Thursday, October 28, 2004

Those missing explosives 

A few interesting developments since my yesterday's post:

Iraqis are becoming insistent that the removal of explosives in question must have occurred after the Americans first arrived at the installation:
"A top Iraqi science official said on Wednesday it was impossible that 350 tonnes of high explosives could have been smuggled out of a military site south of Baghdad before the regime fell last year.

" 'It is impossible that these materials could have been taken from this site before the regime's fall,' said Mohammed al-Sharaa, who heads the science ministry's site monitoring department and previously worked with UN weapons inspectors under Saddam.

" 'The officials that were inside this facility (Al-Qaqaa) beforehand confirm that not even a shred of paper left it before the fall and I spoke to them about it and they even issued certified statements to this effect which the US-led coalition was aware of'."
Not surprisingly, the "New York Times" is telling a similar story:
"Looters stormed the weapons site at Al Qaqaa in the days after American troops swept through the area in early April 2003 on their way to Baghdad, gutting office buildings, carrying off munitions and even dismantling heavy machinery, three Iraqi witnesses and a regional security chief said Wednesday."
With this little caveat:
"The accounts do not directly address the question of when 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives vanished from the site sometime after early March, the last time international inspectors checked the seals on the bunkers where the material was stored. It is possible that Iraqi forces removed some explosives before the invasion.

"But the accounts make clear that what set off much if not all of the looting was the arrival and swift departure of American troops, who did not secure the site after inducing the Iraqi forces to abandon it."
There's of course a world of difference between looting and removing almost 400 tons of explosives: looters stripping buildings of valuables and carting off machinery is simply not in the same leagues as removing 40 truckloads of explosives.

Bill Gertz, meanwhile, adds a new twist to the saga, quoting a defence department official:
"Russian special forces troops moved many of Saddam Hussein's weapons and related goods out of Iraq and into Syria in the weeks before the March 2003 U.S. military operation, The Washington Times has learned.

"John A. Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense for international technology security, said in an interview that he believes the Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, 'almost certainly' removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility, south of Baghdad."
True or not (and I'm with Deacon on this one; it's rather curious we haven't heard this one before and it seems a lot like one of those stories that pop up all the time on World Net Daily and Debka and then disappear without confirmation), I doubt that we'll hear more about this story; a few days before the election "Bush is to blame" has got a lot nicer ring to it than "A permanent member of the UN Security Council, which John Kerry would like to see more involved in Iraq, has been implicated in helping Saddam remove and hide explosives banned by the UN."

One last thought: the American armed force have either already destroyed or secured for destruction some
400,000 tons of explosives. We know that 380 tons are missing. That's 0.095 of a per cent of the known total.

And John Kerry calls that
"disturbing" and "devastating."

Perhaps he should be more careful not to set up a standard for a mission success that's impossible to achievable in real life.

Update: Not 380 tons?
"The information on which the Iraqi Science Ministry based an Oct. 10 memo in which it reported that 377 tons of RDX explosives were missing — presumably stolen due to a lack of security — was based on 'declaration' from July 15, 2002. At that time, the Iraqis said there were 141 tons of RDX explosives at the facility.

"But the confidential IAEA documents obtained by ABC News show that on Jan. 14, 2003, the agency's inspectors recorded that just over 3 tons of RDX was stored at the facility — a considerable discrepancy from what the Iraqis reported."
That's 239 tons and the whole thing is slowly starting to resemble the "great looting of the Baghdad Museum" (remember how the 170,000 looted items have magically turned into only 25 objects actually missing?)

And there is more:
"The IAEA documents from January 2003 found no discrepancy in the amount of the more dangerous HMX explosives thought to be stored at Al-Qaqaa, but they do raise another disturbing possibility.

"The documents show IAEA inspectors looked at nine bunkers containing more than 194 tons of HMX at the facility. Although these bunkers were still under IAEA seal, the inspectors said the seals may be potentially ineffective because they had ventilation slats on the sides. These slats could be easily removed to remove the materials inside the bunkers without breaking the seals, the inspectors noted."
Increasingly, it's looking like the only thing missing on the American watch is the accusers' credibility.


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