Video Shows G.I.'s at Weapon Cache
By WILLIAM J. BROAD and DAVID E. SANGER
Published: October 29, 2004
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A videotape made by a television crew with American troops when they
opened bunkers at a sprawling Iraqi munitions complex south of Baghdad
shows a huge supply of explosives still there nine days after the fall
of Saddam Hussein, apparently including some sealed earlier by the
International Atomic Energy Agency.
The tape, broadcast on Wednesday night by the ABC affiliate in
Minneapolis, appeared to confirm a warning given earlier this month to
the agency by Iraqi officials, who said that hundreds of tons of
high-grade explosives, powerful enough to bring down buildings or
detonate nuclear weapons, had vanished from the site after the invasion
The question of whether the material was removed by Mr. Hussein's forces
in the days before the invasion, or looted later because it was
unguarded, has become a heated dispute on the campaign trail, with
Senator John Kerry accusing President Bush of incompetence, and Mr. Bush
saying it is unclear when the material disappeared and rejecting what he
calls Mr. Kerry's "wild charges."
Weapons experts familiar with the work of the international inspectors
in Iraq say the videotape appears identical to photographs that the
inspectors took of the explosives, which were put under seal before the
war. One frame shows what the experts say is a seal, with narrow wires
that would have to be broken if anyone entered through the main door of
The agency said that when it left Iraq in mid-March, only days before
the war began, the only bunkers bearing its seals at the huge complex
contained the explosive known as HMX, which the agency had monitored
because it could be used in a nuclear weapons program. It is now clear
that program had ground to a halt.
The New York Times and CBS reported on Monday that Iraqi officials had
told the agency earlier this month that the explosives were missing, and
that they were looted after April 9, 2003, the day Baghdad fell.
Yesterday evening, the Pentagon released a satellite image of the
complex taken just two days after the inspectors left, showing a few
trucks parked in front of some bunkers. It is not clear they are the
bunkers with the high explosives.
"All we are trying to demonstrate is that after the I.A.E.A. left, and
the place was under Saddam's control, there was activity," said Lawrence
DiRita, the Pentagon spokesman. It is not clear from the photo what
activity, if any, was under way.
On Thursday, a top Iraqi official said the interim government had spoken
to witnesses who said the material was still at Al Qaqaa at the time
The videotape , taken by KSTP-TV, an ABC affiliate in Minneapolis-St.
Paul, shows troops breaking into a bunker and opening boxes and
examining barrels. Many of the containers are marked "explosive." One
box is marked "Al Qaqaa State Establishment," apparently a shipping
label from a manufacturer.
The ABC crew said the video was taken on April 18. The timing is
critical to the debate in the presidential campaign. By the Pentagon's
own account, units of the 101st Airborne Division were near Al Qaqaa for
what Mr. DiRita said was "two to three weeks," starting April 10.
Then they headed north to Baghdad, and the site was apparently left
unguarded. By the time special weapons teams returned to Al Qaqaa in
May, the explosives were apparently gone.
In disputing claims by Mr. Kerry that the Americans had lost the
explosives, a senior administration official said Thursday, "We don't
know all the facts and no one should be jumping to conclusions." Al
Qaqaa, the official said, "was not controlled for three weeks after the
I.A.E.A. left," and added "there are a lot of dots we have to connect."
The Pentagon also notes that it has destroyed 400,000 tons of munitions
from thousands of sites across Iraq, and that the explosives at Al Qaqaa
account for "one-tenth of 1 percent" of that amount.
The Minneapolis television crew was with an Army unit that was camped
near Al Qaqaa, members of the crew said. The reporter and cameraman said
that although they were not told specifically that they were being taken
to Al Qaqaa by the military, their videotape matches pictures of the
site taken by United Nations weapons inspectors, according to weapons
"The photographs are consistent with what I know of Al Qaqaa," said
David A. Kay, a former American official who led the recent hunt in Iraq
for unconventional weapons and visited the vast site. "The damning thing
is the seals. The Iraqis didn't use seals on anything. So I'm absolutely
sure that's an I.A.E.A. seal."
One weapons expert said the videotape and some of the agency's
photographs of the HMX stockpiles "were such good matches it looked like
they were taken by the same camera on the same day."
Independent experts said several other factors - the geography; the
number of bunkers; the seals on some of the bunker doors; the boxes,
crates and barrels similar to those seen by weapon inspectors - confirm
that the videotape was taken at Al Qaqaa.
"There's not another place that you would mistake it for," said Dean
Staley, the KSTP reporter, who now works in Seattle.
The accidental news encounter began last year after the invasion, Mr.
Staley recalled in an interview. Their Army unit arrived in the region
on Friday, April 11, and made camp. The Fifth Battalion of the 101st
Airborne's 159th Aviation Brigade flew helicopter missions from the camp
in the Iraqi desert, moving troops and supplies to the front.
A week later, on Friday, April 18, two journalists recalled, they joined
two soldiers who were driving in a Humvee to investigate the nearby
bunkers. Among other things, wandering inside the cavernous buildings
offered the prospect of relief from the desert sun.
"It was just by chance that we were able to go," said Joe Caffrey, the
team's photographer. "They wanted to go out and we asked to tag along."
Mr. Caffrey provided The New York Times with the latitude and longitude
of the camp, which places it between 1.5 and 3 miles southeast of Al
Qaqaa bunkers. A commercial satellite photograph of the region shows
that the camp was close to the storage site. Mr. Caffrey said the
soldiers used bolt cutters to cut through chains with locks on them, as
well as seals. He said the seals appeared to be lead disks attached to
very thin wires that were wrapped around the doors of the bunker
entrances, forming a barrier easily cut in two.
They visited a half dozen bunkers, he said. The gloomy interiors
revealed long rows of boxes, crates and barrels, what independent
experts said were three kinds of HMX containers shipped to Iraq from
France, China and Yugoslavia.
The team opened storage containers, some of which contained white powder
that independent experts said was consistent with HMX.
"The soldiers were pretty much in awe of what they were seeing," Mr.
Caffrey recalled. "They were saying their E.O.D. - Explosive Ordinance
Division, people who blow this kind of stuff up - would have a field
The journalists filmed roughly 25 minutes of video. Mr. Caffrey added
that the team left the bunker doors open. "It would have been easy for
anybody to get in," he said.
Mr. Staley recalled that during the drive back to camp, they saw a red
Toyota pickup truck with some Iraqis in it. "Our impression was they
were looters," he said. "This was a no man's land. It was a huge
facility, and we worried that they were bad guys who might come up on
The two journalists filed a short story, which ran soon thereafter in
In the interview, Mr. Caffrey said he had carefully rechecked the date
on the cassette for his camera, adding that he was sure it was April 18,
Yesterday Mohamed al-Sharaa, director of the national monitoring
directorate at the Iraq Ministry of Science and Technology, explained
for the first time why Iraqi officials had specified in their letter to
the United Nations agency that the explosives had been looted after
April 9, 2003. "We have some witnesses," Mr. Sharaa said outside his
office at the ministry. "They say that the materials," he added, were
"in this site after April 9."
The witnesses were people working at Al Qaqaa, Mr. Sharaa said. Still,
he said, the evidence is not yet definitive, and "we don't say it's
impossible" that the material was somehow taken out of Al Qaqaa before
the American forces came through the area. The first American forces
arrived at Al Qaqaa on April 3.
Rashad M. Omar, the minister of science and technology, said that as far
as he was concerned, the exact timing of the disappearance remained
unknown. "How, where, when is it taken, all these questions, we don't
have answers," Dr. Omar said.
He said a committee headed by himself was about to undertake an
investigation of the disappearance, in parallel with American efforts to
clear up the mystery. Dr. Omar said that he was extremely confident that
the investigations would determine the facts of the case.
"The quantity was so huge," Dr. Omar said. "Somebody must know what
happened to the material. I am sure the facts will not be hidden for a
James Glanz contributed reportingfrom Baghdad for this article.