Oct. 27, 2004 — -- Iraqi officials may be overstating the amount of explosives reported to have disappeared from a weapons depot, documents obtained by ABC News show.
The Iraqi interim government has told the United States and international weapons inspectors that 377 tons of conventional explosives are missing from the Al-Qaqaa installation, which was supposed to be under U.S. military control.
But International Atomic Energy Agency documents obtained by ABC News and first reported on "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" indicate the amount of missing explosives may be substantially less than the Iraqis reported.
The information on which the Iraqi Science Ministry based an Oct. 10 memo in which it reported that 377 tons of RDX explosives were missing -- presumably stolen due to a lack of security -- was based on "declaration" from July 15, 2002. At that time, the Iraqis said there were 141 tons of RDX explosives at the facility.
But the confidential IAEA documents obtained by ABC News show that on Jan. 14, 2003, the agency's inspectors recorded that just over three tons of RDX were stored at the facility -- a considerable discrepancy from what the Iraqis reported.
The IAEA documents could mean that 138 tons of explosives were removed from the facility long before the United States launched "Operation Iraqi Freedom" in March 2003.
The missing explosives have become an issue in the presidential campaign. Sen. John Kerry has pointed to the disappearance as evidence of the Bush administration's poor handling of the war. The Bush camp has responded that more than a thousand times that amount of explosives or munitions have been recovered or destroyed in Iraq.
The IAEA documents from January 2003 found no discrepancy in the amount of the more dangerous HMX explosives thought to be stored at Al-Qaqaa, but they do raise another disturbing possibility.
The documents show IAEA inspectors looked at nine bunkers containing more than 194 tons of HMX at the facility. Although these bunkers were still under IAEA seal, the inspectors said the seals may be potentially ineffective because they had ventilation slats on the sides. These slats could be easily removed to remove the materials inside the bunkers without breaking the seals, the inspectors noted.
ABC News' Martha Raddatz filed this report for "World News Tonight." Luis Martinez contributed to this report.