Sunday, October 24, 2004

Everything They Touch Turns to Qa Qaa 

Tonight's Story That Everyone Will Be Linking To Tomorrow, If For Some Reason They Haven't Already comes from Josh Marshall (here, here, and here), quoting the Nelson Report:
Some 350 tons of high explosives (RDX and HMX), which were under IAEA seal while Saddam was in power, were looted during the early days of the US occupation. Like so much else, it was just left unguarded.

Not only are these super-high-yield explosives probably being used in many, if not most, of the various suicide and car bombings in Iraq, but these particular explosives are ones used in the triggering process for nuclear weapons . . . .

I quote from Chris Nelson's summary ...
Despite pressure from DOD to keep it quiet, the IAEA and the Iraqi Interim Government this month officially reported that 350-tons of dual-use, very high explosives were looted from a previously secure site in the early days of the US occupation in 2003. Administration officials privately admit this material is likely a primary source of the lethal car bomb attacks which cause so many US and Iraqi casualties. In the first presidential candidate debate, on foreign policy, Democratic nominee John Kerry charged that captured munitions and weapons were being turned against Coalition Forces, with US troops suffering 90% of the casualties. But the specifics of the losses from the Al Qa Qaa bunker and building complex, only now being reported, were apparently unknown outside of DOD and the US occupation authorities. The Bush Administration barred the IAEA from any participation in the Iraq invasion and occupation process, and blocked IAEA requests to help in the search for WMD and other dangerous materials. As part of the UN sanctions regime still in place when the US invaded, the IAEA had “under seal” 350 tons of RDX and HDX explosives, since singly, and in combination, these materials can be used in the triggering process for a nuclear weapon. However, the explosives were allowed to remain in Iraq due to their conventional use in construction, oil pipe lines, and the like. Since the explosives went missing last year, sources say DOD and other elements in the Administration sought to block the IAEA from officially reporting the problem, and also tried to stop the new Iraqi Interim Government from cooperating with the IAEA.
As I've noted, the White House and the Pentagon have known for more than a year that this stuff had gone missing. But the White House, according to TPM sources, has known that this story was coming for at least ten days. Again, not just the underlying facts -- that the stuff had been stolen and was being used against American troops (they've known that for more than a year) -- but the fact that this story was going to break in the not too distant future. And they've been going to great lengths to try to push it back until after the election.

As another administration source told Nelson, "What the hell were WE doing in the year and a half from the time we knew the stuff was gone, is obviously a huge question, and you can imagine why no one [in the Administration] wants to face up to it, certainly not before the election."
The NYT has now published an account of the al Qa Qaa looting that, in Marshall's words, "treads lightly over the question of whether the explosives in question have played a substantial role in the various suicide bombings, car bombings and sundry other attacks in Iraq":
In its place seems to be an administration version of events in which no one was put in charge of ascertaining what happened to the al Qa Qaa materials, then Iraqis mentioned it to Bremer in May but he seems not to have passed on word to anyone else, then Condi was told "within the past month" but it's not clear whether she told the president.

If that's true, you've really gotta marvel at the chain of command this crew has in place. The whole thing is "I forgot", "I didn't know", "I didn't tell anybody", "It wasn't my responsibility", "What?" and so on . . . .

As I wrote earlier, there are very good reasons to disbelieve this Keystone Cops explanation for what happened. There was a much more concerted effort to keep hidden what had happened here, including pressure on Iraqi officials not to report the disappearance of these materials to the IAEA.

But even if you accept this explanation on its face, I think it's almost worse. Think about it ...

The explosives at al Qa Qaa were one of the primary -- and much-publicized -- concerns of non-proliferation officials at the IAEA and elsewhere prior to the war. During and after the war there was apparently no effort to secure the facility or catalog its remaining contents. Then no one realized there was a problem until more than a year later when someone told Jerry Bremer. But he didn't tell anyone in Washington, or at least no one remembers. And then Condi Rice only found out about it within the last month, but it's not clear she told anyone (i.e., the president or other principals) either.

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