Mon, Nov 01, 2004 - Page 7 News List

More explosives missing: group

IRAQ MUNITIONS Human Rights Watch says it told the US of a stash of warheads northeast of Baghdad last year, but that military officials had failed to respond


Human Rights Watch has said it alerted the US military to a cache of hundreds of warheads containing high explosives in Iraq in May last year, but that officials seemed disinterested and still hadn't secured the site 10 days later.

The disclosure, made Saturday by a senior leader of the New York-based group, raised new questions about the willingness or ability of US-led forces to secure known stashes of dangerous weapons in Iraq.

Peter Bouckaert, who heads Human Rights Watch's international emergency team, said he was shown two rooms "stacked to the roof" with surface-to-surface warheads on May 9 last year in a warehouse on the grounds of the 2nd Military College in Baqouba, 55km northeast of Baghdad.

Bouckaert said he gave US officials the exact location of the warheads, but that by the time he left the area on May 19 he had seen no US forces at the site, which he said was being looted daily by armed men.

His comments came as the question of 377 tons of high explosives reported missing from another site -- the Al-Qaqaa military installation south of Baghdad -- has become a heated issue in the final days of the US presidential campaign.

Bouckaert said displaced people he was working with in the Baqouba area had taken him to the warheads.

"They said, `There's stocks of weapons here and we're very concerned -- can you please inform the coalition?'" he said in a telephone interview from South Africa.

After photographing the warheads, Bouckaert said he went straight to US officials in Baghdad's Green Zone complex, where he claimed officials at first didn't seem interested in his information.

"They asked mainly about chemical or biological weapons, which we hadn't seen," he said. "I had a pretty hard time getting anyone interested in it."

Bouckaert said he eventually was put in touch with unidentified US officials and showed them on a map where the stash was located, also giving them the exact GPS coordinates for the site.

But he said he never saw US forces at the site when he returned to the area for daily interviews with refugees, and that the site still was not secured when he finally left the area.

"For the next 10 days I continued working near this site and going back regularly to interview displaced people, and nothing was done to secure the site," he said.

"Looting was taking place by a lot of armed men with Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades," Bouckaert said. He said each of the warheads contained an estimated 26kg of high explosives.

"Everyone's focused on Al-Qaqaa, when what was at the military college could keep a guerrilla group in business for a long time creating the kinds of bombs that are being used in suicide attacks every day," he said.

Car bombs require only about 3kg of explosives, meaning that each warhead potentially could have yielded enough material for nine bombs, Human Rights Watch said.

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