In August 1996, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a report describing its examination of the possible release of chemical warfare agents from Al Muthanna. The CIA report concludes that the potential hazard from a possible chemical warfare agent release extended no more than 160 kilometers (less than 100 miles) downwind from Al Muthanna, well short of US forces.[2]

Despite this report, veterans and others continued to speculate about the possible effects of Coalition bombing releasing chemical warfare agents. Consequently, the Office of the Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses (now the Office of the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Gulf War Illnesses, Medical Readiness, and Military Deployments) decided to re-evaluate whether Gulf War veterans may have been exposed to chemical warfare agents possibly released by Coalition air attacks on Al Muthanna. The CIA agreed to support the re-evaluation.

On November 2, 1996, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA requested the Institute for Defense Analyses (IDA) to convene an independent panel of experts in meteorology, physics, chemistry, and related disciplines[3] to review the computer modeling by CIA related to Gulf War investigations. The IDA panel recommended using some non-DoD models and a combination of models to improve the results of our modeling.[4]

The Special Assistant decided this revised modeling methodology would improve results for all of our modeling; consequently, he promised the Congress to reexamine the possible release at Al Muthanna using this methodology[5] . The CIA supported this reexamination with a detailed re-analysis of Al Muthanna that studied United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (UNSCOM) photography, inspection reports, and interviews, and examined documentation and data sources unavailable in 1996.

This narrative incorporates the results of the CIA’s re-examination of the potential release of chemical warfare agents from Al Muthanna and the IDA panel’s recommended revisions in modeling to clarify the possible threat to US forces from a chemical warfare agent release from Al Muthanna’s Bunker 2. This narrative does not assess the possibility of chemical warfare agent releases due to leaking munitions or destruction of, or damage to, production or munitions-filling facilities in other parts of the Al Muthanna complex.

A. Background

1. The Al Muthanna Site

In 1982, Iraq’s intelligence service established what it described as a pesticide production plant, near Samarra.[6] The processes and equipment used to produce pesticides are very closely related to those producing chemical warfare agents, particularly nerve agents, because the compounds are so similar.[7] Iraq located the State Establishment for Pesticide Production in sparsely populated, semi-arid country approximately 80 kilometers northwest of Baghdad and 50 kilometers southwest of the city of Samarra on the Tigris River.[8]

This installation, which various sources also call Samarra, Al Muthanna, or the Muthanna State Enterprise, was the basis of the Al Muthanna State Establishment created in 1985.[9] At the time of the Gulf War, the Al Muthanna State Establishment was the nucleus of Iraq’s entire chemical ammunition program. A large complex dispersed over approximately 170 square kilometers,[10] it consists of a main site, which US forces called Al Muthanna, and three subordinate sites (Fallujah 1, 2, and 3) located west of Baghdad near the city of Al Fallujah (Figure 2).[11]

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Figure 2. Chemical production sites of the Muthanna State Establishment

UN inspectors reported that Iraq started constructing Fallujah 1 in 1985, but suspended work in 1987 at the end of the Iran-Iraq War.[12] It never had operational chemical warfare production or storage facilities. Fallujah 2 produced chlorine, but never achieved large-scale production of other chemical warfare precursors. Fallujah 3 produced pesticides but never produced chemical warfare agents.[13] Bombing during the Gulf War air campaign extensively damaged all three sites.

The Muthanna State Establishment main facility (Figure 3) occupied approximately 25 square kilometers.[14] Hereafter referred to as Al Muthanna, it included areas to research, develop, produce, store, and fill munitions with chemical warfare agents. The agent production area consisted of nine buildings and bunkers used to manufacture bulk chemical warfare agents. The munitions filling area consisted of three filling lines with separate warehouses to store materiel. The bunker storage area had eight cruciform (cross-shaped) bunkers to store chemical ammunition and bulk agent.[15] Al Muthanna also included a materiel storage area, a site to manufacture Teflon containers for chemical products,[16] and a chemical warfare agent destruction site.[17] Figure 4 is a schematic diagram of the bunker storage area.[18] The bunker marked "2" is the structure the CIA identified as the source of the chemical warfare agent release at Al Muthanna.

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Figure 3.  The Muthanna State Establishment main facility

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Figure 4.  Schematic diagram of the bunker storage area at the Muthanna State Establishment

2. Al Muthanna’s Role in Iraq’s Chemical Warfare Infrastructure

In 1991, US intelligence estimated Iraq’s annual chemical warfare agent production capacity at between 2,500 and 3,000 metric tons.[19] Iraq manufactured the chemical warfare agents sarin, cyclosarin, and mustard at Al Muthanna, and filled bombs, artillery shells, and rockets with them.[20]

Because of the poor quality of the final product and its short storage life, Iraq did not stockpile chemical munitions and reduced production between 1987 and 1990.[21] The US intelligence community estimated that Iraq dispersed most of the munitions that had been filled with chemical warfare agents to about twenty storage sites and air bases outside of Al Muthanna before the 1991 air war started.[22]

3. Iraq’s Declarations and US Intelligence Estimates

Iraq reported it resumed producing chemical warfare agents and filling chemical munitions at Al Muthanna in 1990.[23] US intelligence reports of observed transportation activity between Al Muthanna’s filling compound and storage areas in July and September of 1990 support Iraq’s claim.[24] Iraq began to fill artillery rockets in December 1990, and had filled 7,000 rockets by January 5, 1991. It filled an additional 1,320 rockets by January 9, 1991.[25]

Iraq reported it deployed these munitions to military depots before Operation Desert Storm. It moved 2,160 122mm rockets filled with a nerve agent from Al Muthanna to Khamisiyah between January 11 and 15, 1991, immediately before the air war.[26] UNSCOM stated that Iraq’s May 13, 1996, declaration reported 4,100 sarin-filled 122mm rockets stored at the Mymona depot and 2,160 at Khamisiyah. After the war, Iraq moved the rockets back to Al Muthanna.[27]

UNSCOM inspectors estimate that Al Muthanna’s Bunker 2 contained between 1,000 and 1,500 rockets of various types when it was destroyed.[28] The CIA accepts UNSCOM’s assessment that Iraq correctly reported the rockets in Bunker 2 were leaking or problem-plagued munitions filled in 1988 during the Iran-Iraq War. The CIA estimates the rockets destroyed in Al Muthanna’s Bunker 2 contained only sarin. Iraq also reported that the air attacks did not damage an additional 6,120 rockets stored in the open at Al Muthanna.[29]

Impure or improperly stored sarin is unstable and degrades over time. US experts consider chemical warfare agents less than 50 percent pure to be militarily ineffective.[30] Western sources estimate the sarin Iraq produced never exceeded 60 percent purity, and Iraq reported that poor operating practices at Al Muthanna limited the purity of sarin to between 20 and 50 percent. Since it contained at least 40 percent impurities when manufactured, sarin produced at Al Muthanna had a short shelf life.[31] The CIA estimates the chemical warfare agent in the rockets stored at Al Muthanna had deteriorated to approximately 18 percent purity by the time that Bunker 2 was destroyed, leaving about 1600 kilograms (1.6 metric tons) of viable sarin.[32]

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