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Iraq Remains Littered with Live Ammunition, says Expert - 2003-08-26

A land mine expert with the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action says Iraq is littered with live ammunition left behind by the Saddam Hussein government, and most of it has not been secured or even found. The explosives used in the bombing of the U.N. headquarters last week may well have come from a dump just behind the U.N. building.

Munitions expert Roger Hess drives an armored vehicle so strong, it could run safely over two anti-tank mines. He is checking on artillery shells that sit in crates underneath a slab of bombed concrete to make sure they have not been stolen.

In a field behind the bombed U.N. headquarters, Mr. Hess finds a sign left behind by his colleague from Mine Action, a World Food Program contractor in Iraq. The sign points him to the artillery shells.

A couple of blocks away, Mr. Hess finds unsecured 120 millimeter mortar rounds in an open bunker.

"We found a lot of mortar rounds and artillery rounds in here," he said. "They [terrorist bombers] could have collected it all over the place. It is hard to say how long they were collecting before they made that truck bomb."

Mr. Hess said coalition forces and mine removal teams have been working intensely since they arrived to secure all munitions sites. He said they have found less than one-third of the hidden ammunition dumps. It is the other two-thirds that worry him.

"Probably 95- to 98-percent of the bombs - the improvised explosive devices used here in Iraq - are modified military munitions because that is the easiest to get," explained Mr. Hess. "They are all over, and I will show you a couple of bunker systems that are wide open."

Mr. Hess said General Dynamics recently received a $300 million contract to dispose of the ordnance in Iraq, which should help matters somewhat. His group is also training more Iraqis to dispose of ordnance and take it to central locations guarded by coalition forces, where it can later be blown up.