Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq

Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq (NYT)

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.

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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 other components of an atom bomb – the design and the radioactive fuel – are more difficult to obtain. “This is a high explosives risk, but not necessarily a proliferation risk,” one senior Bush administration official said.

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.

Clearly, this is a problem, although the extent to which it represents the lack of strategic oversight on part of the Administration versus decisionmaking on the ground by the military leadership is hard to judge. There is an inordinate amount of hazardous material in Iraq, which is a huge country, but one would think securing the explosives would be a higher priority. Indeed, after the first Gulf War, our forces began blowing up ammunition bunkers within days of the cease fire.

FILED UNDER: General
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Bithead says:

    well, to look at these reports, one would think that these were missing just recently. They were not. The IAEA says that they were monitoring the stuff prior to the war, but now they’re gone. They don’t know where.

    It does strike me that if Saddam had these weapons prior to our taking him down, that it does cast a somewhat different light on his intentions. It also raises some serious questions about the ability of the UN to monitor such things, given they lost track of them.

    And the last line you quote also raises some quesions about that, as well. If there were that many munitions, this doesn’t exactly strike me as being within the rules imposed by the UN on saddam.

  2. Alex Knapp says:

    They lost track of the materials after the war. Why? Because the U.S. wouldn’t let the IAEA in. And now the explosives are gone. They had them marked and monitored before the war.

  3. Elemeno P. says:

    bithead, a lot of the explosives at that site were ‘dual use’: the same stuff that can be used in roadside bombs can also be used to clear a path for a new road or a tunnel.

    yes, there were quite a few rockets and rocket parts. however, the point is, it was all in one tidy place and just needed to be guarded. that it wasn’t is a failure of staggering proportion. 350+ TONS we are talking about. 1 lb. is easily enough to rip a hole in an airplane.

  4. McGehee says:

    Because the U.S. wouldn’t let the IAEA in.

    And if the IAEA had been let in too soon and a bunch of them were killed, that would have been Bush’s fault too.

    Fun, isn’t it?

  5. Anjin-San says:

    This sort of incompetence dovetails with the administrations “catch and release” policy towards terrorists…

  6. ken says:

    Well Bush said he went to war due to Iraq having WMD. Although his claim proved false, he did know, in the sense that he actually had actual knowledge, that these explosives existed and Bush knew exactly where they were. So he let them go. Better to look for those unknown knowns …. er, or was it known unknowns….

    Bush and Rumsfield and Rice and Cheney, the whole lot, are such idiots.

  7. LJD says:

    Thank the ACLU and whiney liberals for the prisoner release. Your comment “dovetails” with the “La La La- I can’t hear you argument”.

  8. Eric says:

    To put 380 tons of explosives into perspective, before the war it was assumed that there were 2 MILLION tons of explosives in Iraq. Not being able to account for .02% of that, while tragic, is not entirely unexpected.

    http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/mt/archives/002859.php

    this link also calls into question when the explosives disappeared.

  9. Anjin-San says:

    LJD,

    Did the ACLU order our “war” president to let the terrorists go?
    I thought Bush was a strong commander-in-chief who is the only one who knows how to deal with terror.

    Bush supporters are amazingly good at blaming his many failures on someone, anyone else. I mean you guys have blamed Clinton for pretty much everything except the sinking of the Maine.

    Now when the Bush admin screws the pooch on terrorists, it is the ACLU’s fault. The buck stops anywhere but on the president’s desk.

  10. R Gardner says:

    According to NBC News, whose embedded journalists were with the troups that first reached the site, there were no explosives when they arrived. So the explosives were removed between January when the IAEA last visited, and late March when the troops got there.

    Drudge has an article http://www.drudgereport.com/nbcw.htm

  11. Bithead says:

    They didn’t lose them during the war.
    They were gone before the army…(NBC news in tow) got there.

    This entire story has been debunked, and exposed as just another Kerry Lie.

    Since James is gone and hasn’t had the chance to follow up, I’ll post a trackback to the follow-on.

  12. Anjin-San says:

    Bithead… do you always embarass yourself when you speak?

    (10-26) 11:19 PDT NEW YORK (AP) —

    An NBC News reporter embedded with a U.S. army unit that seized an Iraqi installation three weeks into the war said Tuesday that she saw no signs that the Americans searched for the powerful explosives that are now missing from the site.

    Reporter Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne, Second Brigade, said her news team stayed at the Al-Qaqaa base for about 24 hours.

    “There wasn’t a search,” she told MSNBC, an NBC cable news channel. “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.

    “But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away.”

  13. Elizabeth says:

    I just LOVE the way people are SO ready to jump on the “Bush screwed up” bandwagon but you never seem to hear them apologize when it’s PROVEN that stories like this are completely false.
    It it was anyone’s fault that these explosives “disappeared”, then blame the UN and good old Hans Blix for letting them disapper right under his nose. These explosives disappeared BEFORE we got there and right around the time good old Hans was “doing his job” and making sure there were no WMD’s in Saddam’s possession.
    Hmmmm… if over 300 tons of explosives disappeared while Hans was there, I wonder if any WMD’s might have disappeared too…
    The Dem’s and the media don’t seem to realize that by making such a huge deal about this, they are actually making the case FOR the President that the WMD’s COULD HAVE been in Iraq before we went in.

  14. Anjin-San says:

    Elizabeth,

    Still looking for Bush’s WMD’s? Wow… Let us know when they turn up. Also please keep an eye out for bigfoot & the Loch Ness monster 🙂

  15. Anjin-San says:

    Oh yes Elizabeth, please show us your “proof”…

    >I just LOVE the way people are SO ready to jump on the “Bush screwed up” bandwagon but you never seem to hear them apologize when it’s PROVEN that stories like this are completely false.

  16. Elizabeth says:

    Anjin-
    Proof you say? Try NBC NEWS…
    They had a reporter imbedded WITH the troops.
    There was nothing there when the troops GOT there.
    Question: How do you guard something that isn’t there to guard?
    If it’s links you need for your “proof” just let me know and I can give you MANY, some of which are VERY mainstream media which have your “proof” of the time period in which the ordinances went missing. Just for your edification, it was between January and March of 2003 (our troops were not on location then).
    I’m not still looking for WMD’s, just looking for the truth. I don’t just believe what the NYT reports willy nilly without proof and that is why the NYT article was debunked so quickly. It.simply.was.not.true.

  17. Anjin-San says:

    Elizabeth,

    Please see my above posting, on second thought, I will repeat it:

    (10-26) 11:19 PDT NEW YORK (AP)—
    An NBC News reporter embedded with a U.S. army unit that seized an Iraqi installation three weeks into the war said Tuesday that she saw no signs that the Americans searched for the powerful explosives that are now missing from the site.

    Reporter Lai Ling Jew, who was embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne, Second Brigade, said her news team stayed at the Al-Qaqaa base for about 24 hours.

    “There wasn’t a search,” she told MSNBC, an NBC cable news channel. “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.

    I fail to see where the embedded NBC reporter says there was “nothing there”. They did not do a proper search. There was an oil ministry to secure. The balance of the article is avalible at http://www.sfgate.com or, I suppose, at the AP site.

    I note that you go on at great lenght about your “proof”, but once again offer no substance. Perhaps you have been paying too much attention to “rumors on the internets”

    🙂

  18. Bithead says:

    You guys apparently haven’t seen the CNN story.
    And fox followed up with even greater detail. Apparently they had someone on site as well.

  19. Bithead says:

    Fox:
    The United Nations’ nuclear department, the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), warned Monday that insurgents may have stolen the 380 tons of conventional explosives — the kind used in the car bombing attacks that have killed many soldiers and bystanders in Iraq.

    But senior Defense Department officials told FOX News they’re not sure whether looters made off with the explosives or whether Saddam moved them before the war began. NBC News reported Monday night that one of its reporters was embedded with the 101st Airborne. She watched the troops conduct what can be described as a “cursory search” of the premises on April 10, and found a great deal of conventional ordnance, but no RDX or HMX.

    The embedded reporter, Lai Ling Jew, told cable news partner MSNBC on Tuesday that she stopped with the Second Brigade at the Al-Qaqaa facility, 30 miles south of Baghdad, and stayed there for 24 hours.

    “The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us,” she said. “And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around. But as far as we could tell, there was no move to secure the weapons, nothing to keep looters away. But there was — at that point the roads were shut off. So it would have been very difficult, I believe, for the looters to get there.”

  20. Anjin-San says:

    Bithead… Why do you leave Lai Ling Jew’s preface to your excepert?

    THERE WASN”T A SEARCH…

    There wasnt a search, she told MSNBC, an NBC cable news channel. The mission that the brigade had was to get to Baghdad. That was more of a pit stop there for us. And, you know, the searching, I mean certainly some of the soldiers head off on their own, looked through the bunkers just to look at the vast amount of ordnance lying around.

    (source AP)

    Bush had no plan except start a war & grab the oil. Our boys are dying now because of the rush to war. Saddam was about as much threat of an enraged gerbil…

  21. LJD says:

    Anjin-San:

    If the WMDs were up your ass, you’d know it. Keep up the good work, though. With your viewpoint, and support of the demo-strategery, it is very possible that there may be WMD near you, very soon.

  22. Anjin-San says:

    Psssst LDJ,

    The WMD are in N Korea & soon to be in Iran. Nice work Bush…

  23. Anjin-San says:

    So much for Elizabethe’s “Proof”

    “Last night on this broadcast we reported that the 101st Airborne never found the nearly 380 tons of HMX and RDX explosives. We did not conclude the explosives were missing or had vanished, nor did we say they missed the explosives. We simply reported that the 101st did not find them.”

    “For its part, the Bush campaign immediately pointed to our report as conclusive proof that the weapons had been removed before the Americans arrived. That is possible, but that is not what we reported.”

    — NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw, quoted by the New York Times, on the missing weapons in Iraq. The most telling line from the story: “For the second day Mr. Bush did not speak about the issue, twice ignoring questions from reporters.”