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Unguarded ammo abounds, which worries Congress

By Wire services
Published September 30, 2003

Senior U.S. military officials say that as much as 650,000 tons of ammunition remain at thousands of sites used by the former Iraqi security forces and that much of it has not been secured and will take years to destroy.

The scope of the problem is much larger than the Pentagon acknowledged three weeks ago, when senior military officials insisted that all known munitions sites in Iraq had been secured.

In congressional testimony last week, Gen. John Abizaid, the senior U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf region, summed up the broader problem confronting the military. "There is more ammunition in Iraq than any place I've ever been in my life," he told the Senate Appropriations Committee, "and it is all not securable. "

Moreover, the general told the House Armed Services Committee, "There's probably places where we've put Iraqi guards that may be vulnerable to people that would come in and bribe the guards."

Abizaid's assessment directly contradicted reassurances from a senior Pentagon official earlier in September that "all known Iraqi munitions sites are being secured by coalition forces."

The general's remarks fueled anxiety on Capitol Hill that dozens of unguarded or lightly guarded sites could be the source of the explosives used in recent major bombings and daily attacks on U.S. forces.

Rifles from abducted, slain soldiers found in car

BAGHDAD - U.S. forces searching a car after a shootout near a checkpoint recovered two M-16 rifles belonging to American soldiers abducted and killed north of Baghdad in June, the U.S. military said Monday.

The soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division found the rifles in the trunk of a car stopped after a firefight late Sunday, said Lt. Col. George Krivo, coalition military spokesman. Shots were exchanged when the red sedan tried to run a checkpoint about 30 miles north of Baghdad, near the town of Balad, he said. One Iraqi in the car was killed, and three others were captured.

Constitutional committee member unhurt in attack

BAGHDAD - A Shiite cleric working on a new Iraqi constitution came under fire while in a vehicle near his home in Baghdad, but he was unhurt, said occupation spokesman Charles Heatley.

Jalaladin Sagher is a Shiite cleric and member of a preparatory committee named by Iraq's Governing Council to devise a way to write a constitution.

DEADLINE CALLED IMPOSSIBLE: Iraqis involved in the effort to write a new constitution said Monday that completing the document in six months, the goal set by Secretary of State Colin Powell last week, will be impossible to meet because of differences over how to select the drafters and more profound disagreements over the role of Islamic law and the basic contours of a new political system.

A committee of lawyers, scholars and religious figures that was supposed to propose a way to select delegates to a constitutional convention has not been able to agree on a preferred method, the Washington Post reported, quoting unnamed members of the country's Governing Council and others familiar with the process. The committee is scheduled to present a report to the council today that will outline several options instead of endorsing a single approach, the members said.

Also . . .

NO LOANS, GOP LEADERS SAY: Senate Republican leaders, preparing for votes this week on the White House's request for $87-billion for Iraq and Afghanistan, on Monday forcefully rejected a growing congressional sentiment to lend, rather than give, $20.3-billion of it to Iraq for reconstruction.

RUSSIA IS CONCILIATORY: Signaling room for compromise with the United States, Russia said Monday that it wants a "realistic but short" timeline for handing over power in Iraq and is prepared to accept a stage-by-stage transition provided the United Nations receives a major political role.

TIMETABLE SPLITS EU: The European Union, whose members were bitterly divided over the war to oust Saddam Hussein, disagreed Monday on a timetable for a handover of power to a sovereign Iraqi government. Meeting behind closed doors, the foreign ministers of the 15-member European Union issued a unanimous statement that a transfer of power in Iraq should occur "as soon as feasible" and that the United Nations should play a "vital" role in the transition.

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