350 Tons Of Explosives MIA In Iraq
VIENNA, Austria, Oct. 25, 2004
Several hundred tons of conventional explosives are missing from a former Iraqi military facility that once played a key role in Saddam Hussein's efforts to build a nuclear bomb, the U.N. nuclear agency confirmed Monday.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei will report the materials' disappearance to the U.N. Security Council later Monday, spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told The Associated Press.
"On Oct. 10, the IAEA received a declaration from the Iraqi Ministry of Science and Technology informing us that approximately 350 tons of high explosive material had gone missing," Fleming said.
In Washington, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry's campaign said the Bush administration "must answer for what may be the most grave and catastrophic mistake in a tragic series of blunders in Iraq."
"How did they fail to secure ... tons of known, deadly explosives despite clear warnings from the International Atomic Energy Agency to do so?" senior Kerry adviser Joe Lockhart said in a statement.
The Iraqis told the nuclear agency the materials had been stolen and looted because of a lack of security at governmental installations, Fleming said.
"We do not know what happened to the explosives or when they were looted," she told AP.
The explosives included HMX and RDX, which can be used to demolish buildings but also produce warheads for missiles and detonate nuclear weaponry. They disappeared after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq last year.
60 Minutes Correspondent Ed Bradley reports the U.N. says it warned the U.S. government the munitions site might be looted shortly after the invasion. A White House spokesman today CBS News President Bush is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to the missing explosives.
"This is a disaster almost anyway you look at it,'' terrorism expert Daniel Byman told Bradley. "Very dangerous stuff got out to very bad people. It would be hard to portray it in any way that isn't completely negative."
Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was informed of the missing explosives in the past month, the report said. It said Iraq's interim government recently warned the United States and U.N. nuclear inspectors that the explosives had vanished.
"Upon receiving the declaration on Oct. 10, we first took measures to authenticate it," Fleming said. "Then on Oct. 15, we informed the multinational forces through the U.S. government with the request for it to take any appropriate action in cooperation with Iraq's interim government."
"Mr. ElBaradei wanted to give them some time to recover the explosives before reporting this loss to the Security Council, but since it's now out, ElBaradei plans to inform the Security Council today" in a letter to the council president, she said.
There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy between the IAEA's figure of 350 tons and the newspaper's estimate of nearly 380 tons.
Before the war, inspectors with the Vienna-based IAEA had kept tabs on the so-called "dual use" explosives because they could have been used to detonate a nuclear weapon.
"This material was monitored and controlled by U.N. inspectors before the invasion of Iraq. Thanks to the stunning incompetence of the Bush administration, we now have no idea where it is," Lockart said. He demanded the White House explain "why they failed to safeguard these explosives and keep them out of the hands of our enemies."
IAEA inspectors pulled out of Iraq just before the 2003 invasion and have not yet been able to return despite ElBaradei's repeated urging that the experts be allowed back in to finish their work.
ElBaradei told the U.N. Security Council before the war that Iraq's nuclear program was in disarray and that there was no evidence to suggest it had revived efforts to build atomic weaponry.
Al Qaqaa, a sprawling former military installation about 30 miles south of Baghdad, was placed under U.S. military control but repeatedly has been looted, raising troubling questions about whether the missing explosives have fallen into the hands of insurgents battling coalition forces.
Saddam was known to have used the site to make conventional warheads, and IAEA inspectors dismantled parts of his nuclear program there before the 1991 Gulf War. The experts also oversaw the destruction of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons. A recent report by U.S. inspectors concluded that Saddam had neither stockpiles of any illegal weapons nor active programs to produce them.
The nuclear agency has no concrete evidence to suggest the seals were broken, Fleming said, but a diplomat familiar with the agency's work in Iraq said the seals must have been broken if the explosives were stolen.
Concerns over the security of former nuclear sites in Iraq has arisen before. In April, the IAEA reported that some Iraqi nuclear facilities appear to be unguarded, and radioactive materials were being taken out of the country.
Separately, the Los Angeles Times reported that 2,500 barrels of uranium that could be used to produce nuclear weapons had been left unguarded at the Tuwaitha nuclear research center site for several days following the withdrawal of Iraqi troops.
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