Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is acknowledging questions remain about what happened to nearly 400 tons of explosives in Iraq, which may have disappeared after last year's U.S-led invasion, but is cautioning against a race to judgment about who is responsible. For several days the issue has dominated the U.S. presidential campaign, with Democrat John Kerry charging the Bush administration failed to adequately secure the weapons, while the President responds that all of the facts are not yet known.
U.S. defense officials have released a reconnaissance photo taken of vehicles at the site where these explosives disappeared. But so far, they have not come up with anything conclusive about exactly when they might have been moved, or whether they were hauled away by the Iraqi military or perhaps stolen by looters after the fall of Saddam Hussein last year.
Iraq's interim government let the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) know about the missing explosives earlier this month. While attempting to steer clear of politics, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appeared to take aim at criticism from Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry on the matter, warning during a radio interview Thursday that first reports about events often prove wrong.
"The idea that it was suddenly looted and moved out all of these tons of equipment is I think at least debatable and it's very likely that, just as the United States would do, that Saddam Hussein moved munitions when he knew that the war was coming," he said.
On Monday, The New York Times and CBS News reported the explosives had disappeared from an Iraqi military base south of Baghdad that was supposed to have been under US military control after the American led invasion.
Thursday, the U.N.'s nuclear agency says it had warned the United States about the vulnerability of the explosives. Although the Pentagon has not ruled out the possibility that the weapons could be in the hands of insurgents, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has doubts.
"Picture all of the tractor trailers and fork lifts and caterpillars it would take to move 377 tons and we had total control of the air. We would have seen anything like that," he added.
A top civilian official at the Pentagon has told the Washington Times Newspaper that Russian Special Forces most likely removed the material before the start of the war. But Pentagon officials quickly distanced themselves from that comment, with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld saying he cannot vouch for it at all.