Wednesday, October 27, 2004

The facts we know

Following up on yesterday's post about the nuclear material stolen in Iraq after the invasion, apparently by experts ... nuclear-proliferation expert Peter Galbraith -- a supporter of the invasion -- has a must-read op-ed in the Boston Globe:
Eyewitness to a failure in Iraq

Galbraith provides detail on just how widespread the failure to secure key facilities was on the part of the Bush/Rumsfeld planners. He confirms much of the Sydney Morning Herald report, and provides even more detail about the wholesale theft of entire nuclear laboratories:
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.

On the campaign trail today, George Bush attacked John Kerry for his criticism of the failure to secure the missing 380 tons of explosives at Al Qaqa, saying: "The senator is denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."

Kerry isn't denigrating the performance of the troops. He's questioning the plainly incompetent judgment of the people at the top who put too few troops in to handle the job properly. It's clear that Al Qaqa was not the only such case. And the more facts we know, Mr. Bush, the clearer that picture becomes.

[Via Mark Follman at Salon's War Room.]

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