Friday, October 29, 2004
Apparently the abandonment of the al Qaqaa ammo dump to insurgents and looters was S.O.P. in post-invasion Iraq. From Mike Francis of the Oregonian, courtesy of Zemblan patriot J.D.:
Six months after the fall of Baghdad, a vast Iraqi weapons depot with tens of thousands of artillery rounds and other explosives remained unguarded, according to two U.S. aid workers who say they reported looting of the site to U.S. military officials . . . .And (via Josh Marshall): a French journalist claims to have witnessed insurgents looting the al Qaqaa complex as recently as November of last year, a full six months after the fall of Saddam Hussein:
The aid workers say they informed Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the highest ranking Army officer in Iraq in October 2003 but were told that the United States did not have enough troops to seal off the facility, which included more than 60 bunkers packed with munitions.
"We were outraged," said Wes Hare, city manager of La Grande, who was working in Iraq as part of a rebuilding program. A colleague who also visited the depot, Jerry Kuhaida, said it appeared that the explosives at the Ukhaider Ammunition Storage Area had found their way to insurgents targeting U.S. forces.
"There's no question in my mind that the stuff in Ukhaider was used by terrorists," said Kuhaida . . . .
A Pentagon official Thursday acknowledged that the United States had been forced to leave many ammunition dumps in Iraq unguarded. The official, who declined to be identified, said the U.S. military had identified about 900 sensitive weapons sites in Iraq but had assigned only "a brigade-sized force" to deal with them. A brigade typically has about 3,500 soldiers . . . .
The two American aid workers who stumbled upon the Ukhaider depot, Hare and Kuhaida, were in Iraq as employees of the International City/County Management Association. They said in separate interviews that they found the depot on Oct. 10, 2003, while on a recreational trip with Polish soldiers through the desert southwest of Karbala, Iraq . . . .
The kids who were stationed at the depot told Kuhaida and Hare that they regularly heard trucks coming and going at night. Hare said he was told that some weapons were ferried across the lake. And the men were shown an intruder's truck that was blown up one night, apparently by an errant explosive.
So Kuhaida pledged to try to contact Sanchez, who was commanding U.S. forces in Iraq at the time. He found Sanchez's e-mail address on the Internet and sent a message saying he wanted to pass along some information . . . .
But when Kuhaida met the aide face to face in Baghdad a month later and asked about the depot, the aide told him the military simply didn't have enough troops to guard the site.
The account of Sara Daniel, which will be published Wednesday in the French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, lends further weight to allegations that American occupying forces in Iraq failed to protect hundreds of tons of munitions from extremists plotting attacks against their own troops . . . .
"I was utterly stupefied to see that a place like that was pretty much unguarded and that insurgents could help themselves for months on end," Daniel said on Friday. "We were there for a long time and no one disturbed the group while they were loading their truck."
A man who identified himself as Abu Abdallah and led the group Daniel was with, told her that his men and numerous other insurgent groups had rushed to Qaqaa after U.S.-led troops captured Baghdad on April 9 last year. The groups stole truck-loads of material from what used to be the biggest explosive factory in the Middle East in the expectation that coalition forces would move quickly to seal it off, Daniel was told.
Abu Abdullah and his men showed her the arsenal of rocket launchers, grenades and explosives hidden near their small farm houses, she said.
But much to the insurgents' surprise, Qaqaa was not sealed off by U.S. soldiers, leading many groups to stop hoarding and instead going for regular refills of explosive materials, according to Abu Abdullah.