Chemical exposure unlikely during U.S. occupation at An Nasiriyah


WASHINGTON, August 4, 1998 (GulfLINK) - The Department of Defense today released its findings that it was "unlikely" that chemical agents were released during the aerial bombardment and subsequent ground demolition activities at An Nasiriyah, Iraq .

This ammunition storage facility, located south of the city of An Nasiriyah and the Euphrates River, consisted of two separately fenced storage areas. One contained more than 100 concrete storage bunkers, which stored primarily army munitions. The other contained a smaller number of similar storage bunkers, buildings and open revetments; it stored primarily air force munitions.

While Iraq declared to the United Nations Special Commission that mustard-filled 155mm artillery shells were present at this facility during the Desert Storm air campaign, all evidence to date indicates that they were removed prior to the U.S. post-war occupation. The U.S. and UNSCOM post-war inspections for chemical weapons at this facility make it "unlikely" that chemical warfare agents were released there either during or after Desert Storm.

Dr. Bernard Rostker, the special assistant for Gulf War illnesses, explained that Iraq's An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point was a major Iraqi munitions depot during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the U.S. national intelligence community (composed of the Defense Department and other inter-agency intelligence offices) associated the storage of chemical or biological weapons with specific types of bunkers - which analysts referred to as S-shaped and 12-frame types. The facility at An Nasiriyah had one S-shaped bunker and four 12-frame storage bunkers.

The S-shaped bunker and all four 12-frame storage bunkers were struck by air-delivered ordnance during the air campaign, Rostker said, and by February 3, 1991, had been either heavily damaged or destroyed. Today, the intelligence community believes that their pre-war assessments of which bunker types were used to store chemical and biological weapons were inaccurate, and that during Desert Storm, these five bunkers did not contain chemical or biological weapons.

However, according to the to report, one standard storage bunker did contain chemical weapons. Rostker explained how this information affected the analysis.

"While Iraq declared that Bunker 8 contained mustard-filled artillery munitions," Rostker said, "this bunker was not struck during the air campaign. This is why our assessment that the release of chemical agents due to bombing is unlikely."

This previously unconfirmed information was released in 1996, in accordance with U.N. Resolution 687, when Iraq declared that more than 6,000 mustard-filled artillery rounds had been stored in Bunker 8 at the An Nasiriyah facility. The chemical munitions were stored there from approximately January 15, 1991, to February 15, 1991, Rostker explained.

Subsequent U.N. inspections, interviews, and other research support this declaration, he said. Based on this information, these mustard artillery rounds are likely the only chemical weapons to have been stored at the An Nasiriyah storage point during the war.

During the cease-fire and prior to the withdrawal of U.S. troops, this facility and Bunker 8 were searched by U.S. ground forces. No chemical weapons were found and the bunker was destroyed by demolition charges. Rostker added that during this five-week period, none of the explosive ordnance disposal and combat engineer personnel conducting demolition activities wore chemical weapon protective gear. None, he said, reported or sought medical attention for symptoms of blister or nerve agent exposure.

Prior to this search, the Iraqis had transported the 6,000 mustard-filled artillery rounds to an open storage site approximately five kilometers west of the Khamisiyah storage site and covered them with a tan tarp.

"The mustard rounds remained there, undisturbed, until Iraq declared them to the U.N. Special Commission," Rostker said. "The U.N. inventoried these shells, found them to be intact and filled with mustard agent. They later destroyed them at another location under the provisions of the Security Council resolution."

This is the eleventh case narrative released by the Defense Department since the special assistant's office was created in November 1996. Rostker points out that this is an interim, not a final, report. He asked veterans to look at the narrative and provide feedback on this or any other report released by his office.

"As you look through the materials, if you have comments, corrections or any information that will help us better understand the events that occurred at An Nasiriyah - or any other location in the Gulf - we would like to hear from you. Please call the toll-free incident reporting line at 1-800-472-6719. First-hand accounts are a valuable component of our investigation."

Rostker reports that more than 40 additional studies are underway. Several reports will be released in the next few weeks. In the meantime, the investigation continues.