers holding conventional explosives known as HMX and RDX and PETN at the Al-Qaqaa facility south of Baghdad as part of U.N. sanctions that ordered the dismantlement of Iraq’s nuclear program after the Gulf War. HMX is a “dual use” substance powerful enough to ignite the fissile material in an atomic bomb and set off a nuclear chain reaction.
* January: IAEA inspectors view the explosives at Al-Qaqaa for the last time. The inspectors take an inventory and again place storage bunkers at Al-Qaqaa under agency seal.
* February: IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei tells the United Nations that Iraq has declared that “HMX previously under IAEA seal had been transferred for use in the production of industrial explosives.” This apparently didn’t include the HMX that remained under seal at Al-Qaqaa.
* March 9-15: Nuclear agency inspectors visit Al-Qaqaa for the last time but apparently don’t examine the explosives because the seals aren’t broken. The inspectors then pull out of the country.
* March 20: The U.S.-led coalition invades Iraq.
* April 3: The Army’s 3rd Infantry Division reaches Al-Qaqaa, fights with Iraqi forces, occupies the site and leaves after two days for Baghdad without searching for high explosives.
* April 9: The 3rd Infantry Division captures Baghdad.
* April 10: Troops from the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade spend 24 hours at the site, search for chemical weapons — but not high explosives — and then head to Baghdad. An NBC reporter embedded with the unit said there’s no talk among the 101st of securing the area after they leave.
* May 3: The nuclear agency purportedly notifies the U.S. Mission in Vienna of its concerns about the Al-Qaqaa facility.
* May 8: An American site survey team arrives to inspect the Latifiyah Phosgene Facility — part of Al-Qaqaa — and finds the plant heavily looted.
* May 11: An American site survey team arrives to inspect Latifiyah Missile and Rocket production facility, also part of Al-Qaqaa. The team assesses the facility as non-operational but with possible dual use.
* May 27: U.S. troops search specifically for high explosives. The troops find the seals have been broken. It’s not clear whether they did a further accounting of the materials themselves.
* Oct. 10: Iraq’s Ministry of Science and Technology tells the nuclear agency that 377 tons of explosives has disappeared from the Al-Qaqaa facility. The Iraqis say the materials were stolen after the April 9, 2003, fall of Baghdad because of a lack of security.
* Oct. 15: The IAEA informs the U.S. mission in Vienna about the disappearance. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice is informed days later, and she informs President Bush, according to White House press secretary Scott McClellan.
* Oct. 23-24: The Pentagon orders the U.S. military command in Baghdad to investigate the IAEA report.
* Oct. 25: ElBaradei reports the explosives’ disappearance to the U.N. Security Council after The New York Times reports the cache is missing.