Monday, October 25, 2004

The news that almost 380 tons of extremely dangerous conventional explosives have disappeared from the Al Qaqaa munitions facility in Iraq should shock, outrage, and terrify Americans, and the rest of the world; but it should not surprise us.

The Bush administration knew about these munitions dumps all along. The International Atomic Energy Agency told the world about them before the U.S. invaded Iraq. And after the invasion, the IAEA warned the U.S. to make sure the dumps were properly guarded.

Dr. Rashad M. Omar, the minister of science and technology in Iraq, was pretty blunt about this point. "After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control," the New York Times article quotes him as saying. "So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials."

But the Bush administration cannot answer this question, sad to say. They have no idea where the explosives are or how they could have vanished or why the Al Qaqaa facility and hundreds of others like it were left unguarded after the U.S. invasion, except of course that there weren't anywhere near enough military or civilian personnel to do the guarding.

There are a number of ironies in this situation that would be amusing if they were not so appalling.

  • The U.S. (supposedly) invaded Iraq to get the deadly nuclear and chemical/biological weapons that Iraq (supposedly) had out of the hands of Saddam Hussein. Result: Iraq under Saddam Hussein right before the war did not have any nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons. But he did have a lot of very powerful conventional weapons, and now they are in the hands of insurgents.
  • The fact that insurgents were able to raid these dumps so easily has helped fuel (quite literally) the lethal and escalating violence that has been going on since soon after Hussein was overthrown, which means that an invasion that was supposed to make Iraq safer and freer has had precisely the opposite effect.
  • IAEA inspectors had been successfully monitoring and destroying Iraq's stockpiles of weapons, but in 1998 the U.S. ordered the inspectors to leave, because the U.S. was getting ready to bomb Iraq again. The inspectors were not allowed to return until 2002, and by then 35 tons of explosives were missing.
  • Before the inspectors were kicked out of Iraq, the munitions dumps were locked and secured. After they left, and even more after the U.S. invaded in March 2003, that security was gone. Although these weapons were there before the U.S. invasion, Iraq (and the world) was safer from them before the invasion, when they were secured by international inspections, than after the invasion.

And Al Qaqaa now? "It's like Mars on Earth," an intelligence officer with the 24th Marine Regiment told the Times. "It would probably take 10 battalions 10 years to clear [it] out."

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