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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Weapons row: Who said what
The controversy over a huge cache of explosives that have vanished in Iraq has dominated the last days of campaigning in the US elections.

Senator John Kerry has assailed the president over the issue, citing it as evidence of the Bush administration's poor handling of the war. President George W Bush has accused his rival of jumping to conclusions.

This is how events have unfolded.

15 October: Stolen

The interim government in Iraq informs the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that 350 metric tons of explosives had disappeared from the Al-Qaqaa facility south of Baghdad. The Iraqis say the materials were stolen after the 9 April, 2003 fall of Baghdad because of a lack of security. The IAEA had placed a seal over storage bunkers holding the explosives before the war.

The White House is told that the explosives have disappeared. Mr Bush is told by his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.

23-24 October: Investigation

The Pentagon orders US military chiefs in Iraq to investigate the IAEA's report.

25 October: On the attack

The New York Times breaks the story of the missing explosives. It says American weapons experts are concerned they could be used in attacks against American or Iraqi forces. It says the explosives could produce bombs strong enough to shatter planes or tear buildings apart.

The IAEA reports to the UN Security Council about the explosives.

The senator is making wild charges about missing explosives. Think about that: The senator is denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts
George W Bush
Mr Kerry charges President Bush with "incredible incompetence" and great blunders" over the disappearance of a the explosives.

He says the failure of US forces to secure the explosives amounted to "one of the great blunders of this administration." He says it puts troops in greater danger.

The White House plays down the issue, with spokesman Scott McClellan saying the explosives pose no danger of nuclear proliferation. It is felt that the president has no need to address the issue.

26 October: Timescale

Pentagon chiefs identify a two-and-a-half month period in the spring of 2003 during which they suspect the explosives were removed.

The period covers several weeks before Baghdad fell as well as several weeks after. Officials say it is not clear whether the explosives were taken at a time when US forces were in a position to secure them.

27 October: 'Wild charges'

Vice-President Dick Cheney raises the possibility the explosives disappeared before US soldiers could secure the site. Mr Kerry then labels Mr Cheney the "chief minister of disinformation".

The senator continues to assail Mr Bush. "The missing explosives could very likely be in the hands of terrorists and insurgents, who are actually attacking our forces now 80 times a day on average," he tells a rally in Iowa.

Vice-President Cheney, who is becoming the chief minister of disinformation, echoed that it's not the administration's fault
John Kerry
President Bush breaks his public silence on the issue and accuses Mr Kerry of making "wild charges".

"A political candidate who jumps to conclusions without knowing the facts is not a person you want as commander-in-chief. Unfortunately that is part of a pattern of a candidate who will say anything to get elected," Mr Bush tells a crowd in Pennsylvania.

Confusion arises over how much explosive material had been stored at Al-Qaqaa. ABC News, citing IAEA documents, reports that the Iraqis had declared 143 metric tons of the explosive at the facility in July 2002, but that the site held only three tons when it was checked in January 2003.

ABC says that could suggest that 140 metric tons were removed long before the war.

28 October: Videotape

A US TV station releases video footage filmed by one of its crews on 18 April. It appears to show US soldiers examining explosives at Al-Qaqaa.

KSTP, an affiliate of ABC based in Minnesota, had a crew embedded with the Army's 101st Airborne Division, which passed through Al-Qaqaa just over a week after the fall of Baghdad.

photograph of the Al-Qaqaa facility
Rumsfeld says trucks may have been removing explosives
The station says it was not clear whether the explosives seen in the video were the high-energy explosives that disappeared.

A US military spokesman had said the 101st did not find any high-energy explosives, just some less-dangerous explosives.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld enters the row by saying it is very likely that Saddam Hussein moved explosives before the war began. The Pentagon says a photograph shows pre-war activity at the site. Mr Rumsfeld makes his comments during a local radio interview.

The Bush campaign also sends former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a frequent Bush campaign partner, onto television and radio shows to address the issue.

Mr Giuliani says the troops in Iraq, not Mr Bush, bore the responsibility for searching for the explosives.

"No matter how you try to blame it on the president, the actual responsibility for it really would be for the troops that were there. Did they search carefully enough - didn't they search carefully enough?" Mr Giuliani tells NBC's Today programme.

Commentators wonder how helpful the comment was. It draws a quick rebuke from John Edwards, Mr Kerry's running mate: "Our men and women in uniform did their job," the senator says in Minnesota. "George Bush didn't do his job."


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