Were Iraq’s Weapons Factories Looted?
Christopher Hitchens is bemused that Sunday’s New York Times story on the systematic “looting” of Saddam Hussein’s weapons plants was so thoroughly misreported.
My first question is this: How can it be that, on every page of every other edition for months now, the New York Times has been stating categorically that Iraq harbored no weapons of mass destruction? And there can hardly be a comedy-club third-rater or MoveOn.org activist in the entire country who hasn’t stated with sarcastic certainty that the whole WMD fuss was a way of lying the American people into war. So now what? Maybe we should have taken Saddam’s propaganda seriously, when his newspaper proudly described Iraq’s physicists as “our nuclear mujahideen.”
My second question is: What’s all this about “looting”? The word is used throughout the long report, but here’s what it’s used to describe. “In four weeks from mid-April to mid-May of 2003 Ã¢€¦ teams with flatbed trucks and other heavy equipment moved systematically from site to site. Ã¢€¦ ‘The first wave came for the machines,’ Dr Araji said. ‘The second wave, cables and cranes.’ ” Perhaps hedging the bet, the Times authors at this point refer to “organized looting.”
But obviously, what we are reading about is a carefully planned military operation. The participants were not panicked or greedy civilians helping themselvesÃ¢€”which is the customary definition of a “looter,” especially in wartime. They were mechanized and mobile and under orders, and acting in a concerted fashion. Thus, if the story is factually correctÃ¢€”which we have no reason at all to doubtÃ¢€”then Saddam’s Iraq was a fairly highly-evolved WMD state, with a contingency plan for further concealment and distribution of the weaponry in case of attack or discovery.
Even in the worst interpretation, it seems unlikely that the material is more dangerous now than it was two years ago. Some of the elementsÃ¢€”centrifuges, for example, and chemical mixturesÃ¢€”require stable and controlled conditions for effectiveness. They can’t simply be transferred to some kitchen or tent. They are less risky than they were in early 2003, in other words. If they went to a neighboring state, though Ã¢€¦ Some chemical vats have apparently turned up on a scrap heap in Jordan, even if this does argue more for a panicky concealment than a plan of transfer. But anyway, this only returns us to the main point: If Saddam’s people could have made such a transfer after his fall, then they could have made it much more easily during his reign. (We know, for example, that the Baathists were discussing the acquisition of long-range missiles from North Korea as late as March 2003, and at that time, the nuclear Wal-Mart of the A.Q. Khan network was still in business. Iraq would have had plenty to trade in this WMD underworld.)
So goes the merry-go-round. Apparently, there were simultaneously no WMD programs, which proves Bush was a liar, and the plants housing said program were systematically looted, which proves Bush is an incompetent boob who really didn’t care about WMD after all.
It’s truly a wonder such a man was re-elected.