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. White House plays down loss of explosives in Iraq
GREELEY, Colorado (AFP) Oct 25, 2004
The White House on Monday played down the loss of hundreds of tons of high explosives in Iraq saying that President George W. Bush knew of the disappearance but emphasising there was no nuclear risk.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had been kept informed of the disappearance from an unguarded military installation for the past 10 days.

The explosives went missing "because of some looting that went on in Iraq toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom, or during and toward the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom," McClellan said.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors were informed because the munitions were considered dual-use materials and subject to monitoring, McClellan said.

"The first priority, from our standpoint, was to make sure that this wasn't a nuclear proliferation risk, which it is not," McClellan told reporters.

"These are conventional high explosives that we are talking about. And the president wants to make sure that we get to the bottom of this."

The US Defense Department "directed the multinational forces and the Iraqi Survey Group to look into this matter, and that's what they are currently doing," McClellan added.

The Iraqi interim government informed the IAEA on October 10 that some 350 tons of high explosives went missing from an ammunition dump in Al Qaqaa, south of Baghdad, said McClellan, traveling on Bush's re-election campaign.

IAEA officials in turn informed the US mission in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, on October 15.

National security councilor Condoleezza Rice was informed on October 15, and she informed Bush, the spokesman added.

The IAEA announced news of the missing material on Monday, confirming a report in the New York Times.

The Iraqi ministry of science and technology informed the IAEA of the disappearance of about 350 tons of mainly HMX and RDX explosive materiel, agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told AFP.

"It can be used in a nuclear explosion device, for the explosion," she said.

"That's why it was under IAEA verification and monitoring" before the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, she added.

The New York Times said the materiel "could produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings."

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