A. Background

Some people have theorized that US troops could have been exposed to chemical or biological agents as an indirect result of Coalition air attacks against Iraqi chemical and biological weapons facilities during the Gulf War air campaign.[2] As part of its effort to investigate suspected chemical and biological incidents, the Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses is examining the Coalition air campaign and chemical or biological warfare agent releases that may have occurred as a result of Coalition bombing. We have already released an information paper on the use of modeling and simulation in planning the air campaign[3] and a case narrative about the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point[4], where it is believed Coalition bombs did not damage any munitions. We are currently preparing separate papers analyzing events at Muhammadiyat and Al Muthanna, two storage points where Coalition bombs may have caused the release of chemical warfare agents.

This narrative discusses what we know about events at the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot during the Gulf War. During the Gulf War, the facility now referred to as Ukhaydir was known to the United States (US) as the Karbala Ammunition Storage Depot, after the name of the nearest town to the facility.[5] Ukhaydir is located approximately 100 kilometers southwest of Baghdad and approximately 250 kilometers due north of the Saudi Arabian border. (See Figure 2.) US air campaign planners targeted the facility as a chemical/biological site because they believed chemical or biological weapons could have been stored there.[6]

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Figure 2.  Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot

B. Iraq’s Chemical Weapons Disclosures and UNSCOM Inspections Related to Ukhaydir

1. UNSCOM’s Role

United Nations Security Council Resolution 687, which ended the Gulf War, also provided for the creation of the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM). The United Nations created UNSCOM to

render harmless, destroy or remove all of the agents and associated materials that were part of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction program. This is [sic] chemical weapons, biological weapons and ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers.... [Their] responsibility [was] to assure the Security Council, the U[nited] N[ations], that all Iraqi munitions and agents have been destroyed or accounted for.[7]

As part of these efforts, UNSCOM personnel conducted periodic inspection missions at both declared and suspected weapons of mass destruction production, storage, and research facilities in Iraq.[8]

The United Nation Security Council’s resolution also required Iraq to make a full, final, and complete disclosure regarding its weapons of mass destruction programs.[9] Although this was intended to be a single, comprehensive document, to date Iraq has submitted three full, final, and complete disclosures, each more detailed than the previous.[10]

2. Iraq’s 1991 Disclosure

After the war, in the spring of 1991, Iraq submitted its first disclosure to UNSCOM. In it, Iraq declared that there were 6,394 mustard-filled 155mm artillery rounds stored at the Fallujah Proving Ground. (See Figure 3.) Iraq made no mention in this disclosure of the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot as a place where chemical rounds were deployed during the war.[11] Following this disclosure, according to published accounts, UNSCOM’s chemical warfare inspection team inspected the Fallujah Proving Ground during its visit to Iraq between August 31 and September 9, 1991.[12]

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Figure 3.  Fallujah, Al Muthanna, Muhammadiyat, and Ukhaydir in relation to Baghdad

3. UNSCOM’s 1991 Fallujah Proving Ground Inspection

According to the United Nations Department of Public Information, UNSCOM inspectors visited the Fallujah Proving Ground in September 1991 to examine the mustard-filled rounds declared by Iraq.[13] Iraq declared then that it had moved the rounds to the Proving Ground in January 1991 from the Muthanna State Establishment located at Al Muthanna, Iraq’s primary chemical production facility.[14,15] (See Figure 3.) Inspectors discovered 6,159 undamaged, grey-colored mustard-filled rounds at the Fallujah Proving Ground. UNSCOM also discovered 117 green-colored rounds. Of these 117, 10 were still filled with mustard. In addition, the inspectors found 104 grey or green fire and heat-damaged rounds, 10 of which still had agent in them. (See Figure 4.) When questioned, the Iraqis claimed the burned rounds were damaged at the Muthanna State Establishment.[16]

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Figure 4.  Some of the damaged mustard-filled rounds at Fallujah Proving Ground

In total, during this inspection, UNSCOM accounted for 6,380 rounds, 14 fewer than acknowledged in Iraq’s 1991 disclosure. (See Figure 5.) Ultimately, UNSCOM supervised the destruction of the 155mm rounds discovered at the Fallujah Proving Ground.[17]

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Figure 5.  1991 UNSCOM accounting of 155mm mustard-filled rounds at Fallujah Proving Ground

4. Iraq’s 1996 Disclosure

Iraq’s second full, final, and complete disclosure did not discuss Fallujah Proving Ground or Ukhaydir. However, in the summer of 1996, responding to questions from UNSCOM, Iraq submitted a third disclosure of its chemical warfare capabilities. This disclosure contained additional information on the history of the production, filling, and deployment of 155mm mustard-filled rounds, including the fact that Iraq deployed 6,394 rounds to the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot in January 1991. Iraq had previously identified the Ukhaydir depot as a chemical storage area during the mid-1980s. However, Iraq did not identify Ukhaydir as a Gulf War chemical munitions storage site until the 1996 disclosure.[18]

5. UNSCOM’s 1997 Ukhaydir Inspection

According to public testimony of UNSCOM representatives, UNSCOM inspectors visited the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot in April 1997, following the release of new information in Iraq’s third disclosure.[19] During that visit, UNSCOM personnel inspected a bunker that was separated from the rest of the complex by a security fence. (See Figures 6 and 7.)

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Figure 6.  Image of Ukhaydir facility

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Figure 7.  Schematic of Ukhaydir facility

According to Iraq’s disclosures, this bunker, as well as others at the complex, had been used in the past for the storage of chemical weapons.[20] However, UNSCOM did not discover any mustard rounds inside the bunker.[21] According to Iraq, it stored no chemical rounds or other weapons in the bunkers during the Gulf War air campaign. Rather, Iraq claimed it stored the mustard-filled rounds in the open in various places around the depot during the Gulf War to protect them from being damaged during Coalition bombings of storage bunkers.[22] According to an April 1996 UNSCOM release:

Iraqi statements and documents show they went to great lengths to protect their chemical and biological munitions from aerial bombardment. Iraq stated that its biological agent-filled aerial bombs were deployed to three airfields and were placed in open pits away from bombing targets, covered with canvas and buried with dirt. Iraqi documents and UNSCOM inspections indicate that its chemical munitions were often hidden in the open in a similar fashion.[23]

During UNSCOM’s inspection of the road in front of the bunker with the security fence, it noticed a repaired area that had obviously been hit by a bomb. The repaired area was still surrounded by rubble from the damaged section of the original roadway.[24] In examining the rubble, the inspectors discovered three intact 155mm rounds which, based on visual inspection, they assumed to be mustard-filled.[25] During a subsequent visit to Ukhaydir, later in 1997, UNSCOM inspectors discovered a fourth intact, mustard-filled 155mm round in the rubble around the repaired bomb crater.[26]

6. UNSCOM Accounting as of Spring 1997

Although Iraq has never specifically stated that the mustard-filled rounds at Ukhaydir during the Gulf War were the same ones inspected by UNSCOM at the Fallujah Proving Ground in September 1991, this assumption is supported by the fact that Iraq declared the same number of rounds for both sites.[27] According to public testimony of UNSCOM representatives, UNSCOM has determined that in January 1991, prior to the start of the air campaign, Iraq moved the rounds from the Muthanna State Establishment to the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot, closer to the anticipated area of operations.[28] The Intelligence Community assessed that the Iraqis moved the rounds from Ukhaydir to the Fallujah Proving Ground after the end of the war: "[T]he rounds located at Fallujah arrived there about the same time that the stacks at Ukhaydir … departed."[29] By spring 1997, UNSCOM had assessed that the rounds were the same and was able to account for 6,384 of the 6,394 declared by Iraq; most of these (6,380) were inspected at the Fallujah Proving Ground in September 1991, while an additional four were discovered during the two separate inspections at Ukhaydir in the spring of 1997. (See Figure 8.)

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Figure 8.  1997 UNSCOM accounting of 155mm mustard-filled rounds at Fallujah and Ukhaydir

C. 1997 Damage Assessment of Airstrikes

Once it was assessed that the mustard-filled rounds inspected at the Fallujah Proving Ground in 1991 were at Ukhaydir during the Gulf War, the Intelligence Community concluded that the damage discovered at the Fallujah Proving Ground may have occurred while the rounds were at Ukhaydir.[30] In 1997, after UNSCOM’s first Ukhaydir inspection, but before its second, the Intelligence Community examined the available information to determine how the rounds became empty and when the damage could have taken place and whether any mustard agent that may have been released reached US forces located in Saudi Arabia. After an extensive investigation, which included a review of imagery from the Gulf War, the Intelligence Community determined that the Iraqis stacked the mustard-filled rounds in the open in several areas throughout the Ukhaydir Ammunition Storage Depot. They placed one large stack directly in front of the fenced bunker later inspected by UNSCOM. (See Figure 9.[31]) The Intelligence Community believes the damaged and empty munitions inspected at the Fallujah Proving Ground were in this stack. As the Intelligence Community noted, "other similar stacks were located in the open at various locations in the depot, but no other stacks were damaged."[32] The Intelligence Community also assessed in 1997 that it was possible no rounds were damaged at Ukhaydir during the Gulf War, but since some rounds were damaged at some time, the damage could have occurred during two separate coalition airstrikes on Ukhaydir, the first on January 20, 1991, and the second on the night of February 13/14, 1991.[33,34]

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Figure 9.  155mm mustard-filld rounds in front of bunker at Ukhaydir

1. January 20, 1991

On the night of January 20, 1991, Coalition forces bombed the fenced bunker, starting a large fire indicated by a massive soot and debris footprint. (See Figure 10.) In 1997, the Intelligence Community assessed that this fire could have damaged the 104 burned rounds discovered at the Fallujah Proving Ground. At some point after the fire, Iraq moved the rounds beyond the security fence to the road paralleling the front of the bunker, separating them into two stacks along the road.[35] (See Figure 11.)

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Figure 10.  Extensive area of debris from bombing of the bunker

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Figure 11.  Stacks of 155mm mustard-filled rounds on the road in front of the bunker

2. February 13/14, 1991

In 1997, the Intelligence Community also assessed that around midnight on the night of February 13, 1991, a Coalition bomb hit, or disturbed, the stack on the left in Figure 11 during another airstrike on the facility.[36] (See Figure 12.) The Intelligence Community assumed the bomb punched through the stack, possibly destroying some rounds but causing little or no burn damage to the rounds in the stack. The bomb then exploded underground, creating a crater under the stack, causing approximately 560 mustard-filled rounds to fall, possibly damaging some and causing their agent to leak.[37]

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Figure 12.  Stack of 155mm mustard-filled rounds after airstrike


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