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IN THE NEWS - Missing Explosives in Iraq - 2004-10-30

Broadcast: October 30, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News in VOA Special English.

On Monday, the United Nations nuclear agency reported that three hundred fifty metric tons of high explosives in Iraq were missing. The materials were kept at a storage center at Al Qaqaa near Baghdad.

United States officials say the explosives may have disappeared before American forces occupied the capital. The International Atomic Energy Agency, however, says American forces failed to secure them after entering Baghdad in early April of last year.

Mohammed ElBaradei is the director general of the U.N. agency. He reported the disappearance to the Security Council on Monday. The New York Times newspaper and C.B.S. television had first reported the story that same day.

Mister ElBaradei said Iraqi officials had informed him in early October that the explosives were missing. They said the material disappeared sometime after American-led coalition forces took control of Baghdad.

U.N. nuclear inspectors had been supervising the explosives because one possible use is to set off a nuclear bomb. The inspectors said the explosives were still at Al Qaqaa during their final visit on March ninth, before they left Iraq. The war began on March twentieth of last year.

Defense Department officials say they have evidence of Iraqi military activity at Al Qaqaa before the war began. On Thursday they released a satellite picture. They said it showed two Iraqi trucks parked outside a storage area several days before the war started. American officials say this picture proves that Iraqis were at Al Qaqaa after U.N. inspectors had left the country.

The Defense Department says it is investigating what happened to the missing explosives. American officials have suggested that the explosives were probably removed by Saddam Hussein’s forces before the invasion. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said any large effort to steal the material after that would have been discovered.

Officials say more than four hundred thousand tons of ammunition, explosives and other material in Iraq have been seized or destroyed. Still, the missing explosives have become an issue in the race for the presidential election on Tuesday.

Democratic Senator John Kerry says the missing explosives are more evidence that the administration is doing a bad job in Iraq. President Bush accused his opponent of making "wild accusations" before the facts are known.

Adding to the dispute was a report broadcast Thursday by A.B.C. television. It showed images made by a news crew traveling with the first American troops to arrive at Al Qaqaa. That was on April eighteenth of last year, nine days after the fall of Baghdad and Saddam Hussein.

The pictures showed what appeared to be high explosives in containers with the markings of the I.A.E.A. There is disagreement, however, if these were the same containers that held the explosives that are now missing.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.