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Monday, October 25, 2004

380 tons of high-power explosives left unguarded, now missing

"The White House acknowledged Monday that nearly 380 tons of powerful explosives are missing from a weapons facility that American forces failed to guard following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, raising fears that the weapons could be given to terrorists or used for attacks against troops in Iraq.

U.S. officials say the explosives -- which are powerful enough to detonate a nuclear bomb -- may have been looted from one of Saddam Hussein's bomb-making plants when U.S. military forces were working to pacify Baghdad and other restive cities .
The White House officials downplayed the significance of the missing explosives. Coming eight days before a hotly contested presidential election, the disclosure reverberated through the political campaign, with Democratic nominee Sen. John F. Kerry calling it one of President Bush's 'great blunders' in Iraq...

Iraqi officials reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the U.N. monitoring group -- earlier this month that the explosives were looted after April 9, 2003, when U.S. forces entered Baghdad. IAEA officials verified the explosives were still at the site and under seal in January 2003, the last time the inspectors were there.

The IAEA had been monitoring the material -- known as HMX and RDX -- as part of the U.N. inspections program following the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

The agency had issued numerous warnings about the explosives falling into the wrong hands, before and after the U.S. invasion. Pentagon officials said that while U.S. troops searched the facility on several occasions during and after the invasion, the facility was not high on U.S. commanders' list of key sites to guard because survey teams found no nuclear or biological weapons at Al Qaqaa, a collection of 87 buildings and underground bunkers 30 miles south of Baghdad.

Asked if U.S. troops were ever ordered to guard the facility, where Saddam built conventional warheads and where the IAEA dismantled parts of his nuclear program after the Gulf War, one Defense official responded, 'Not that I'm aware of.'"

- Los Angeles Times

Full story here.


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