A. Background on Iraq’s Chemical Weapons Program

During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), Iraq developed the ability to produce, store, and use chemical weapons. These chemical weapons included H-series blister and G-series nerve agents. Iraq built these agents into various offensive munitions including rockets, artillery shells, aerial bombs, and warheads on the Al Husayn Scud missile variant.[2]

During the Iran-Iraq war, Iraqi fighter-attack aircraft dropped mustard-filled and tabun-filled 250 kilogram bombs and mustard-filled 500 kilogram bombs on Iranian targets. Other reports indicate that Iraq may have also installed spray tanks on an unknown number of helicopters or dropped 55-gallon drums filled with unknown agents (probably mustard) from low altitudes.[3]

By the start of the Gulf War, the intelligence community had judged that Iraq was using certain types of bunkers for chemical and biological warfare agent storage, including what analysts dubbed "S-shaped" and "12-frame" bunkers.[4,5] Because the An Nasiriyah Southwest (Figure 2) Ammunition Storage Point (hereafter referred to mainly as An Nasiriyah SW ASP) contained one S-shaped and four 12-frame bunkers, the intelligence community suspected that it might be a chemical or biological weapons storage site.[6]

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Figure 2. Selected Iraqi chemical warfare agent production and storage locations [7]

B. Background on Iraq’s Biological Weapons Program

Before the Gulf War, intelligence assessed that Iraq had a mature biological warfare program which had researched and produced several infectious agents, including botulinum toxin, the causative agent of botulism; Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax; and Clostridium perfringens, the causative agent of gas gangrene. By 1991, US agencies had identified several of Iraq’s biological warfare agent associated facilities.[8] Because it possessed four 12-frame bunkers, intelligence included the An Nasiriyah SW ASP among these facilities.[9]

C. An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point Description

Built in the late 1970s, the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point is located southwest of the city of An Nasiriyah and northeast of Tallil Air Base (Figure 2).[10] The An Nasiriyah SW ASP (Figure 3) includes both above-ground storage buildings and specialized munitions storage bunkers in two separately fenced areas. The western section was primarily used to store army munitions and contained four 12-frame bunkers. The eastern section was primarily used to store air force munitions and contained one S-shaped bunker. Many of An Nasiriyah’s storage buildings were partially-buried, reinforced concrete bunkers. Others were above-ground structures built of brick and tin.[11] Aerial munitions stored at this ammunition storage point (ASP) supported Tallil Air Base and its fighter-attack aircraft.

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Figure 3. An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point

Although Iraq and the US intelligence community referred to this site as "An Nasiriyah SW ASP," US ground troops typically referred to it as Tallil, Tallil’s ASP, or Tallil’s bunkers. This was a result of this ASP’s geographic proximity to Tallil Air Base—at their closest point, their perimeter security fences are only 1 kilometer apart—and the fact that aircraft munitions for use by Tallil’s fighter-attack aircraft were stored in An Nasiriyah’s bunkers, storage buildings, and open air revetments (Figure 3) . The Iraqi city of An Nasiriyah, after which the storage point is formally named, is located much further (approximately 10-15 kilometers) to the northeast (Figure 2). Most of this city is located on the northern side of the Euphrates River (which US troops did not occupy when the cease-fire was in effect) and, unlike Tallil Air Base, is not directly associated with the ASP.

D. Desert Shield and Desert Storm

During Desert Shield, US intelligence carefully monitored the An Nasiriyah SW ASP, along with other Iraqi facilities suspected of storing chemical or biological warfare agents. During the Gulf War air campaign from January 17 to February 28, 1991, Iraq’s entire chemical and biological warfare agent research, production, and storage facilities were high priority targets. An Nasiriyah SW ASP was one of these sites targeted, and Coalition air strikes hit and destroyed two of its munitions bunkers on January 17, 1991. By the time of the cease-fire on February 28, 1991, aerial attacks had destroyed approximately 22 of An Nasiriyah’s munitions storage bunkers. Some of these attacks left the structures partially intact, while secondary explosions completely destroyed others.[12]

E. The Cease-Fire and Occupation of the An Nasiriyah Southwest Ammunition Storage Point

After the cease-fire went into effect during the morning hours of February 28, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne Division convinced the Iraqi soldiers still occupying Tallil Air Base and the nearby An Nasiriyah SW ASP to vacate the area to the northwest or to surrender without resistance. On March 2, 1991, units of the 82nd Airborne Division took control of the air base and nearby storage point without major incident. Units of the 82nd Airborne, including the 504th and 505th Parachute Infantry Regiments and other subordinate units, occupied both facilities and started the long process of identifying munitions and other materiel to be destroyed. While many small infantry units performed impromptu demolition of fighting trenches, personnel bunkers, arms caches, and vehicles, C Company, 307th Engineer Battalion—with the technical advice and support of the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Detachment—performed most of the systematic demolition of large quantities of munitions and major facilities.[13,14] On March 24, 1991, the 82nd Airborne Division units rotated out of the area and were replaced by the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment (ACR), the 84th Engineer Company, and the 146th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment.[15]

In the earlier air strikes, precision guided munitions had already hit many of the munitions bunkers at the An Nasiriyah SW ASP. Some of these attacks destroyed the facilities and their contents, while others initiated secondary explosions, scattering material and debris for considerable distances.[16] Because of the extensively scattered ordnance, one of the highest priorities of local US commanders was to identify hazardous areas. Potential chemical weapons sites and unexploded ordnance were of primary concern. Chemical Corps specialists from the 82nd Airborne Division conducted chemical weapons search operations with a full range of chemical warfare agent detection equipment (including two Fox nuclear, biological, and chemical reconnaissance vehicles),[17] while the 60th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Detachment identified and started the long process of destroying intact Iraqi ordnance.[18]

F. The Search for Chemical Weapons [19]

A March 23, 1991, message from the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer to the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment chemical officer summarized the search for chemical weapons at Tallil Air Base, An Nasiriyah SW ASP, and Khamisiyah:

When the 82nd Abn Div [Airborne Division] initially occupied the sector, Fox vehicles and unit reconnaissance teams checked for evidence of contamination or chemical weapons. No contamination was found. Riot control agent CS was found in the Tall al Lahm [Khamisiyah] ASP (PV 3706) [a UTM grid coordinate].[20] White phosphorus rounds were also found. Artillery rounds with fill plugs and central bursters were found. They were marked with a yellow band. They were empty. Other rounds in the area were marked similarly. Fox reconnaissance vehicles determined they contained TNT.[21]

Two interviews with the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer confirmed his message and provided additional information. He and all subordinate chemical personnel were intimately aware of the possibility of chemical munitions in-theater. If personnel suspected that bunkers or ammunition storage points contained chemical munitions, they were instructed to use the chemical agent monitor (CAM). Although the 82nd Airborne Division chemical officer could not confirm that CAMs tested every searched bunker or suspect munition, he believed that CAMs were widely available and routinely used.[22]

The division chemical officer also recalled that when the 307th Engineers attempted to destroy the western portion of the ASP, they used an insufficient amount of explosives. Rather than destroying the munitions, the explosion started a fire in one bunker. This fire began to detonate munitions. Based on the signature[23] of the igniting rounds, their whistling in flight, and the impact craters, the division chemical officer believed most to be 122mm artillery rockets. Some of the rockets exploded near the command post. Since the wind was blowing towards this area, he deployed Fox vehicles and chemical detection equipment on a nearby ridge to monitor smoke coming over the command post. No chemical detections were made at this time or when the ASP was searched. The division chemical officer also stated that none of the assigned personnel reported symptoms of chemical exposure, nor did he hear of such reports.[24]

Interviews with a brigade-level chemical officer of the 82nd Airborne who supervised ASP chemical weapons search activities[25] and several Fox vehicle crew members who surveyed this area, confirmed that no chemical warfare agent was found.[26] Investigators also interviewed the 307th Engineer Battalion intelligence officer. He did not receive any reports of chemical warfare agent in the vicinity and never took his mission oriented protective posture (MOPP)[27] gear out of the bag. He was in the Tallil Air Base area for about a week and witnessed numerous demolition activities at the ammunition storage point.[28]

Because the Fox vehicle was not designed to survey bunkers, the chemical warfare agent search teams used hand-held testing systems—including M256 kits[29] and CAMs—to check the bunker interiors. During an interview, a Fox vehicle crew member commented specifically on these bunker searches. His vehicle was in the Tallil and An Nasiriyah ASP area for about two weeks; the areas they searched included the airfield, hardened aircraft shelters, and munitions bunkers. His search team did most of its sampling in the vicinity of munitions bunkers. Since the Fox was too large to enter these bunkers, the team used hand-held CAMs. Most of the munitions he scanned were large tank or artillery shells. There were no positive readings during this survey.[30]

Several individuals interviewed reported that they encountered possible chemical weapons at An Nasiriyah because colored markings were on the munitions (e.g., yellow or red bands). For example, one engineer reported that he destroyed six gray bombs with red and yellow stripes painted on them.[31] While another engineer noted that 5 to 10 percent of the artillery shells he observed in bunkers had white or yellow markings on the nose of the projectiles.[32] This use of colored markings to assist in the identification of chemical munitions was directed by a February 28, 1991, 18th Airborne Corps message which described the marking system of Iraqi chemical munitions based on information received from an Iraqi enemy prisoner of war.[33] However, these marking schemes were not reliable indicators of chemical weapons presence.[34] A 1703rd EOD Detachment member specifically mentioned finding gray munitions with red bands, but found no chemical munitions.[35] The senior 60th EOD Detachment technician described to the investigative team other ways to determine more accurately chemical warfare agent presence (munitions’ filler plugs, double-walled construction, or thin skin), and noted that it was taken for granted that chemical weapons may not be marked, or could be marked inconsistently.[36] However, even though this individual, and perhaps other EOD personnel, understood that marking schemes were unreliable indicators of chemical munitions, other people interviewed did not indicate that they mistrusted the munitions markings system and would explain why they believed they had identified chemical munitions.

Another good example of the uncertainty of chemical munitions and markings occurred on March 7, 1991. While performing munition identification, inventory, and demolition near the ASP, a senior member of the 60th EOD Detachment found a munition shape which had several of the possible physical characteristics of a chemical weapon, including thin, double-walled construction, a burster tube, and two yellow bands on the nose (Figures 4A and 4B). He immediately departed the area and informed higher headquarters of the sighting.[37] Two Fox reconnaissance vehicles were dispatched to the site by Headquarters, surveyed the area, and found only high explosive (HE) residue.[38] They detected no chemical warfare agents.[39]

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Figure 4A. Side view of suspected chemical weapon munition


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Figure 4B. Back view of suspected chemical weapon munition [40]

While removing equipment and weapons from a Tallil warehouse near the An Nasiriyah SW ASP, one individual from the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment related that he became very nauseous and dizzy after being exposed to a white powder in a can. The inhaled substance caused immediate vomiting, but the nausea only lasted one to three hours and was not severe. He did not report this incident or seek medical attention, and he did not report any lasting effects from this incident.[41] The unidentified powder could have been a number of different compounds, including a riot control agent, but the specific circumstances related during the interview make a follow-up determination impossible. Iraq had a variety of riot control agents in its arsenal. Most riot control agents, also known as tear gas, cause eye irritation, difficulty in breathing, and nausea. Some agents, like O-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), are also white crystalline solids and similar in appearance to the reported white powder in a can.[42] Nerve agent exposures, on the other hand, cause more severe and unusual reactions, such as miosis (pinpointed pupils and dimness of vision), drooling, excessive sweating, vomiting, cramps, twitching, headache, confusion, drowsiness, breathing difficulties, convulsions, coma, and ultimately death.[43] Riot control agent symptoms disappear shortly after an exposure, and very rarely do exposed personnel require medical treatment.[44] The injured person reported that his symptoms lasted for several hours and did not recur.[45] The health effects and duration of symptoms experienced by the exposed soldier are consistent with the symptoms one would expect from a riot control agent exposure. The effects and symptoms are not consistent with the symptoms one would expect from any of the chemical warfare agents thought to have been in Iraq’s inventory.

G. The Search for Biological Weapons [46]

During Desert Storm, the US ability to detect biological weapons in the field was extremely limited and consisted of only experimental sampling systems and laboratory testing.[47] This was in stark contrast to the multiple, standard-issue chemical warfare agent detection systems (e.g., CAMs and M256 kits) that the US military deployed by the thousands to the Gulf down to the lowest level of most field units. The 9th Chemical Detachment of the 9th Infantry Division from Ft. Lewis, Washington, performed the biological warfare agent field testing (versus laboratory testing) for the entire theater. An overview of the 9th’s equipment, manning, and mission follows:

The 9th Chemical Detachment provided point biological and stand-off chemical detection capabilities using the XM2 biological sampler and the XM21 chemical detector. The detachment was attached to the Foreign Material Intelligence Battalion (FMIB) for operations, rations, administrative, training, UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice], personnel, and logistical support. The Detachment was attached to FMIB due to similar missions to collect chemical and biological samples. FMIB had already established the procedures for the evacuation of samples from the KTO [Kuwait theater of operations] to CONUS [Continental United States] laboratories for detailed analysis. The Detachment consisted of an eight man headquarters section, seven biological detection teams and five chemical/biological detection teams .…

Each Biological detection team consisted of a team chief and two biological detection NCO’s [sic]. Three of the teams had XM2 biological detectors and the remaining four teams had the PM-10 commercial samplers. The PM-10’s [sic] were deployed to the units covering Riyadh and Dhahran due to its [sic] awkward size and shape.

The five chemical/biological detection teams consisted of team chief and two chemical/biological detection NCO’s [sic]. Although biological detection was the primary mission, both systems were deployed simultaneously providing dual mission coverage.[48]

This unit deployed to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. On February 1, 1991, the unit received their equipment and logistics support, and then dispatched sampling teams to several locations to test for potential threats. After, the war, several teams deployed to Kuwait City, Kuwait, and then traveled into southern Iraq where they collected eight biological samples. A UH-60/Black Hawk helicopter transported one team to the An Nasiriyah SW ASP to collect biological weapons samples. The team found no biological warfare agents or munitions.[49]

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