This investigation concerns the possible presence of chemical warfare agents (CWAs) at Tallil Air Base, Iraq.[1] Tallil was a major tactical air base in southeastern Iraq and a suspected chemical weapons (CW) storage site. During the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, fighter-attack aircraft from this base used CW against Iranian targets. The Iraqis were thought to have stored some of the CW used during this conflict in an S-shaped bunker at Tallil. For this reason, Tallil’s bunker and 21 other S-shaped bunkers were assessed to support Iraq’s national CW production and storage system. Consequently, these bunkers, and other facilities assessed to support Iraq’s national CW programs, were given a very high priority during the Coalition’s air campaign. A 2,000 pound bomb struck Tallil’s S-shaped bunker in early February 1991—seriously damaging the bunker and partially collapsing the ceiling. During the cease-fire at the conclusion of Desert Storm, units of the 82nd Airborne Division occupied Tallil. Before their withdrawal from Iraq, US forces destroyed the facilities, equipment, and munitions at Tallil (and in the surrounding area) that were not damaged during air and ground phases of Desert Storm.

During the US occupation, chemical warfare personnel searched Tallil for CW using specialized chemical detection equipment (including Fox reconnaissance vehicles); Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) personnel also joined in the search. Interviews with these individuals and the Combat Engineers who did much of the hands-on demolition work—in addition to a comprehensive review of available information (including national-level intelligence sources)—did not turn up evidence that chemical weapons or agents were present at Tallil during the US occupation. However, the extensive search did turn up significant quantities of CW-associated defensive gear like masks, suits, antidotes, and decontaminates. Due to pre-war briefings that Iraqi CW were painted certain colors or marked with color bands, some individuals believed that they had discovered, reported, or destroyed Iraqi CW. Post-war assessments of Iraq’s CW program have confirmed that this identification method was totally unreliable. Instead, EOD personnel indicated that they relied on specific munitions design characteristics to identify CW, but that no system by itself was considered 100 percent accurate.

Iraq did not declare this facility to be a chemical weapons storage site under United Nations Resolution 687, which required Iraq to declare all weapons of mass destruction, along with their research, testing, production, and storage facilities for verification, monitoring, and demolition purposes. UNSCOM has not found evidence that chemical weapons were moved to Tallil before or during the Gulf War, and the UNSCOM team that inspected Tallil and its S-shaped bunker in December 1992 did not find evidence of chemical weapons or bulk agents. It is important to note, however, that neither the US occupation forces nor the UNSCOM team was able to inspect the portion of the S-shaped bunker where the ceiling had collapsed or examine any materials buried under the remaining debris. After the war, the Iraqis cleared the intact area of the bunker of rubble and used it for storage of conventional munitions. If the Iraqis were storing chemical weapons or agents in this facility at the time it was struck during the war, the resulting contamination almost certainly would have required the Iraqis to completely remove all bunker debris, extensively decontaminate the area, and then rebuild before using the bunker for conventional storage. This was not done. Given the preceding facts, combined with the lack of any US reports of chemical warfare agent detections or chemical warfare agent injuries, we find it unlikely that chemical weapons or agents were present at Tallil Air Base during the period of US occupation in 1991.


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 against Iranian targets. These chemical weapons included tear or riot gas (CS), mustard blister agent (H), and G series nerve agents like Tabun (GA) and Sarin (GB). These agents were built into various offensive munitions—122mm unguided artillery rockets, 130mm and 155mm artillery shells, and 250 and 500 kilogram aerial bombs delivered by fighter-attack aircraft.[3]

Desert Shield and Desert Storm intelligence assessments indicated that Iraqi aircraft mainly used 250 and 500 kilogram bombs to deliver chemical agents. During the Iran-Iraq war, fighter-attack aircraft dropped mustard-filled and Tabun-filled 250 kilogram bombs and mustard-filled 500 kilogram bombs on Iranian targets. Other reporting indicates that Iraqi helicopters may have dropped 55-gallon drums filled with unknown agents (probably mustard) from altitudes of 3,000-4,000 feet. The Iraqis also used spray systems: they mounted two spray tanks (each with a volume of 1,000 liters) on the underside of an unknown number of helicopters.[4]

At the start of the Gulf War, US intelligence believed that certain types of Iraqi bunkers were used to store chemical and biological weapons.[5] Intelligence believed that Iraqi chemical weapons (or biological weapons) storage facilities had ventilation, security, and/or structural characteristics not seen in facilities storing conventional weapons.[6] During the Iran-Iraq War, these characteristics were used to identify newly constructed ammunition storage bunkers as likely repositories for chemical and biological weapons. The S-shaped bunker design was one of several types assessed to be associated with the storage of CW. Iraq had 22 of these S-shaped bunkers in what was assessed as their national level CW storage complex; one of which was located at Tallil.[7] After the war, intelligence found that the Iraqis stored chemical weapons in a variety of bunkers—or even in the open. During the war, however, intelligence assumed CW would be stored in these S-shaped bunkers.

Figure 2. Selected Iraq CW production and storage locations

Tallil Air Base Description

Tallil Air Base is located in southeastern Iraq, approximately 160 miles southeast of Baghdad and 140 miles northwest of Kuwait City (see Figure 2). This facility had a prominent role during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War. Fighter-attack aircraft and helicopters from Tallil conducted numerous strikes against Iranian targets—some using chemical weapons.[8] Tallil has two major runways and associated support facilities, including hardened bunkers to shelter aircraft and aircraft ordnance (see Figure 3). This base also has one of the S-shaped bunkers which, at the time, was assessed to store chemical weapons.[9]


Figure 3. Tallil Air Base

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