From the “could this administration possibly be any more incompetent” file comes this report:
The Iraqi interim government has warned the United States and international nuclear inspectors that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives – used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads and detonate nuclear weapons – are missing from one of Iraq’s most sensitive former military installations.
The huge facility, called Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under American military control but is now a no man’s land, still picked over by looters as recently as Sunday. United Nations weapons inspectors had monitored the explosives for many years, but White House and Pentagon officials acknowledge that the explosives vanished sometime after the American-led invasion last year…
American weapons experts say their immediate concern is that the explosives could be used in major bombing attacks against American or Iraqi forces: the explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, could produce bombs strong enough to shatter airplanes or tear apart buildings.
The bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988 used less than a pound of the same type of material, and larger amounts were apparently used in the bombing of a housing complex in November 2003 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and the blasts in a Moscow apartment complex in September 1999 that killed nearly 300 people.
The explosives could also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, which was why international nuclear inspectors had kept a watch on the material, and even sealed and locked some of it…
The International Atomic Energy Agency publicly warned about the danger of these explosives before the war, and after the invasion it specifically told United States officials about the need to keep the explosives secured, European diplomats said in interviews last week. Administration officials say they cannot explain why the explosives were not safeguarded, beyond the fact that the occupation force was overwhelmed by the amount of munitions they found throughout the country.
A Pentagon spokesman, Lawrence Di Rita, said Sunday evening that Saddam Hussein’s government “stored weapons in mosques, schools, hospitals and countless other locations,” and that the allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.”
Talk about the mother of all lame excuses. Yes, Mr. Di Rita, Hussein’s government did store weapons in countless locations all around the country – caches of AK-47s, mortar shells and RPGs. But this was a government installation with 350 tons of material to make high explosives, and not only did we know where it was but were even warned of its danger and that we had to secure it. It’s amazing. Colin Powell went to the UN and showed all of those satellite surveillance photos and said that we knew exactly where all the WMDs were and we were tracking every movement in and out of these facilities around Iraq, yet here was a huge military installation that we knew contained enormous amounts of explosive material and we did nothing to secure it. And think about this, folks – this is 350 tons of material. Some guys didn’t pull up their in a pickup truck in the dead of night and take it away, this takes major moving equipments, at the very least forklifts and dozens of semis. And it’s not like this place was out in the middle of nowhere either:
The Qaqaa facility, about 30 miles south of Baghdad, was well known to American intelligence officials: Mr. Hussein made conventional warheads at the site, and the I.A.E.A. dismantled parts of his nuclear program there in the early 1990’s after the Persian Gulf war in 1991. In the prelude to the 2003 invasion, Mr. Bush cited a number of other “dual use” items – including tubes that the administration contended could be converted to use for the nuclear program – as a justification for invading Iraq.
After the invasion, when widespread looting began in Iraq, the international weapons experts grew concerned that the Qaqaa stockpile could fall into unfriendly hands. In May, an internal I.A.E.A. memorandum warned that terrorists might be helping “themselves to the greatest explosives bonanza in history.”
And what does the administration have to say about it?
Officials in Washington said they had no answers to that question. One senior official noted that the Qaqaa complex where the explosives were stored was listed as a “medium priority” site on the Central Intelligence Agency’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” said one senior administration official.
In the chaos that followed the invasion, however, many of those sites, even some considered a higher priority, were never secured.
And remember, as I documented a few days ago, that Rumsfeld was the one who wanted to invade with only 40,000 troops initially and had to be talked into the amount we had, which still fell far short of what both the on the shelf plans drawn by Anthony Zinni called for and what the military said they needed. And even after the invasion, our administrators (Garner and Bremer) and generals (Sanchez in particular) on the ground were telling the administration that we didn’t have enough troops there to secure the nation, including the munitions dumps. How on earth has Rumsfeld managed to keep his job? And can you imagine what the Bush administration’s defenders would be saying if this had happened under a Democrat?