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October 26, 2004
CBS Reported Suspicious Powder At Al Qaqaa In April 2003

Alert CQ reader Samuel Silver sent me this article from the archives of CBS News -- the same organization that helped prepped NYTrogate with the New York Times -- which shows that the Third Infantry Division had reached Al Qaqaa and discovered thousands of vials of a mysterious powdered explosive by April 3, 2003 (coincidentally, my birthday):

U.S. troops found thousands of boxes of white powder, nerve agent antidote and Arabic documents on how to engage in chemical warfare at an industrial site south of Baghdad. But a senior U.S. official familiar with initial testing said the materials were believed to be explosives.

Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said the materials were found Friday at the Latifiyah industrial complex just south of Baghdad. ... The facility is part of a larger complex known as the Latifiyah Explosives and Ammunition Plant al Qa Qaa [emph mine -- CE].

Troops of the 3ID discovered thousands of boxes, each with three vials of white powder, the form in which the explosive agents that the IAEA claim went missing were stored. From this description, it sounds as if the material left at Al Qaqaa would have only been samples or starter materials, as storing 380 tons of powdered explosive in vials would have taken most of Baghdad to store.

Nevertheless, the contemporaneous CBS report showed that the 3ID knew what they had at Al Qaqaa and did more than just a cursory look around the joint to go sightseeing. They suspected that the facility held WMD or chemical-weapons manufacturing capability. A bottle labeled "tabun," a nerve agent, was found with a small amount of the chemical inside. The troops also discovered atropine stored at the bunker, an antidote for nerve agents, making them very suspicious of the shells stored at Al Qaqaa.

With all of the pressure on the Bush administration to find WMD, does anyone seriously think for a moment that they left Al Qaqaa without checking for UNSCOM and/or IAEA seals? From the description that CBS gave at the time, the Army took a very close look at the materiel at Al Qaqaa:

The senior U.S. official, based in Washington and speaking on condition of anonymity, said the material was under further study. The site is enormous and U.S. troops are still investigating it for potential weapons of mass destruction, the official said.

"Initial reports are that the material is probably just explosives, but we're still going through the place," the official said. ...

The facility had been identified by the International Atomic Energy Agency as a suspected chemical, biological and nuclear weapons site. U.N. inspectors visited the plant at least nine times, including as recently as Feb. 18.

The idea that various Army units showed up at the weapons facility and strolled around a few minutes before moving up the road to Baghdad, leaving the lights on and the front door unlocked, looks more and more ridiculous. The Army knew very well what it had found, and it searched the bunkers carefully looking for the most dangerous and high-priority items.

Shame on CBS for not even checking its own archives in order to research their hit piece on Bush. Shame also on the NY Times for not reviewing the embeds for the units in the area during the invasion to verify the contemporaneous reporting. Even if one wants to write a hit piece, doing the proper research should be a basic part of the job.

UPDATE: Several CQ readers also found this story at Fox from April 4, 2003:

U.N. weapons inspectors went repeatedly to the vast al Qa Qaa complex -- most recently on March 8 -- but found nothing during spot visits to some of the 1,100 buildings at the site 25 miles south of Baghdad.

Col. John Peabody, engineer brigade commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, said troops found thousands of 2-by-5-inch boxes, each containing three vials of white powder, together with documents written in Arabic that dealt with how to engage in chemical warfare.

Initial reports suggest the powder is an explosive, but tests are still being done, a senior U.S. official said. If confirmed, it would be consistent with what the Iraqis say is the plant's purpose, producing explosives and propellants.

Again, it appears that the 3ID performed much more than a cursory search and came up with laboratory samples of the HMX and/or RDX, but not the massive amounts the IAEA claimed was stored at Al Qaqaa. Fox reported that the Army had plenty of suspicion about that site and thought it likely that the Iraqis had either manufactured or stored WMD there.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 26, 2004 10:23 PM

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» NYTrogate continues to unravel from Airborne Combat Engineer
0400Z WED 27OCT04. Captain Ed. A Captain's Quarter's reader found an interesting CBS report from the time frame when this OLD NEWS occured. Dana Lewis, the embedded reporter with the troops who spent the night at Al Qaqaa, appeared on [Read More]

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