Monday, October 25, 2004

380 Tons of Explosives Missing in Iraq

The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives -- used to demolish buildings, produce missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons -- are missing from one of Iraq's most sensitive former military installations.

The huge facility, called al-Qaqaa, was supposed to be under U.S. military control but is now a no-man's land, still picked over by looters as recently as yesterday. U.N. weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished after the U.S. invasion last year.

The White House said President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, was informed within the past month that the explosives were missing. It is unclear whether Bush was informed.

U.S. officials have never publicly announced the disappearance, but beginning last week they answered questions about it posed by The New York Times and the CBS News program 60 Minutes.

Administration officials said yesterday that the Iraq Survey Group, the CIA task force that searched for unconventional weapons, has been ordered to investigate the disappearance of the explosives.

U.S. weapons experts say their immediate concern is that the explosives could be used in major bombing attacks against U.S. or Iraqi forces: The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, could be used to produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings.

The bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the material of the type stolen from Qaqaa.


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