Now that the story of the looted munitions dump has seen the light of day, all the bigs will be digging into it this week, at least one as early as tomorrow morning. But let's take a moment to put into perspective what this means.
To review the essential facts, prior to the war, Iraq's Al Qa Qaa bunker and weapons complex had roughly 350 tons of high explosives under IAEA seal. After the war, for whatever reason, the complex was either not guarded at all or inadequately guarded. And all those explosives (primarily RDX and HMX) were carted away.
What we're talking about here isn't just a bunch of dynamite. This encyclopedia entry says RDX "is considered the most powerful and brisant of the military high explosives." And not 350 pounds, 350 tons.
It is apparently widely believed within the US government that those looted explosives are what in many, perhaps most, cases is being used in car bombs and suicide attacks against US troops. That is, according to TPM sources and sources quoted in this evening's Nelson Report, where the story first broke.
One administration official told Nelson, "This is the stuff the bad guys have been using to kill our troops, so you canât ignore the political implications of this, and you would be correct to suspect that politics, or the fear of politics, played a major role in delaying the release of this information."
In response to questions about whether the material might have been smuggled out of Iraq, another source told Nelson, "Itâs still in Iraq, and this is the most likely primary source of the explosives which have been used to blow up Humvees and in all the deadly car bomb attacks since the Occupation began.â
One need only look to the West Bank or al Qaida operations around the world to see that terrorists or insurgents don't need access to 350 tons of military-grade explosives to be able to pull off terrorist operations. But that quantity of material would clearly constitute an almost limitless supply for the insurgents now targetting US military personnel in Iraq. And it seems that these materials constitute at least a major source of the stuff now being used against US troops, not to mention Iraqi military personnel, policemen and civilians.
It has become increasingly clear of late in just what a ramshackle and disorganized fashion the occupation was run, with too few troops, too little planning, and often misplaced priorities.
Now we are starting to see the human consequences of that incompetence. I don't think we can know yet how many of our own troops have been killed with explosives that were looted because the administration didn't field enough troops to secure key installations like the al Qa Qaa facility. But the number may be high. And I'm sure we'll get more details on that count in reporting over the next few days.
In any case, it puts the consequences of the administration's incompetent management of the war and occupation in a whole new light.
Then there's the subsidiary matter of the use of these sorts of explosives in triggering devices for nuclear weapons. The IAEA clearly believes this aspect of the loss of these materials is a very big deal. But I want to wait to hear more from non-proliferation experts about this aspect of the story.
Those points give at least an outline of the consequences of this screw-up. But what's possibly the most damning aspect of this is the level of dishonesty, subterfuge and cover-up. What's clear in Nelson's and TPM's reporting is that the administration has known about this for at least a year. But they've gone to great lengths to hide the facts both from monitoring organizations like the IAEA but also, by extension, from the American public.
When the US was still the occupying power in Iraq, we didn't inform the IAEA.
And once Iraqis were in semi-control over the reporting process and now under de jure control, with the reestablishment of a nominally sovereign Iraqi government, the US continued to order the Iraqis not to report the theft of the explosives to the IAEA.
There are a number of reasons why you can imagine the White House and the civilians at the Pentagon wouldn't want to inform the IAEA. But one pretty clear one is that letting the IAEA find out would pretty clearly mean that the American public would find out what a major league screw-up the president and his advisors had allowed to happen.
Only a couple weeks ago did the Iraqis finally report the theft to the IAEA. And from there it was only a matter of time till the yearlong cover-up started to unravel.
But it didn't even stop there.
As I've noted, the White House and the Pentagon have known for more than a year that this stuff had gone missing. But the White House, according to TPM sources, has known that this story was coming for at least ten days. Again, not just the underlying facts -- that the stuff had been stolen and was being used against American troops (they've known that for more than a year) -- but the fact that this story was going to break in the not too distant future. And they've been hoping it could be pushed back until after the election.
As another administration source told Nelson, "What the hell were WE doing in the year and a half from the time we knew the stuff was gone, is obviously a huge question, and you can imagine why no one [in the Administration] wants to face up to it, certainly not before the election."
Another told Nelson, "You would be correct to suspect that politics, or the fear of politics, played a major role in delaying the release of this information."
It's a story that really brings together the adminstration's two cardinal sins: dishonesty and incompetence.
And what other stories are they trying to push back until after November 2nd?