"Something Smells" II

A reader underlines the point I made here about the scant attention paid to WMD or weapons sites in the original invasion of Iraq. The salience of it is either a) rank incompetence, or b) that the military leadership really didn't have reason to fear the WMDs the president had scared the rest of us about. But even well-known nuclear sites were left to be raided by looters. If the Bush administration really feared WMD programs, they had a funny way of invading. A reader writes:

An important line of evidence indicating that the Bush administration did not believe their own WMD hype has been neglected. Why did the administration do nothing to secure WMD during and after the invasion? They certainly were concerned with securing the oil fields but did nothing to prevent weapons from falling into terrorist and insurgent hands. The following from the NY Times are in content chronological order. Peter Galbraith in October 2004:

In 2003 I went to tell Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz what I had seen in Baghdad in the days following Saddam Hussein's overthrow. For nearly an hour, I described the catastrophic aftermath of the invasion -- the unchecked looting of every public institution in Baghdad, the devastation of Iraq's cultural heritage, the anger of ordinary Iraqis who couldn't understand why the world's only superpower was letting this happen.

I also described two particularly disturbing incidents -- one I had witnessed and the other I had heard about. On April 16, 2003, a mob attacked and looted the Iraqi equivalent of the Centers for Disease Control, taking live HIV and black fever virus among other potentially lethal materials. US troops were stationed across the street but did not intervene because they didn't know the building was important.

When he found out, the young American lieutenant was devastated. He shook his head and said, "I hope I am not responsible for Armageddon." About the same time, looters entered the warehouses at Iraq's sprawling nuclear facilities at Tuwaitha on Baghdad's outskirts. They took barrels of yellowcake (raw uranium), apparently dumping the uranium and using the barrels to hold water. US troops were at Tuwaitha but did not interfere.

There was nothing secret about the Disease Center or the Tuwaitha warehouses. Inspectors had repeatedly visited the center looking for evidence of a biological weapons program. The Tuwaitha warehouses included materials from Iraq's nuclear program, which had been dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. The United Nations had sealed the materials, and they remained untouched until the US troops arrived.

The looting that I observed was spontaneous.

Quite likely the looters had no idea they were stealing deadly biological agents or radioactive materials or that they were putting themselves in danger. As I pointed out to Wolfowitz, as long as these sites remained unprotected, their deadly materials could end up not with ill-educated slum dwellers but with those who knew exactly what they were doing.

This is apparently what happened. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued earlier this month, there was "widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq's nuclear program." This includes nearly 380 tons of high explosives suitable for detonating nuclear weapons or killing American troops. Some of the looting continued for many months -- possibly into 2004. Using heavy machinery, organized gangs took apart, according to the IAEA, "entire buildings that housed high-precision equipment."

This equipment could be anywhere. But one good bet is Iran, which has had allies and agents in Iraq since shortly after the US-led forces arrived.

This was a preventable disaster. Iraq's nuclear weapons-related materials were stored in only a few locations, and these were known before the war began. As even L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, now admits, the United States had far too few troops to secure the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein. But even with the troops we had, the United States could have protected the known nuclear sites. It appears that troops did not receive relevant intelligence about Iraq's WMD facilities, nor was there any plan to secure them. Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq's nuclear sites.

Ray Bonner, October 2003:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, Oct. 13 - The two most recent suicide bombings here and virtually every other attack on American soldiers and Iraqis were carried out with explosives and matériel taken from Saddam Hussein's former weapons dumps, which are much larger than previously estimated and remain, for the most part, unguarded by American troops, allied officials said Monday.

The problem of uncounted and unguarded weapons sites is considerably greater than has previously been stated, a senior allied official said. The American military now says that Iraq's army had nearly one million tons of weapons and ammunition, which is half again as much as the 650,000 tons that Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior American commander in the Persian Gulf region, estimated only two weeks ago.

In separate interviews, the officials, civilian and military and from different countries, expressed concern about the potential of attackers with access to the weapons dumps to nurture violence and insecurity.

The officials said they were receiving intelligence about the attacks - who is carrying them out and where they are getting their munitions - from a variety of sources. Among the most fruitful, they said, have been would-be bombers who were stopped before carrying out their missions.

The officials were deliberately vague about how many attacks had been thwarted, for fear of alarming an already jumpy populace here. But one of them said several car bombings had been prevented in recent weeks, suggesting that the number was more than just a handful.

Officials also say that Mr. Hussein stockpiled at least 5,000 shoulder-fired missiles, and that fewer than a third have been recovered. They fear that many have been smuggled out of the country and may have fallen into the hands of terrorist organizations.

There are not enough American soldiers here to do the job of finding the weapons and securing them until they can be destroyed, the officials said. A private American company, Raytheon, has been awarded a contract to destroy the weapons, but it will not begin work until December, one official said.

"There are more sites than we can guard," an allied official said. "We are destroying them as fast as we can, but we are finding more and more every day."

One of the largest in the country, covering more than 10 square miles, is near Al Musaiyib, 20 miles south of Baghdad, and is still not adequately guarded, an official said this week.

Last month the Army began patrols of the site, and helicopters fly over occasionally. But it is not guarded around the clock, and officials say they believe that weapons and munitions are still being removed - and probably being used in devices that are killing Americans and Iraqis.

Something smells.