DoD reports on results of coalition bombing at Muhammadiyat, Iraq

WASHINGTON, March 27, 2001 (GulfLINK) - The latest investigation of events during the Gulf War concludes that U.S. forces - with the possible exception of a few forward-deployed special operations forces in Iraq - were not exposed to chemical warfare agents resulting from Coalition forces air strikes at the Muhammadiyat ammunition site. The case narrative, "Chemical Warfare Agent Release at Muhammadiyat Ammunition Storage Site", released today by the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses examines whether or not Coalition bombing exposed U.S. forces to chemical warfare agents. For these few special operations personnel, exposure is indeterminate.

In 1996, the CIA published a report examining the possibility of exposure of U.S. troops to chemical warfare agents due to Coalition bombing and concluded "chemical agents released by aerial bombing of chemical warfare facilities did not reach U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia." The current investigation was prompted after an Institute for Defense Analyses panel reviewed computer modeling related to the initial Khamisiyah investigation and recommended using some non-Department of Defense and a combination of models to compensate for deficiencies in the initial modeling. Because of these suggestions, the office for Gulf War illnesses expanded the analysis of the release of agent from Muhammadiyat.

"This new analysis gives us a better estimate of the release of chemical warfare agent at Muhammadiyat and the possible exposure to U.S. servicemembers," said Dale Vesser, acting special assistant. "We re-examined the possible release at Muhammadiyat using a combination of weather and multiple dispersion models to evaluate any possible exposure of Gulf War veterans as an indirect result of Coalition bombing."

Chemical weapons produced at Al Muthanna were stored at the Muhammadiyat ammunition storage site, located some 95 miles west of Baghdad, which was also known to have contained an extensive store of conventional munitions. Before Operation Desert Storm, empty weapons were moved repeatedly from Muhammadiyat to Al Muthanna for filling, back to Muhammadiyat for storage, and eventually, distributed to Iraq's army and air force sites. Although it is unclear whether Coalition planners identified Muhammadiyat as chemical weapons storage site, they knew it was an ammunition storage site and suspected Scud depot. For that reason, Muhammadiyat was repeatedly bombed throughout the Gulf War. Coalition bombing on Muhammadiyat began on Jan. 19, 1991, and continued periodically through Feb. 24, 1991.

The devastation at Muhammadiyat from Coalition bombing was considerable. Almost all the structures in the chemical weapons storage area were damaged or destroyed. In October 1991, inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq - UNSCOM - found damaged and destroyed mustard-filled bombs as well as damaged sarin/cyclosarin-filled bombs. Almost all of these bombs were found outside of the buildings. United Nations inspectors recommended the destruction of leaking and burned chemical-agent-filled bombs and moving intact chemical-agent-filled munitions to Al Muthanna for destruction.

"Investigators found it very difficult to calculate the number of chemical munitions destroyed by Coalition bombing at Muhammadiyat because of the lack of credible information provided by Iraq about the number and types of munitions destroyed and the lack of detailed bomb damage assessment," said Roy Finno, an investigator with the special assistant's office.

In its first declaration after the war in 1991-1992, Iraq declared 200 DB-2 sarin/cyclosarin-filled bombs destroyed and 200 250-gauge mustard-filled bombs damaged. However, U.N. inspectors were suspicious of damage claims at Muhammadiyat. Iraq, subsequently, changed its declaration to 12 DB-2 filled bombs.

Based on Iraq's declarations and UNSCOM inspections, investigators believe there were never more than 12 DB-2 sarin/cyclosarin bombs at Muhammadiyat. United Nations inspectors found nine of these bombs of which seven leaked. Investigators from the special assistant's office for Gulf War illnesses, believe the release of nerve agent from the bombs not found by U.N. inspectors was possible.

Additionally, U.N. inspectors recovered 200 250-gauge mustard bombs at Muhammadiyat of which 119 were intact and 81 were leaking agent. Based on this fact, investigators believe the release of mustard agent was definite.

"Lack of bomb damage assessment data has made it difficult for us to determine the exact dates of chemical warfare agents released as a result of Coalition bombing," said Finno. "Any time attack aircraft flew over the target was a possible time of release."

The only available strike videos of the Muhammadiyat raids were from a small number of F-111 aircrews. The Navy attack crews routinely re-used their videotapes recording over their strike videos and destroying the evidence of what targets were struck and when. The only visual evidence that could be used in this investigation was the still photography and video taken during the U.N. 1991 October inspection of the site.

Using Iraq's declarations, U.N. inspector's reports, still and video photography, investigators believe it likely Coalition bombing released 180 kilograms of a 50-50 mixture of sarin and cyclosarin nerve agents. Additionally, investigators believe Coalition bombing released an estimated 2,970 kilograms of mustard blister agent and this release occurred over a one-hour time period.

Various research was conducted and weather data collected to help reconstruct the weather conditions at the time of the Gulf War. The special assistant's office conducted computer modeling and simulation studies to determine the extent of any possible exposure threat to U.S. forces.

"Because the bombing occurred over an extended period of time, we modeled 17 distinct air strikes occurring on 15 different days in which nerve agent bombs could have been destroyed or damaged," said Finno. "And, any one of four air strikes on three different days could have destroyed the mustard rounds, so we modeled four possible releases."

Computer modeling of these releases depicts the closest the nerve agent hazard area came to U.S. forces in western Saudi Arabia occurred Feb. 6, 1991, when the outer edge of the potential hazard area extended to within 35 miles of a company-size unit in western Saudi Arabia. The closest nerve agent hazard area to the main concentration of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia occurred Jan. 27, 1991, when the potential hazard area came within 80 miles of the forces near Rafha.

Similarly, the closest mustard agent hazard area to U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia occurred Feb. 12, 1991, with the outer edge of the hazard area coming within 125 miles of a company-size unit in Saudi Arabia. The closest the mustard agent hazard area came to the main concentration of U.S. forces occurred the same day, when the potential hazard area came within 150 miles of the forces near Rafha.

U.S. Special Operations Command told analysts that small groups of its soldiers were operating in Iraq during the air campaign. When comparing the days the Special Operations Forces operated in Iraq against the days of possible low-level chemical warfare agent hazard, investigators believe that there were three days when these personnel may have been exposed to low-levels of nerve agent.

"Since we postulated a single release of nerve agents - and this release could have occurred on any one of 15 bombing dates - we were unable to determine whether these special forces soldiers were in the hazard area on the day of a possible nerve agent release," said Finno.

"My office has taken the initiative to notify those servicemembers, and we will work with the U.S. Special Operations Forces Command and the Department of Veterans Affairs to make sure they get the care they deserve," said Vesser.

This investigation remains open. Veterans with new or additional information should call the Veteran's Hotline at (800) 497-6261 or write by e-mail at Additionally, any veterans desiring a free, in-depth medical examination should call the DoD's Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program at (800) 796-9699 or the VA's Persian Gulf Registry at (800) 749-8387 to enroll.

Case narratives examine Gulf War incidents that might have involved chemical warfare agents. They are part of DoD's efforts to inform the public about its investigations into the nature and possible causes for the illnesses experienced by some Gulf War veterans.

This narrative, and all other publications of the Office of the Special Assistant for Gulf War Illnesses, is posted on the GulfLINK website.