The Special Assistant undertook this investigation because some Gulf War veterans expressed concern that they may have been exposed to chemical warfare agents released into the environment by a bombing raid on Iraqs Al Muthanna chemical weapons storage site. This narrative describes how we investigated this concern and presents our assessment of the threat to veterans.
The State Establishment for Pesticide Production at Al Muthanna, near Samarra on the Tigris River, north of Baghdad, was the nucleus of Iraqs entire chemical warfare program. By 1985, Iraq referred to the installation as the Muthanna State Establishment. It consisted of the Al Muthanna main site and three other sites near Al Fallujah, west of Baghdad. At Al Muthanna, the chemical warfare agent production and munition filling facilities were separate from chemical munition storage where Iraq stored chemical munitions in the open and in large, structurally hardened bunkers built in the form of a cross.
Early in the Iran-Iraq War, Iraq manufactured mustard and nerve chemical warfare agents at Al Muthanna and filled bombs, artillery shells, and rockets with them. Before the Gulf War, Iraq halted production of the nerve agent tabun, but produced the nerve agents sarin and cyclosarin instead. In mid-January of 1991, the Defense Intelligence Agency assessed that Iraq transferred chemical munitions from Al Muthanna during the week before the air campaign started. Nevertheless, because of its history, Al Muthanna and the rest of the Muthanna State Establishment were major targets in the air campaign of Operation Desert Storm.
Iraqs response to United Nations Resolution 687 after the war declared that air attacks on Al Muthanna destroyed sarin-filled 122mm artillery rockets stored in a bunker there, but did not damage 122mm rockets stored in the open. United Nations inspectors estimated that, at the time of the bombing, the bunker identified as Bunker 2 contained between 1,000 and 1,500 leaking or problem-plagued sarin-filled 122mm rockets, probably left over from Iraqs war with Iran. The Central Intelligence Agency accepts the United Nations estimate.
Our investigation determined that an F-117 attacked Bunker 2 at Al Muthanna early in the morning of February 8, 1991, with a laser-guided bomb. Although the bomb caused little external damage to Bunker 2, it destroyed the sarin-filled 122mm rockets stored inside the bunker. Iraq reported that an extensive fire in Bunker 2 caused by the air attack consumed all the rockets and associated packing materials. United Nations photographs taken after the war confirmed this report.
The Central Intelligence Agency estimated that Bunker 2 contained 1.6 tons of viable chemical warfare agent at the time of its destruction, and that approximately 10 kilograms of the sarin escaped from Bunker 2 into the atmosphere in the first few seconds after the bomb exploded. After that time, the extreme temperatures inside the bunker destroyed all the remaining vaporized agent before it vented into the atmosphere.
We used a combination of meteorological and dispersion models as recommended by the Institute for Defense Analysis to estimate the dispersion of the sarin vapor cloud possibly released by this air attack. Using the Central Intelligence Agency estimates of the size and character of the chemical warfare agent released, our modeling shows the maximum downwind hazard extended approximately 50 kilometers to the southeast of Al Muthanna.
On February 8, 1991, the closest US forces were 412 kilometers south of Al Muthanna and 388 kilometers south of the nearest point of the downwind hazard area that might have resulted from the attack on Bunker 2 at Al Muthanna. Therefore, we assess that the hazard area of the possible sarin release at Al Muthanna definitely did not extend far enough to reach any deployed US forces, and any chemical warfare agent released from Bunker 2 at Al Muthanna definitely did not expose US servicemembers to hazardous levels of contamination.