News video shows what could be tons of missing explosives in Iraq
WASHINGTON (AP) – Videotape shot by a Minnesota television crew traveling with U.S. troops in Iraq when they first opened the bunkers at the Al-Qaqaa munitions base nine days after the fall of Saddam Hussein shows what appeared to be high explosives still in barrels and bearing the markings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The video taken by KSTP of St. Paul on April 18, 2003, could reinforce suggestions that tons of explosives missing from a munitions installation in Iraq were looted after the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The video was broadcast nationally Thursday on ABC.
“The photographs are consistent with what I know of Al-Qaqaa,” David A. Kay, a former American official who directed the hunt in Iraq for unconventional weapons and visited the site, told The New York Times. “The damning thing is the seals. The Iraqis didn’t use seals on anything. So I’m absolutely sure that’s an IAEA seal.”
The question of what happened to the tons of explosives has become a major issue in the closing days of the presidential campaign.
Democrat John Kerry says the missing explosives – powerful enough to demolish a building, bring down a jetliner or set off a nuclear weapon – are another example of the Bush administration’s poor planning and incompetence in handling the war in Iraq. President Bush says the explosives were possibly removed by Saddam’s forces before the invasion.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld entered the debate Thursday, suggesting the 377 tons of explosives were taken away before U.S. forces arrived, saying any large effort to loot the material afterward would have been detected.
“We would have seen anything like that,” he said in one of two radio interviews he gave at the Pentagon. “The idea it was suddenly looted and moved out, all of these tons of equipment, I think is at least debatable.”
The Pentagon also declassified and released a single image, taken by reconnaissance aircraft or satellite just days before the war, showing two trucks outside one of the dozens of storage bunkers at the Al-Qaqaa munitions base.
The particular bunker is not one known to have contained any of the missing explosives, and Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita said the image only shows that there was some Iraqi activity at the base when it was taken, on March 17. Di Rita said the image says nothing about what happened to the explosives.
Rumsfeld, in one radio interview, also cast doubt on the suggestion of one of his subordinates that Russian forces assisted the Iraqis in removing them.
John Shaw, the deputy U.S. undersecretary of defense for international technology security, suggested to The Washington Times in an interview that the Russians may have been involved, prompting an angry denial from Moscow.
Rumsfeld said, “I have no information on that at all, and cannot validate that even slightly.”
But at issue is whether the weapons were moved before or after U.S. forces occupied that region of the country in early April. No one has been able to provide conclusive evidence either way, although Iraqi officials blamed it on poor U.S. security after Baghdad fell.
The Pentagon has said it’s looking into the matter, and officials note that 400,000 tons of recovered Iraqi munitions have either been destroyed or are slated to be destroyed.