US releases pre-war aerial photo of Iraq weapons site


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Harry Tuttle
October 29, 2004, 05:54 AM
US releases pre-war aerial photo of Iraq weapons site

47 minutes ago

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WASHINGTON (AFP) - The Pentagon (news - web sites) released an aerial photograph of the Iraqi facility where hundreds of tons of powerful explosives have gone missing, showing two trucks parked by a bunker just before the US-led invasion, as the issue took the forefront of the presidential race.

The bunker was at Al Qaqaa Explosives Storage facility where the high explosives were kept under seals placed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, but Defense Department spokesman Lawrence DiRita said US officials did not know what the trucks were doing there.

He also could not say if the bunkers contained any of the explosives reported missing earlier this month by the Iraqi government and the IAEA.


The photograph was taken March 17, 2003 -- two days before US forces invaded Iraq (news - web sites) and the same day that the last IAEA inspectors left the country.


"We believe this is a period of time when there was no international observation and prior to the beginning of the war, and certainly prior to the presence of US forces," DiRita told reporters.

He said the Pentagon released the photograph to show activity on the facility before the war, but was not suggesting the picture showed the removal of the missing high explosives.

"There is a perception that this facility was under some sort of hermetic seal between the time the IAEA last looked at the facility in January (2003), when they actually counted weapons ... and the time US forces arrived in April," he said.

"The only point we've been trying to make is not that we know what happened there, but that stuff was happening on this facility at the time at which it was under Saddam's control," he said.

DiRita said another photograph taken April 1, 2003 of a nearby airfield also showed a lot of vehicles on it.

"But we don't know what that means. It's only a kilometer or two away from the bunkers," he said, adding that that photograph was not being released.

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said earlier in a radio interview that it was "very likely" that the explosives were removed before the war by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein (news - web sites), but offered no concrete evidence.

"I guess the first thing to say about it is that first reports are almost always wrong," he said in an interview with a Philadelphia radio station.

"And people who use hair-trigger judgement to come to conclusions about things that are fast moving frequently make mistakes that are awkward and embarrassing," he said.

Although he mentioned no one by name, Rumsfeld appeared to be alluding to Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (news - web sites) who has repeatedly cited the disappearance of the explosives in campaign attacks on President George W. Bush (news - web sites).

The declassified aerial photograph was posted on the Pentagon's website, www.defenselink.mil.

A caption said the picture shows two trucks parked outside one of the 56 bunkers at the Al Qaqaa Explosive Storage Compex. A blowup of the image is inset in the picture.

"A large, tractor-trailer (yellow arrow) is loaded with white containers with a smaller truck parked behind it," it said.

International inspectors identified bunkers in the complex as containing High Melting Explosive, or HMX, but not all the bunkers were believed to contain HMX, it said.

UN inspectors were believed to have visited the complex on March 15, and the UN weapons inspection staff was withdrawn from Iraq two days later, it said.

In the interview with WPHT radio, Rumsfeld argued that removing the explosives after the arrival of US forces would have been detected because of the size of the operation required.

"Picture all of the tractor trailers and fork lifts and caterpillars it would take to move 377 tons. And we had total control of the air. We would have seen anything like that," he said.

"So the idea it was suddenly looted and moved out, all of these tons of equipment, is I think at least debatable. And it's very likely that, just as the United States would do, Saddam Hussein moved munitions when he knew the war was coming," he said.

http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Oct2004/041028-D-0000M-001.html
big pix:
http://www.defenselink.mil/photos/Oct2004/041028-D-0000M-001.jpg

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Justin
October 29, 2004, 05:57 AM
Ladies and Germs, I think we've got our election year "October Surprise."

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